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Friday, September 25, 2009

The Battle of the Pyramids

Cold, dark tomb

Now this here pyramid can be found on the Place de L'Europe as a monument to specific battalions of war dead from WWI and WWII as well as Indonchine aka Viet-Nam. In our survey of pyramids in the Toulouse metropolitan area it is the first which serves an explicit funerary purpose.

The Place de L'Europe, like the Place Capitole at the literal heart of the city, is decorated with a large Occitan cross.

Now, we've always felt that whatever it was Jesus was teaching and whatever it was the early Christians thought he was on about, by the time Constantine gave a nod towards recognizing it some three plus centuries later Christianity had acquired a lot of the trappings of a mystery religion, or as some might have it, a death cult. Thus it's fitting that the pyramid and the cross should be so combined.

The Occitan cross in this plaza links Europe to Toulouse; one could argue that's the point. Local and continental become as one; this very Toulousain and regional symbol becomes associated with Europe as a whole. Wherever you go, there you are. It decorates the center of Toulouse and again in a place named after Europe. Symbolically Toulouse asserts a European prominence.

The Occitan cross is steeped in legend and of uncertain origin. Some assert that it's patterned on Celtic solar symbols; others that its twelve points represent the zodiac. Indeed, in the Occitan cross on Place Capitole, each point is decorated with an astrological sun sign. Others assert that it came back from the east with returning crusaders. (See La Croix Occitane by Raymond Ginouillac).

Napoleon and Egypt

Place de L'Europe is part of a larger complex of parks and office space, a school and a conference center called Compans-Caffarelli.

The first part of this name comes from Count Jean Dominique Compans. Compans joined the army as a volunteer upon the outbreak of the Revolution in 1789. He served as a General in the Napoleonic Wars and and rejoined Napoleon upon his return from exile during the perid known as the Hundred Days. He died in 1845 in Blagnac.

The Caffarelli comes from yet another noble family--Caffarelli du Falga. Three Caffarelli brother were Generals.

Youngest brother Marie-François Auguste (1766-1849), was loyal to Naopleon and among his service in Marengo and Austerlitz served with him in the Egyptian campaign. He became aide de camp to Napoleon in 1800, after having served the same function for General Dagobert de Fontenille starting in 1791. Dagobert was himself an early supporter of the Revolution, "rallying to the cause" alongside Louis-Philippe d'Orléans, a fellow noble and Gand Master of the Grand Orient of France.

Joseph
(1760-1845) began his career as a naval officer but became an officer in the Army after the Revolution began. He too remained loyal to Napoleon during the Hundred Days.

Oldest brother Louis-Marie-Joseph-Maximilian (1756-1799) also accompanied Napoleon into Egypt (on a wooden leg, no less!) and later died from gangrene as a result of a bullet wound sustained during the assault on Acre. When he died Napoleon wrote:

"Our universal regrets accompany General Caffarelli to the grave; the army is losing one of its bravest leaders. Egypt one of its legislators, France one of its best citizens, and science, an illustrious scholar."

The Egyptian campaign, as we have mentioned in previous posts, helped set off a fashion in France for "oriental" and Egyptianate architecture which is probably why even after so much time the war memorial to the Caffarelli brigades is in the form of a pyramid.

What is also interesting about the Egyptian campaign is that it bore a veneer of scientific inquiry. There were apparently a large number of scientists attached to the invading armies. Some have interpreted this as a ploy to hide the real motives of the expedition, namely the extension of empire and the acquisition of land. But it is also true that Napoleon saw himself as a liberator and in service of the Enlightenment, a sort of light-bringer. In our ongoing thesis, this dedication to "illumination" through rational scientific inquiry is intertwined with revolutionary principles regarding government, especially as it relates to the repartition of territory. Indeed, Napoleon issued proclamations which portrayed him as a liberator from ancient tyrants the Mamluks. Fascination with geometry and measurement abounded.

Interesting for our discussion is that the beginning of the end for the Mamluks was at a battle Napoleon himself called "The Battle of the Pyramids" where his reputation for tactical brilliance was enhanced by his innovative use of massive infantry squares: moving tessellations for the literal control of space.

Naopoleon spurred his troops on with the cry: "Forward! Remember that from those monuments yonder forty centuries look down upon you."

History tells us the pyramids were barely visible in the horizon.

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