Lithuania in the news
7th November, 2003
Lithuania's Napoleonic History
French Army in Town Hall Square 1812,
lithograph by J.Damelis
The massive burial grounds of the remains of Napoleon's Grand Army after its retreat from Moscow in 1812 were recently discovered in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius. This is unique archaeological discovery has excited archaeologists and historians.
On Sunday, October 19, 2003, Australian viewers saw on SBS TV the BBC produced very interesting documentary: "Meet the Ancestors: Napoleon's Lost Army", describing these archaeological discoveries, together with the history of the ill-fated march of Napoleon's Grand Army onto Moscow in 1812.
The remnants of Napoleon's retreating defeated army are depicted in front of the Vilnius Town Hall ("Rotuše") in the celebrated and powerful contemporary lithograph by Jonas Damelis. The Town Hall is still standing today.
St. Anne's Church,
as depicted in early 19th Century
A mass grave of Napoleon's Grand Army, such as found in Vilnius, has not been found anywhere else and shows the important role that Vilnius played in this major episode of European history. Lithuania had lost its independence to Russia in 1795, after the third partition of Lithuania-Poland. In 1812, when Napoleon crossed into Lithuania on his way to Moscow with an army of more than half a million men, memories of former independence were still fresh and many Lithuanians joined Napoleon's forces. In Tolstoy's "War and Peace", which deals with Napoleon's 1812 march, Vilnius has a prominent role. In fact it was in Vilnius that the Tsar was informed of Napoleon's invasion, during a ball at the Radvila Palace, which was then situated in the present day Vingis Park.
Napoleon fell in love with Vilnius. An often told story relates to Napoleon's wish to take back to Paris in the palm of his hand the exquisitely beautiful St. Anne's Church, a Gothic masterpiece illustrated in the lithograph from the 19th century "Vilnius Album", edited by Jonas Kazimieras Vilcinskas.

Further information:
Michael Tarm, "The Napoleon Graves",