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The historical section. 4 – Napoleon, the Alps and Sempione Pass

The morphological conditions of the land of the Kingdom of Sardinia seemed to ensure the protection of the Savoy territory from a propable French attack.

The Military Stuff of Turin from 1792 had considered sufficient the forts located along the border to break the possible penetration of an invasion force, in order to slow down the action and allow a more powerful ally to give battle in the plains.

This Alpine defensive system, known as the cordon, during the eighteenth century, had given the Savoy the reputation of porters of the Alps.

In fact, the French campaign that ended with the Armistice of Cherasco and the Peace of Paris in 1796 was the result of a deep penetration aimed at isolating the fortified points and occupying the opposing lines of communication and separating the Austrian troops from the Piedmontese, by hitting the weaker ones first.

The Alpine war seemed to favor the Savoy defense: a unit of an ordered level of a battalion, which in the plains would be routed by a cavalry squadron, was in a position of advantage due to altitude domination in the mountains.

The events and the ability of the French troops succeded in putting that system in crisis.

Almost three years later, in 1800, Bonaparte crossed the Alps again, passing through the Gran San Bernardo, to meet the Austrian troops in the plain in front of the fortress of Alessandria, but to descend into the plain had to overcome the barrier of the fort of Bard. The position of the fortification was on the line of communication between the Po Valley and the Alps and represented an imposing obstacle.

On 20 May 1800, the governor of the fortress refused surrender and held off the French, without artillery. The fortress fell after almost two weeks of siege but highlighted the potential of that position that was demolished by Bonaparte after the events of Marengo. Following the French army there was also the Legion Italica, which overtook the Gran San Bernardo, faced the Austrians at Varallo Sesia, covering the right flank of the Grand Armée.

The experience of the first and second campaigns of Italy highlighted the importance of communication routes between France and Italy so much so that the construction of the road linking Italy and France through the Sempione Pass was started.

*Historical re-enactment group First Light Infantry Regiment of the Cisalpine Republic and the Kingdom of Italy.