It’s nigh impossible to hear the word ‘Waterloo’ without hearing Abba echoing ‘I was defeated, you won the war’, but beyond its association with the Swedish pop sensation, how much do you know about Waterloo? Did you even know that it was in Belgium? You’ll be forgiven if not, a surprising number of people think it’s somewhere under London’s busiest underground station. We’re here to set the record straight with a few of the most interesting facts about Waterloo in Belgium. You’ll never embarrass yourself at a pub quiz again.
Interesting Facts About Waterloo in Belgium
1. The Battle of Waterloo didn’t actually take place in Waterloo
It actually took place at Braine l’Alleud, south of Waterloo. The Duke of Wellington made a habit of naming battles after the place he spent the previous night. He actually never set foot in Waterloo.
The British Army chose the Bodenghien Inn, which dates back to 1705, in Waterloo as the site for the headquarters. The Duke of Wellington stayed here the night before the battle.
2. Waterloo wasn’t originally in Belgium either
It was part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.
The first-ever record of a place called Waterloo dates back to 1102, so the small hamlet has a reasonably long and illustrious history. It became part of the Ducky of Brabant in 1183, of which Brussels became the capital in 1297. Brussels then became the capital city of the Burgundian Netherlands in 1430. A period of political unrest followed with the French revolution and invasion, so Waterloo didn’t become part of Belgium until Belgian independence in 1830. It became part of the province of Brabant.
3. You can visit the exact spot where the Duke of Wellington signed the victory report
The former headquarters are now a museum that retraces the European political background before and after the fight through engravings, historical weapons and a fascinating collection of documents. Alexander Gordon, senior military officer, died at the inn of battle injuries and you can visit his room today. You can also nose around Wellington’s bedroom too.
The peace treaty between France and the European powers significantly reduced the size of French territory and France was forced to pay enormous reparations over the following five months. The Duke of Wellington received a sizeable chunk of the loot, around GBP 200,000 (GBP 15,000,000 today).
4. You can follow in the footsteps of Napoleon on a dedicated route
You’ll need to set aside a few days for this expedition. The 96 km (56 miles) route traces the exact route Napoleon and his troops took during the last days before the fateful battle. There are helpful signposts along the way to keep you on track, as well as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, forests and vibrant restaurants to stop off at en-route.
The route begins in Hestrud, a small village on the outskirts of Belgium. You may be familiar with the story of a young villager who tried to convince Napoleon that proceeding would be a bad idea; there’s a small stone near the Pont de la Tannerie Bridge marking the spot where the ‘conversation’ took place. The route ends at the Wellington Museum. You can find, view and download brochure here.
5. You’ll be surprised by the battlefield
The battlefield encompasses 600-hectares (6 km) of fields and meadows, with a monumental mound topped with a lion at the heart of it. You can climb the 40-metre-tall peak for views of the entire site. It’s meant to commemorate the spot where William II of the Netherlands (the Prince of Orange) was knocked off his horse and wounded in battle. William II’s personal coat of arms features a lion, hence the lion mound. At the lion’s feet there are stone tablets depicting each stage of the battle. It took three years to build the mound apparently.
6. There’s more to Waterloo than a battlefield though
It’s best-known for its battlefield but there are other sights to visit too. The 18th-century Catholic Church of Saint Joseph of Waterloo boasts a beautiful neoclassical façade, as well as memorial plaques dedicated to soldiers that fell at Waterloo. The Sonian Forest – a dense 10,920-acre woodland – is the perfect patch for an autumnal stroll too. Then there’s the Castle of Argenteuil, the 300-hectare estate where Prince Charles, Count of Flanders and his brother Leopold III once resided. And if you’ve had your fill of history, you can always dip into the Golden Palace, a bizarrely central casino open 24 hours a day.
The tourist board has helpfully created a self-guided walking tour featuring 18 different stops that are all well worth a visit.
7. Don’t miss the farmhouse near Waterloo
Also known as the Gaumont Farm, the Hougoumont Farm is widely agreed to be the last authentic witness to the Battle of Waterloo. It’s where allied forces faced Napoleon’s army for the first time. While the orchards and gardens changed hands between both sides at least seven times, the allied forces managed to hold onto the main building. The Duke of Wellington famously said that “the success of the battle turned upon the closing of the gates at Hougoumont”.
The main building burned down after the battle and all that remains today of the castle are its foundations. However, you can still visit the former gardener’s home. In Les Miserables Victor Hugo claimed there are 300 bodies at the bottom of the well, but there isn’t any archaeological evidence that can confirm this.