France: MuséoParc Alésia

Not far from Montbard France is Alise-Sainte-Reine, the location of the last major engagement between Gauls and Romans in 52 BC, the Battle of Alésia. Recently an interpretive center, the MuséoParc Alésia, was constructed to explain the history of the battle. The French have a knack for morphing their historical sites into popular attractions.

Inside the modern museum are exhibits illustrating the Battle of Alésia. At the Roman army led by Julius Caesar fought a confederation of Gallic tribes united under the leadership of Vercingetorix of the Arverni. The importance of the Battle of Alésia is undeniable; it has gone down in history as one of Caesar’s greatest military achievements. The battle marked the end of Gallic independence in France and Belgium and started the era of Gallo-Roman dominance.

Completed in 2012, the construction of the visitor center at MuséoParc Alésia cost 22 million Euros. It was a major economic commitment to teach the history of the battle in a place where there is little visual indication of what happened over 2000 years ago. It is estimated 150,000 visitors a year attend, which seems a lot for such a potentially dry subject. The visitor numbers seem far more reasonable when put in perspective: Over a million people a year see Plymouth Rock, a plain piece of granite in Massachusetts where the Pilgrims dubiously first touched foot in America.

There is also a similar controversy associated with Alésia. It has been argued that Alise-Sainte-Reine is not in fact the location for the Battle of Alésia. Indeed, around 40 towns and other locations have at some point laid claim to be the site of the battle. The number of claimants undoubtedly reflects the importance of the battle to the history of France.

Though the assertions of alternative locations for the battle have largely been discounted, some continue to argue that the true location of the battle was Chaux-des-Crotenay in Franche-Comté, at the gate of the Jura Mountains. Nevertheless it does seem most likely that Alise-Sainte-Reine is the actual location for the Battle of Alésia. And for sure, the construction of the MuséoParc Alésia puts down a heavy marker that this is in fact the location of the battle. In any event it is far more likely that Caesar battled the Gauls near Alise-Sainte-Reine than the Pilgrims actually first set foot on the exact rock that tourists flock to in Plymouth Massachusetts.


A mock-up at MuséoParc Alésia shows the preparations for the battle of Alésia.

MuséoParc Alésia

A statue of Vercingetorix of the Arverni is near MuséoParc Alésia. No one actually knows what of Vercingetorix looked like so he might as well be buff.

A still evening on the Canal de Bourgogne, not far from the museum.


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