Thousands from around world re-enact 1805 Battle of Austerlitz

Photo: CTK

Now to the east of the Czech Republic for a major re-enactment of the Battle of Austerlitz, which was fought on December 2nd 1805 and is remembered as Napoleon Bonaparte's greatest military victory. The 200th anniversary re-enactment took seven years to prepare and attracted thousands of visitors from around the world. Radio Prague's Ian Willoughby reports.

Photo: CTK
At Austerlitz - known as Slavkov in Czech - some three and a half thousand military history buffs relived the Battle of Three Emperors, which was to redraw the map of Europe. In the 1805 battle, Napoleon's armies defeated the numerically superior forces of Austria and Russia. Many of today's combatants are from further afield.

English man: "There's British, Germans, Czechs, Dutch...today I was fighting with Australians and Americans."

Says one man who explains why he came all the way from England to be at Austerlitz.

"I'm from a French family and I'd just like to try and relive as they did...I mean we were out there bivouacking on the snow, but at the same time they survived so why can't we."

Mark Schneider as Napoleon, photo: CTK
The part of Napoleon is played by an American called Mark Schneider, who at 37 is the same age the legendary general was in 1805. One of his compatriots, also in the uniform of the Grande Armee, explains the significance of this great battle.

"Well with the victory at Austerlitz France emerged as a dominant power, the confidence of the Austrians was shaken, the Russians were repelled. The following campaign year ending with the Treaty of Tilset in 1807...Prime Minister Pitt rolled up the map of Europe and said we won't need this for a few years. It was the beginning of clearly a pivotal time, the emergence of the French Empire versus the Republic, and the emergence of France as a dominant power."

But is it this kind of celebration appropriate, given that in just six hours of bloody fighting almost 20,000 people lost their lives in the Battle of Austerlitz?

Photo: CTK
"Well, first I wouldn't say that it's a celebration. It's a commemoration, it's a remembrance. When we put on this uniform and try to do the best job we can out there we're honouring the memories of those brave men that worked, that served for either nation, any nation in stressful times. Many paid the ultimate price for their loyalty to their country and their army. And we don't take it likely.

"We have to enjoy it, otherwise the mud and the cold and the bad food and bad coffee and all that wouldn't be worth it. But most of us feel very much that we have a duty to do a responsible and honourable job commemorating these men."

And an estimated 30,000 spectators turned out to watch the re-enactment, the biggest event of its kind ever held in the Czech Republic.