History enthusiasts take part in the first part of a re-enactement of the Battle of Waterloo
Waterloo - AFP
Under the same leaden skies and the same damp Belgian fields, the Battle of Waterloo was fought again 200 years on Friday -- this time with pyrotechnics and blaring classical music.
Six thousand history enthusiasts from 52 countries in full costume acted out the attack by French emperor Napoleon's forces on British, Prussian and Dutch forces at the start of the historic clash on July 18, 2015.
A day after European royals and politicians sent out a message of peace and reconciliation of the bicentenary of the battle that changed the course of the continent's history, it was time for war.
Around 60,000 spectators were on hand to watch a spectacle which had sold out months ago, seated in huge stands capable of housing more people than Belgium's national football stadium.
Cannons roared on the French side -- even if there were no cannon balls coming out of them -- and sent mushroom clouds of smoke up into the evening air.
"Vive L'empereur," cried one spectator, to laughter, showing that affection for Napoleon has not entirely faded two centuries after the battle that led to his defeat and exile.
The Duke of Wellington's allied forces returned "fire" as costumed re-enactors in period red and blue uniforms with gold braid advanced across the rolling fields south of the capital Brussels.
"The dead were decapitated, mutilated," said a breathless commentator in French, Flemish and English as the sound system played stirring classical music.
Napoleon himself was played by Parisian lawyer Frank Samson -- who on Thursday had a comic encounter with the modern world when he met British eurosceptic politician Farage, at which Farage hailed Waterloo as a victory against a federal Europe.
A second day of re-enactments on Saturday will depict the allied counter-attack -- though in the tradition of the smaller re-stagings that history fans put on every year it is never sure who will actually "win", meaning that Napoleon has scored a few victories in the past.
- 'Battle' follows sober ceremony -
The filmic re-enactment was a far cry from the sombre ceremonies on Thursday's anniversary of an event which still touches a nerve and stirs national passions.
"Waterloo, the folly and the grandeur. The horror and the genius. The tragedy and then the hope," Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said in an opening address.
Michel called for reconciliation through the "European project" and its promise of peace despite modern-day challenges of conflict on its borders in Ukraine and economic worries.
And for all the sound and fury, the re-enactment could not capture the full horror of a battle that altered Europe's fate forever.
Some 47,000 soldiers were killed or wounded soldiers on the fields around the small drab town of Waterloo the target of Napoleon's ill-fated drive north in June 1815.
The battle pitted around 93,000 French troops led by Napoleon against 125,000 British, German and Belgian-Dutch forces under the Duke of Wellington and Field Marshal Bluecher.
Defeat saw Napoleon exiled to Saint Helena in the south Atlantic Ocean, where he died in 1821.
The victors then redrew the map of a Europe which enjoyed almost a century of relative peace until the carnage of World War I.
The battle still stirs strong feelings.
On Wednesday, British heir to the throne Prince Charles unveiled a memorial at the Hougoumont Farmhouse, where allied forces fought off repeated French attacks as Napoleon desperately sought to break their lines.
In contrast France only sent an ambassador to Thursday's ceremony, and kicked up a fuss in the preceding weeks after Belgium tried to mint a commemorative euro coin featuring the battle.