One of the most important functions of the International Napoleonic Society is holding International Napoleonic Congresses around the world to bring a wide range of scholars together to share their research and ideas. That intellectual exchange alone would make a Congress a great success, but when it is held in not one but two important Napoleonic sites in two countries, and features ceremonies, awards and social functions provided by several important government and economic bodies, then the Congress must surely be among the best ever produced.
That was certainly the case with the Sixth Napoleonic Congress held in Napoleon's birthplace of Ajaccio, Corsica, 7-11 July 2008 that also featured a day trip to the island of Elba in Italy. Organized by General Michel Franceschi and INS Executive Vice-President David Markham, the Congress attracted participants from North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. It featured original music and a move into the world of technology to promote Napoleonic history. The City of Ajaccio, the General Council of Southern Corsica, the Territorial Collective of Corsica, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Southern Corsica, the Tourist Agency for Elba and the company ElbaFly all worked to make this Congress a huge success, and we thank them all for everything that they did to make this a memorable event. We especially thank General Michel Franceschi and his lovely wife Nelly for their tireless work to make all of the local arrangements.
For some, the Congress started a day early, as many participants got together for dinner in a restaurant overlooking the beautiful harbor of Ajaccio. A toast to our President, Ben Weider, was followed by toasts to General Franceschi, David Markham, our mutual friendship and, of course, the Emperor. The Congress was clearly off to a good start.
On Monday we discovered that Michel had arranged a surprise for us. We met in the lobby and were introduced to a number of important dignitaries. Then, an honor guard in Empire uniform arrived and we all awaited the arrival of the Honorable Simon Renucci, Mayor of Ajaccio. The mayor arrived and the Congress began. Michel Franceschi and David Markham welcomed the participants, and Mayor Renucci welcomed the Congress on behalf of the city and the other organizations present. David Markham then presented Mayor Renucci with the Imperial Eagle pin, making him a Fellow of the INS.
After the opening ceremonies were completed and the dignitaries had left, Michel presented us with another delightful surprise, as each of us received a beautiful book of art from the Fesch Museum, which was unfortunately closed the week we were there.
The first session was chaired by Rafe Blaufarb of the US. We were honored by his presence, as he is the Director of the Institute on Napoleon and the French Revolution at Florida State University. The first session had important presentations by Michel Franceschi on the ‘granite blocks' of Napoleonic history and by Jean DeFranceschi on the possibility of opening Napoleon's tomb. After an energetic discussion, participants broke for lunch and individual touring of the beautiful city of Ajaccio. Some people took a preliminary tour of Napoleonic sites or walked around the town. Others took guided tours while some took advantage of some of the many beautiful beaches.
In the evening, INS Vice-President David and Barbara Markham hosted a reception in the lobby of the Hotel San Carlu, and many participants enjoyed another evening of friendship over a nice meal and fine wine.
Tuesday was the day with the most papers presented. The first session was chaired by Mordechai Gichon of Israel, one of our most beloved and distinguished members. Erez Levanon and Eliezer Witztum of Israel presented a joint paper on the impact of Corsica on Napoleon's life. It was their first presentation to an INS Congress. Israel's participation in our Congresses grows greater with each year, which is a very welcome development. Another first-time presenter, Isis Wirth of Switzerland, gave a very interesting paper on how Napoleon's experience with islands affected Napoleon's personality. This was followed by another psychological analysis of Napoleon by Jeanne Ruderman of the USA.
After the break, we heard two papers on Napoleon's last islands. David Markham (USA) discussed Napoleon's decisions after Waterloo and his last hours in France on the Isle d'Aix. His paper was followed by a series of PowerPoint photos from his visit to the island. Then Philippe Montanari of France described his visit to Napoleon's last island, St Helena.
After discussion and lunch, the papers continued in Session III, chaired by Isis Wirth of Switzerland. Cameron Reilly of Australia talked about his Napoleon 101 podcast that he co-hosts with David Markham and that reaches over 30,000 people worldwide each month. He discussed how modern technology and new concepts like Podcasting can take the history of Napoleon to far more people than ever before. Mordechai Gichon of Israel followed with an excellent analysis of the clash of societies in 1798. After the break, Philippe Girard (USA) discussed the Saint-Dominigue expedition, and Allon Klebanoff (Israel) gave his usual tour de force, this time on ships and war through the eyes of contemporary artists.
The evening that followed was truly magical. It began with the laying of a wreath at the monument for the dead of Ajaccio. David Markham and General Michel Franceschi laid the wreath while a large crowd looked on. Then we moved to the monument to the Legion of Honor and its eternal flame. There, David Markham, Michel Franceschi, Mayor Renucci and Jean-François Colonna d'Istria, President of the Legion of Honor Society and Corsican representative of the Souvenir Napoléonien, lit the flame as an Empire band played period marches. Afterwards, all the members of the Congress went to the Napoleonic rooms of the city hall, walking up marble stairs between rows of the Imperial Guard while the drums beat an Imperial cadence.
Here, the Mayor Renucci hosted an incredible reception for the Congress, held in the Napoleonic rooms of the city hall. He presented General Michel Franceschi and Vice-President David Markham with medals of the city as well as books of art from the Fesch Museum. Markham again presented the mayor with the Imperial Eagle and signed the book of the Legion of Honor on behalf of the INS. Markham and Franceschi also signed the book of the city of Ajaccio. It was a night that all who were there will remember forever.
Wednesday saw the presentation of the final papers, and we had saved some of the most interesting for the last. Philippe Montanari of France chaired a session that included distinguished scholar and loyal participant in all Congresses John Gallaher's talk on Napoleon and General Vandamme, Jan Bosteels of Belgium on Baron Dominique Larrey, and Rafe Blaufarb's discussion of the feudal question under Napoleon. Tomasz Klauza of Poland read Tadeusz Klupezynski's paper on the Russian fleet in 1808. Then we were treated to a special treat, as Sean Richarz of the USA discussed the process of composing a new musical on Napoleon, some of which would be heard later at the Gala Dinner. With this presentation came the close of the academic congress, but there was still much more excitement to be had.
After lunch, the Congress was led on a tour of Napoleon's birth home as well as other important Napoleonic sites. Outside of the home is a statue of Napoleon's son, the King of Rome, and David Markham and Michel Franceschi laid a wreath at its base. We saw the church where Napoleon's family worshiped, went to two monuments and visited the grotto where legend says the young Napoleon went to contemplate and read. An open-air bus took us to many other places in the area, showing us again what a beautiful city Ajaccio is.
Then we went to the impressive Villa Pietra for a reception given by the General Council of Southern Corsica. There, Council President Jean-Jacques Panunzi presented the Council's medal and a book to David Markham and Michel Franceschi. The Council went all-out to make this reception a wonderful experience to be always remembered, and there was even more to come.
After returning to the hotels for a brief rest and to change into more formal attire, we reunited at the Hôtel de Région for a reception and dinner by the Territorial Collective of Corsica. This building must surely be the most impressive in Ajaccio. The reception was followed by some remarks by our hostess, Simone Guerrini, the Executive Counselor for the Territorial Collective. This was the first time that a private group such as ours had the red carpet treatment. We then visited their beautiful legislative hall and were invited to sit in the chairs of the Collective, also a first for a group such as ours.
The dinner that followed will certainly never be forgotten by anyone who was there. The food and drink were truly outstanding. Vice-President Markham presented Simone Guerrini with the Eagle of the INS, and she reciprocated by presenting Markham and Franceschi with the medals of the Collective. Markham offered a toast to Mordechai and Chava Gichon for their 60 th wedding anniversary, and then presented INS Fellowship Eagles to Eliezer Witztum (Israel), Philippe Montanari (France) and Sean Richarz (USA). Cameron Reilly (Australia) has been a pioneer in the use of modern communication technology to promote Napoleonic history. In recognition of this, Vice-President Markham presented him with our highest honor, the Legion of Merit.
The awards were not done. Isis Wirth and David Markham are active in the Instituto Napoleónico México-Francia , which is the Mexican Napoleonic group in close cooperation with the INS. Their founder and President, Eduardo Garzón-Sobrado, has established the Count Las Cases award for Napoleonic literature. This year's winner for French literature was Michel Franceschi and Ben Weider's book, Napoléon, défenseur immolé de la Paix . The winner for literature in English was David Markham's book, Imperial Glory: The Bulletins of Napoleon's Grande Armée, 1805-1814 . Isis Wirth presented the beautiful silver medal to Michel and David (Ben Weider had previously received his medal). It was a great honor to all three authors. The INS is committed to working closely with the Mexican group.
After the presentations, the group was treated to original music by Sean Richarz, Craig Schell and Christine Dunaway of the USA, telling the story of Napoleon's 100 Days. This music is the beginning of a musical that Sean is composing. It was a unique and special treat, much appreciated by the audience. After the music the dinner was over, but many participants retired to various local bars to drink and explore their newly found friendships.
Thursday was a day to explore the city or the rest of the island. Some went as a group to Bonifacio, one of the most beautiful parts of the island, while others chose to relax at the beach or further explore Ajaccio. The evening saw a continued deepening of new friendships and the enjoyment of people who share the same passion.
On Friday the group flew ElbaAir (with ground transportation provided by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Southern Corsica) to visit Napoleon's homes on the island of Elba, where he was in exile before returning for the 100 Days. As we had been before, we were guided by David Uzal, who served as guide and translator throughout the Congress. We saw Napoleon's homes and two outstanding exhibitions. Lunch was served in a cave in the mountain, overlooking the sea. Vice-President Markham was interviewed by the local media and addressed the group, pledging to work with the representatives of Elba to have an INS Congress there in the near future.
After a tour of a winery and a walk on the beach and through the old section of the city, the group returned to Ajaccio. There they shared meals and drinks, and continued to enjoy their new friendships. It was a fitting climax to an extraordinary Congress. We all owe a great debt of gratitude to President Ben Weider, General Michel Franceschi (and Nelly!), David Markham (and Barbara!), to the Mayor and to all the other people who made it all possible. Vive l'Empereur!
Somes photos of the Congress