Verrières, Benjamin Locatelli, 2014. Photo/Foto. TES.

Bourbaki in Verrières and Lucerne

On 1 February 1871, the French general Justin Clinchard (1820-1881) and the Swiss general Hans Herzog (1819-1894) agreed in Les Verrières (canton of Neuchâtel) on the crossing of the border by the exhausted and defeated French army of 87 000 men and their horses and equipment.

The Bourbaki Panorama in Luzern, a European cultural monument, portrays this event. Visiting the Bourbaki Panorama is like immersing into the Val-de-Travers valley (canton of Neuchâtel) at the end of the 19th century when Switzerland laid the foundations of its humanitarian and neutral tradition.

The crossing was depicted on the 10 x 112 m (originally 14 x 112 m) circular panorama painting by Edouard Castres in 1881. Panorama paintings, as a form of mass media, are considered the precursor of cinema and a source of inspiration for contemporary medial trends and digital narratives.

Neutral Switzerland accommodated the army on the condition of disarmament and repatriation to France. The French army capitulated on 28 January 1871. The French Emperor Napoleon III (1808-1873) was captured at Sedan on 2 September 1870 after he declared war on Prussia on 19 June 1870.

Bourbaki Panorama Lucerne

However, the army of General Charles-Denis Bourbaki (1816-1897) was not part of the capitulation agreement; instead, it fled to Switzerland in the cold and snow of the Jura Passes.

The Swiss banker Henry Dunant (1827-1910) founded the Red Cross in Geneva in 1863. The reception of the French army was his first significant action. The Red Cross is depicted for the first time in the Bourbaki Panorama by Edouard Castres (1838-1902) in Lucerne. Henri Dunant was also there, in Lucerne and Les Verrières.

There was enormous solidarity in Switzerland. Almost all cantons accommodated the tens of thousands of soldiers and officers. The logistical venture (food, medical care, shelter) was a smooth and efficient operation, and within a few months, repatriation began.

Information about the parcours in Les Verrières.

For a small border village and the young Swiss Confederation (1848), it was the first humanitarian action on behalf of their French neighbour. The three generals Bourbaki, Clinchard and Herzog are depicted on a wall in Les Verrières.

The symbols of the Red Cross, the articles of the Geneva Convention and the Swiss ‘virtues’ — neutralité, humanité and hospitalité — are depicted as well.

The Bourbaki trail in Les Verrières shows the route of the French army and the aftermath of this event.

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