To commemorate Napoleon’s 250th birthday, we journey from Paris to Marengo with the DS 7 Crossback in order to get to the bottom of his legendary crossing of the Great Saint Bernard.
Napoleon Bonaparte sits majestically on his erect horse. Wrapped in an orange and gold cloak, the general rides confident of victory over the Great Saint Bernard at a height of 2469 meters to liberate Northern Italy from the Austrians in the Second Coalition War.
According to legend, Hannibal and his elephants crossed the pass to conquer Rome and Charlemagne to incorporate Italy into his empire.
It was probably Napoleon himself who had his historic crossing in May 1800 immortalized in this famous painting.
Jacques-Louis David created this work of art in the very same year.
However, the representation is idealized.
In fact, Napoleon should never forget this battle, after which he named his horse and during which he also lost his long-time friend, General Louis Charles Antoine Desaix.
It is even said that his last words before he died were Marengo and Desaix.
We followed the traces of Bonaparte from Paris to Marengo to learn more about the tales and legends. Our 177 HP strong companion for the journey is the DS 7 Crossback BLUEHDI 180 EAT8 in Byzantine gold with OPERA interior design.
The route goes directly from Paris to Milan via Lausanne and Villeneuve with stops in Bourg-Saint-Pierre and at the Great Saint Bernard Pass. With the cruise control and the DS CONNECTED PILOT the French limousine almost drives itself over the freeway.
The avant-garde exterior and the royal color, which is so similar to Napoleon’s cape that it can be mistaken for it, attract the attention of other road users. This French luxury object on four wheels is a homage to Paris itself. La Déesse, the goddess, is reborn, only in a different dress, appropriate to the present day.
Named after the first Citroen DS19, beauty and style are intended to reflect the spirit of the city, home to haute couture, history and culture.
My companion and I sit inside the car in comfortable basalt-black nappa leather seats in watch strap finish. Furthermore, the brand is the only manufacturer in the world to operate a saddlery in its own design center.
The analog cockpit clock is from the exclusive watch manufacturer B.R.M. The pyramid-shaped guilloché pattern “Clous de Paris” decorates the toggle switches. The famous watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet developed this noble-looking technique in 1786, which can still be found in watches today. Napoleon and his wife Josephine were also among his regular customers.
In the afternoon we reach Bourg-Saint-Pierre, the final station of Napoleon before he rode over the pass. It seems that time has stopped here at 1600 meters above sea level. A sign and the bicorne at the entrance announce that the village served as headquarters for the general and his troops. The French troops used important equipment and services, which caused financial damage to the village.
Napoleon told the inhabitants that he would pay for it, of course. But the promised payment did not materialise. The dispute was symbolically settled not until 1984, when President Mitterand presented the village with a medallion 80 centimeters in diameter representing Napoleon.
Only 13 kilometers separate us from the pass. But we will not reach it. After about ten kilometers it is over. The entire pass is still under a high blanket of snow even in April.
We have to take the tunnel to keep going. Napoleon would certainly have been grateful for the alternative route and a warm means of transport. When he crossed the pass on May 20, 1800, he and his troops, fully packed, had to overcome a three meter high blanket of snow.
The sun has since set and it is getting dark as we drive on to Milan. I turn on the light. Thanks to the laser engraving, the six narrow LED piggy-heads resemble cut gemstones and are a tribute to the jewelry makers. What makes them special is that they rotate 180 degrees when the car is started, while violet light illuminates. The design of the rear lights is reminiscent of a snake or dragon skin in 3D.
Despite a 14-hour journey, we are not tired upon arrival. The next morning we drive on to Marengo to the museum that tells the story of the battle. The museum is closed as expected according to our researches. Opening hours: Saturdays and Sundays from 15.00 – 18.00 hrs. We look around. An old farmhouse, where an elderly gentleman does gardening, is next door. We ask him if the museum would open today. He smiles. Perhaps. The institution has no money and guests are rare. No wonder, because hardly anyone knows about its existence.
The gentleman asks if he can help us. We communicate in French. Pierreguiseppe Negri finds our story exciting. His farmstead, inherited from his grandfather and father, is the former home of Napoleon and his troops. A small oil lamp from that time still hangs in his cellar. The likeable pensioner laughs heartily and is happy about my enthusiasm. He leads us to the place where the troops slept. Today he uses the shed as a storage room. A thick high wall surrounds the property. On the outside there are still cannonballs, which were probably fired by the Austrians. While his ancestors were farmers, he became an engineer. Although the homestead is a lot of work, he keeps it for nostalgic reasons.
The gates to the parking lot of the museum open punctually at 15.00 o’clock. I wonder if we may drive the car into the courtyard to the statue of Napoleon to take pictures? An enthusiastic ‘Ma certo’ is the answer. His charisma also reaches beyond the borders of France! The old mansion was converted into a museum shortly after the battle. The ochre yellow façade is the perfect backdrop for our golden star on four wheels. It seems to shine at the foot of the great general, consul and emperor of France.
The curator Giacomo Ferrando tells us that in 1800 there was unusually bad weather in Switzerland and Italy. When crossing the pass it snowed incessantly. Napoleon did not, as depicted in the painting, ride on a horse, but on a mule. The cannons had to be disassembled for transport. The pipes, which were placed in hollow tree trunks, were pulled up the pass by 100 men each. On June 14, the battle began in the rainy Marengo. Bonaparte won thanks to his generals like Desaix, who fell in the battle. He never overcame the death of his good friend and longtime companion. He had him buried in the chapel at the Great Saint Bernard. About 13,000 soldiers lost their lives in this battle. Ferrando shakes his head: “To this day, farmers digging up their fields find bones of people and horses from that time. Unofficially, certainly more had to lose their lives”.
We drive our DS 7 Chrossback out of the courtyard. Peacefully it glides across the museum garden, its entrance decorated with a pyramid. While 250 years ago the arrival of Napoleon was either a curse or a blessing, our DS 7 Crossback brings joy and connects people from different countries. It has a great deal to offer. And yet the two Frenchmen have something in common. Through their charisma both leave a lasting impression.