On 21st June, 1813, Vitoria-Gasteiz was the scene of a battle that would determine the course of European history: allied troops, led by the Duke of Wellington and General Álava, defeated the French troops led by José Bonaparte himself and Marshal Jourdan, which would ultimately result in the French finally being expelled from the Iberian Peninsula. The battle was so important amid the turmoil of Europe of that time, that Beethoven himself composed a symphony to commemorate it, “Wellington’s Victory”.
This battle not only meant the end of French occupation in Spain and the return of Fernando VII to the Spanish throne, but also the defeat of Napoleon’s all-powerful army by the Allied forces, changing the course of European history. Austria, Prussia, Russia, and Sweden broke off negotiations with Napoleon and declared war again, defeating him at Leipzig (Germany).
In 2013 Vitoria-Gasteiz and Álava commemorated one of the most important historical events to have ever occurred in the city and in the historic territory. Two hundred years later, the City Council of Vitoria-Gasteiz and the Provincial Council of Álava worked together with organisations, associations and groups within the Historical Territory to relive this important historical event.
After the Bicentennial celebration of this event, the city became a member of the European Federation of Napoleonic Cities and every two years it organizes an historical re-enactment of the battle.
In 2015 the Council of Europe declared the various Napoleonic routes as European Cultural Routes, including them among those historic routes that help identify the idea of Europe, such as St James’s Way, Via Francigena or the Route of Emperor Charles V. The European Federation of Napoleonic Cities, of which Vitoria-Gasteiz holds the Vice Presidency, is responsible for this route.
The historical re-enactment of the Battle of Vitoria is performed by some five hundred reenactors from different parts of Europe – France, UK, Portugal, Austria, Belgium and different parts of the peninsula – to represent the daily life in a camp of that time, military drills and the handling of weapons.
They also hold a parade to honour all those who died in the Battle of Vitoria as well as General Álava.
In addition to which, the re-enacted engagements between the French and Allied armies provide a spectacular show you cannot miss.
The aim is to appreciate the sites and places where the events took place and to provide the public with historical information based on the nature of the audiences and their particular interests. This goal is compatible with other parallel activities that together strive to achieve a key concept: Experience history first hand.