Denecourt, pioneer of the marked trail
After being enrolled in Napoleon's armies in 1809, Claude-François Denecourt became caretaker in a barracks in Fontainebleau (Seine-et-Marne). Dismissed because of his republican ideas, he devoted his time and energy to the forest of Fontainebleau, which saved him from depression.
He marked footpaths in the forest with large blue arrows and built up steps and low walls to lead walkers through the forest. Back then, the forest was feared because it was unknown. With his marked trail, Denecourt allowed the discovery of its beauties, offering a cultural and pictorial route through artistic installations, fountains and observation towers along the path.
In 1849, the arrival of the railway in Fontainebleau made the path even more popular. Without knowing it, Denecourt created the first marked footpaths in the world, which had a length of 150 kilometres. His fame was so important back then that writers Théophile Gautier, Victor Hugo, Alphone de Lamartine, Alfred de Musset and Georges Sand paid tribute to him through their work.
Contemporary challenges for the preservation of historical plants and trees
Many trees are known or believed to be planted during Napoleonic times, which brings challenges for their conservation, whether because of tree diseases, natural disasters or urbanisation.
In Spinetta Marengo, Italy, a 40-metre high plane tree was, according to tradition, planted by Napoleon in 1800 to honour the almost 10,000 soldiers who died during the battle. Napoleon had a passion for plane trees, probably linked to his memory of his native Corsica. Plane trees also played a role in the Battle of Marengo, when they hid Napoleon and his army from the enemy forces. Nowadays, the tree is owned and protected by the City of Alexandria.
A Cedar of Lebanon tree in Rueil-Malmaison Castle is also linked to the Battle of Marengo. It was planted in 1800 by Joséphine and her gardener to celebrate Napoleon's victory in the battle. This bicentennial cedar measures more than 5 metres in circumference and more than 15 metres in height!
Petrinja, in Croatia, was part of Napoleon's Illyria from 1809 to 1813, during which time the town became a significant trade centre. During that time, the French army planted linden trees, which are still visible today, but partly affected by the 2020 earthquake. In the Strossmayer promenade, one can still see four linden trees preserved.
In cooperation with the Croatian Forestry Institute, the city is cloning the linden trees as a protected monument of park architecture. The project aims at preserving the gene pool of the centuries-old linden trees, which are included in the list of protected trees in the Republic of Croatia.
Trees can also silently witness an historical period, such as this oak tree in Grasse, France. Having been exiled since 1814, Napoleon left the island of Elba in 1815 to reclaim his crown. During his long journey from the island to Paris, he stopped one day for lunch beneath an oak tree north of Grasse on the Roquevignon plateau, now referred to as 'Napoléon plateau.' Though the site has changed since then , the tree known as 'the Emperor’s Oak' is still there, offering a breathtaking view to the city and French Riviera to many tourists travelling along the Route Napoléon.
Parks, gardens and festivals
Many parks and gardens are named after Napoleon, both during and after his political life. For example, the Napoleon’s hat forest in Buchholz, Luxembourg, was named after him in 1804, but the Rosengarten in Thionville (France) was renamed Napoleon Park in 1921, on the centenary of his death.
Other places, like Cours Napoléon Bonaparte in Aulnay-sous-Bois (France), were named after him to remember the importance he had in the development of the city. In the case of Aulnay, Napoleon changed its destiny by the construction of the Ourcq Channel, which contributed to its first economic development.
The mimosa, which spread in Europe after the Baudin expedition, is also an important element of local cultures. Some cities still celebrate its gorgeous yellow flowers, such as Herceg Novi, in Montenegro, with the Mimosa Festival. Taking place every year in February since 1969, it is one of the most significant and long-standing festivals in the region. International Flower Exhibition, Carnival parades and Wine Festivities are part of this celebration, which gathers around 20,000 guests each year.