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What monument was erected in Paris in honour of what is considered Napoléon's greatest military victory?

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Emulating the Trajan Column in Rome (113 AD), the 'Colonne de la Grande Armée' was erected in 1810 at the same emplacement as that of the equestrian statue of Louis XIV that was destroyed in 1792 during the French Revolution. The inscription engraved on the abacus of the capital best describes its purpose: "Monument erected to the glory of Napoléon the Great's Grand Army, begun on 25 August 1806 and completed 15 August 1810". Napoléon erected this column to commemorate his army's decisive victory at the Battle of Austerlitz on 2 December 1805. The column's official name has changed a number of times: first the 'Austerlitz Column', then the 'Victory Column', and finally the 'Colonne de la Grande Armée' - but it is best known as 'Colonne Vendôme' as it is located at Place Vendôme, the 18th century square designed by architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart to the glory of the armies of Louis XIV, the Sun King. While the column remained an important French national symbol throughout the 19th century, each successive government wanted to impose its own mark. Accordingly, in sync with prevailing politics, parts or entire portions of the original column or statue of Napoléon was either replaced, removed, restored, torn down, or re-built over a period of six decades. The granite column is wrapped with a frieze of 425 bas-relief bronze plates made out of 1,200 artillery pieces taken from the Austrians and Russians and depicts the major events of the 1805 campaign - from the camp in Boulogne at the bottom of the column, the victory at the battle of Austertlitz, and the return of the emperor and his guard in 1806 at the very top. The column was finally re-erected and restored in 1875 and apart from adding illumination, has remained unchanged since then. Property of the State, the Colonne Vendôme was classified as a historic monument on 31 March 1992. In 2013, as part of undertaking major renovations of the adjacent luxury Ritz Hotel, its owner, Mohamed Al-Fayed, offered to also cover the costs "to restore its patina and its original luster to the column". The restoration, led by Christophe Bottineau, chief architect of the Historical Monuments directorate at the French Ministry of Culture, took nearly one year and expenditures of 1.5 million euros to complete. On 27 June 2016, the renovated column was inaugurated and celebrated at an event which coincided with the re-opening of the Ritz Hotel. Depicted in the photograph is the Colonne Vendôme prior to the completion of the recent renovations.

On this day, 2 December 2021, we commemorate the 216th anniversary of the Battle of Austerlitz, considered Napoléon's greatest military victory and mark more than 211 years since the erection of the column dedicated to the glory of la Grande Armée.

André M. Levesque

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