Sunday, 7 June 2009

Elvas and Fort Christoval

Tuesday morning we were up bright and early, excited to be on the road to Badajoz. We had a pleasant breakfast, but soon realised our fellow travellers were not to be seen. Worried that we might miss the coach we returned to our room for our suitcases and booked out. Then we learned our first lesson in coach tours - always be early on the first day. Most of the seats were already taken, certainly all of the best ones. What we had not realised is that with Holts you keep your seat for the whole t0ur, so the more experienced travellers had made sure that they had the best ones!

But all of this was pretty "small beer" as we settled down for the journey. Captain P explained the administration of the holiday as we left Lisbon. After each stop you had to check that the passengers in the seat in front of you had caught the coach. Also the time table for the day, which started with a short stop at Elvas on the Spanish border

Elvas played an important role in the Peninsular Wars, because it controlled the southern route from Spain to Portugal. This was also the direct road to Lisbon. It is situated a few miles from its more famous neighbour - Badajoz. For much of the war Badajoz was held by the French, so it was vital to hold Elvas. Despite this I could not find any record of a serious attempt by the French to take it.

We had gets her first sight of Badajoz from the walls of Elvas. We only stopped here for half an hour, not nearly long enough to explore all that we would have liked to.

Next stop was Fort Christoval. This fort played a vital role in both the first and second sieges of Badajoz in 1811. The old photograph above of Fort Christoval was taken from the walls of Badajoz.

It is obvious from the above photograph and the diagram why possession of the fort was so important. Guns places on this high hill overlooking the city walls would cause havoc to the city and its garrison.

I took this photographs from the walls of Fort Christoval looking down on Badajoz across the river.

There is no restriction on access to Fort Christoval. We were able to walk around as we wished, and it is clear that the Fort has changed little, if at all, since 1811.

Julia Page was the guest speaker, and the expert on the period. Standing in front of Fort Christoval she told us the history of the two sieges. How the ground consisted of hard rock and little earth, so the British were unable to construct trenches to shelter their approach to the walls.

This diagram shows the position of the batteries during the first and second sieges.

Julia also told us the story of the assault on the fort. How the scaling ladders were made of unseasoned wood, which broke when the assault went in. The attackers were caught in this deep trench with the defenders firing down on them at very short ranges. It was quite an experience to walk around the walls having heard such a vivid description of the assault, and to see how impossible it would have been to climb the walls to get at the defenders.

Just where I am standing, on 6 June 1811 "....the main body of the storming party leapt down into the ditch, where they came to a halt. They could see there were seven feet of sheer ascent to the lowest point of the lip of the breach, and they saw that the gap itself has been stopped with carts and other obstacles. The French garrison plied them with musketry, and kept rolling down among them live shells that they had prepared for the occasion. " Out of 180 men there were 12 dead and 80 wounded. The French lost 1 dead and 5 wounded.

We were allowed about two hours a to explore Fort Christoval. I would have liked even longer, but it was getting dark and dinner awaited in Badajoz.

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