From Holland to the Holy Land
A personal quest for Napoleon

By Kurt Raveh


 
Huisduinen -Den Helder (or Hells-Door, as it once was called), in time, was transformed from a sleepy Dutch fishing village, to a Golden Age starting point, for trading ships to the Far East and Indies. Its real transformation, and future role as a major naval base & dock works, well protected by coastal fortifications (the Gibraltar of the North), arrived after receiving the attention, (each at its own time in modern history), of two well known generals, Napoleon Bonaparte (1811) and Erwin Rommel (1944), whom admittedly, each visited  the place only one day in their lives, but their on- site decisions changed the towns its course and character, till these very days.  From childhood in Den Helder, to present life and scientific work in Israel, through extremely adventurous life, the search from Napoleon has been a guiding light.  


It seems Ironic that both, had by then, already experienced their personal defeats and hasty retreats from the battlefields of the Middle East, defeats in which other harbours, failing/navy & supply ships and lacking armor amongst failing tactics would play a role.  

In time, even though the town of Helder, its harbour and shipyards would, steadily continue to grow  in size and importance, its proud coastal defences, and major fortress of "Kijkduin" (dunes to look) would turn into ruins, and would slowly disappear under the sifting sand dunes, thus, becoming the favorite playground, for the local school children, living here out their childhood fantasies, explore the ruins and dunes, in search for artifacts from those long gone days, belonging to that fascinating local folklore hero no.1, that shaped the town's future - Napoleon Bonaparte.

Two of those children, locally called jutters (beach combers), Koert Raven (Kurt Raveh) and Frans Klut could not have imagined in their wildest dreams, that from their first encounters at fort kijkduin, would start a personal relationship with Napoleon lasting by now almost half a century.

Even though, both lived adventurous lives as is, that included army/navy service around the world, and they experienced personally the hardships of army life and horrors of war & battle conditions first hand, in from the jungles of the Amazon, to the battlefields of the Middle East, some actually very close to those of that of Napoleon on his Egypt and Syrian Campaign..

Kurt's destiny brought him to spend most of his life, in Israel, as a Maritime archaeologist, exploring & discovering the Holy land's its Maritime Heritage,  for the Israeli Department of Antiquities and Haifa University. Here at Dor/Nachsholim (Tantura in Napoleons day's), close to the ruins of the Herodian port of Caesarea, under the constant sun, surrounded by the green forested Carmel (the Biblical God's vineyards) mountain. Here are situated the Holy Lands, most beautiful sandy beaches, the many by reefs protected  pastoral bays, formed the right conditions for a natural harbour, and so Kurt's "home on the beach", is nearly touching the foundations of Tel Dor (Dora), the ruins of the Biblical port city of King Salomon, and the by the French founded Crusader castle of Merle,(Richard the Lionheart), and is only a stone throw away, from ancient underwater shipwrecks and cargo's, so far 28 with a time range of almost 3000 years, which were discovered by us, here in the Dor/Tantura bay. 

Frans being a professional diver and technician, teams up with Kurt till this very day. Here they discovered with the help of their friends, enough to make Indana Jones jelaous, ancient & modern shipwrecks, treasure, ruins, tombs and they even salvaged a 2000 year old fishing boat from the sea of Galilee, from the times of Jesus.

But......their longest ungoing and most exciting of all projects was again about Napoleon.

At the end of the 1970's, Kurt spent  a rainy winters day, with his scientific partner of those days Shelly Wachssman at the archives of the Rockefeller museum, located in Jerusalem, adjacent to the old city walls, in view of the golden dome.  Here they searched for clues on ancient maps, and got more then they could hope for. They got their hands on Napoleon's cartographer "Jacotin" maps of the Holy Land, showing the region of Dor/Tantura, and on the beach were they lived and worked, the information that Napoleon resided here as well, from the 21st of May 1799. 
                                               
Intrigued by this, years of research followed and in time, dozens of books, documents and eyewittness accounts of generalls and soldiers alike, told the sad story of the end of Napoleons abandoned siege of the port of Acre (Acco), where he stated: "At the walls of Acre, my luck run out!!"

His battered army, with many a sick and wounded retreated South along the coast, to the port of Dor/Tantura, which functioned as his supply/ naval base during the Acre siege. However instead of ships to evacuate them to Egypte, he only found hundreds more sick (incl.the plague), and wounded soldiers laying on the beaches. He ordered that some 22 cannon, and all te equipment and ordnance, be jettisoned  into the sea, and the beasts of burden be used to transport the wounded and sick. Bourienne described it as such; The remains of our heavy artillery,were left in the moving sands of Tantura...the soldiers seemed to forget their own sufferings, at the loss of these bronze guns, which had enabled them so often to triumph, and which had made Europe tremble...   At 10am on the morning of May the 22th, Bonaparte left Dor/ Tantura, he and his army marched towards Jaffa and Egypt and into the history books, untill he got eventually as far North as... Den Helder some 12 years later. The landing of the Anglo-Russian invasion force that landed there on the coast, at about the same time, that his army was stuck in Egypt, exactly because the lack of such a fleet, might have been one of the driving forces, behind his decisions regarding Den Helder.
> Ever since 1981 we have been salvaging Napoleons weaponry, scubadiving, from the depths of the sea at Dor Tantura, numerous flintlock rifles, iron cannon and lead pistol balls of all types and seizes, scabbards, swords,  bajonets, gunpowder, and Kurt was even so lucky to discover a number of Bronze cannon, all proven to belong to this historical event, exact to the given day and hour!. Our fieldbase located near the beach, in a large stone 20th century old glassfactory, which Kurt restored for that purpose, and once belonged to another famous Frenchman Baron Edmond de Rotchild, functions today as the local archaeological museum, one of the rooms is dedicated to Napoleons visit at Tantura/Dor, and the cannon and weapons are exhibited there.

Our next encounter with Napoleon, occured two centuries after the event, and after we celebrated, the local 200 years Napoleon event, in the form of a Napoleon underwater treasure hunt at our Aqua Dora dive center, and we in a scientific expirement, mannaged to explode even one of the Hells-fire mortar canon balls. In May 2002 we (Kurt & Hugh actually stumbled on it being hidden just under the waterline), discovered the remains of a shipwreck site,  belonging to the Napoleonic period (Dor 2002/2). The wrecksite was excavated by the staff (Yak Kahanov, Kurt Raveh and Chris Brandon) and students & volunteers of Haifa University, Aqua Dora and of the international Nautical Archaeological Society, N.A.S. The wreck was the subject of the M.A. thesis by D.Cvikel. Since then, 2 more Napoleonic period wrecksites have been explored & excavated in the bay of Acco.

Our "relationship with Napoleon" continued. In the year 2009, Kurt and Frans brought their friend and Napoleon expert/ researcher Allon Klimanov from Israel, to Fort Kijkduin. Frans had been personally involved in, and as a local council member promotes, the forts restauration project.

This by now wonderfully restored fort, with a historical museum and aquarium, restaurant etc. is the gem of the local historical sites today. 

We met there with the local guide & caretaker, Kees Turnhout, and by the time of a coffee break, the idea for the Napoleon congress was born, Allon brought the idea to the attention of David Markham, President of the International Napoleon Society, and the event became a fact. The "Den Helder 2011 Napoleon congress", promisses to become another of the towns historical highlights.

And for the two Jutter boys of Kijkduin, it seems that their personal "Deja-vu with Napoleon",(from the farest North to South, and under and above the sea') became F.C.="full circle". When they return this July, to participate in this congress, after half a century, to the same spot of their first encounter with Napoleon, (finding ..a rusty cannonball). Then right there & then, allong that cold windy North- Sea seashore, and under the strobes of their beloved Red lighthouse called the long Jake,( highest in Europe), they will celebrate that fact, at the place where it all began, at "Napoleons Fort -Kijkduin"!!!!!!!
 
 Be Continued !!!!! 
 
 
Dedicated to our fellow time and space travellers whom are not longer with us:  Alida Raven Carstens, Johny broers, Evelien Masiah and Ilan Ramon.