Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Marquis de Radepont & the Comte de Béarn

While in Mexico, Henri de Büren was introduced to two Frenchmen, Aimé Louis-Victor du Bosc, Marquis de Radepont and Louis-Hector Galard-Brassac, Comte de Béarn by Francis de Palezieux-Falconnet at his country house in Tucubaya.

In his 1853 letters Henri talks about the Marquis de Radepont as “A kind and accommodating man. He is a retired military officer who spent his service in Africa and someone who concerns himself with agricultural affaires in Mexico.” Of the Comte de Béarn he says “He is attached to the French Legation in Washington D.C. and is traveling in Mexico for his pleasure and as well as his education.”

Henri travelled extensively throughout Mexico with these two men. As a fellow aristocrat, he probably felt at home in their company. Henri spent a great deal of time around Puebla during his time in Mexico and it is fascinating to think that one of men with whom he travelled the Mexican countryside would be instrumental in the French intervention in Mexico, and the initial French defeat at Puebla.

The policy of installing a satellite monarchy in Mexico and thus expanding France's power in the region would be attributed to the Marquis de Radepont, who would later become an advisor to French Emperor Louis Napoleon III. Radepont had entered Mexico a number of years earlier as a foreign observer with General Winfield Scott's American Army during the Mexican-American war and stayed to make his fortune. It is also interesting to note that the reason for the intervention to begin with was the Mexican refusal to repay loans to European powers, and that Henri was the guest while in Mexico of the agent for the Committee of Mexican Bond holders.

French Intervention in Mexico Background
The French intervention in Mexico, also known as the Maximilian Affair and The Franco-Mexican War, was an invasion of Mexico by the army of the Second French Empire, supported in the beginning by the British and Spanish. It followed President Benito Juárez's suspension of interest payments to foreign countries on 17 July 1861, which angered Mexico's major creditors Spain, France and the United Kingdom. Napoleon III of France was the leader of this operation, and the three powers signed the Treaty of London on 31 October, to unite their efforts to receive payments from Mexico. On 8 December the Spanish fleet and troops from Spanish-controlled Cuba arrived at Mexico's main Gulf port, Veracruz.

The presidential terms of Benito Juárez (1858–71) were interrupted by the Habsburg monarchy's rule of Mexico (1864–67). Conservatives tried to institute a monarchy when they helped to bring to Mexico an archduke from the Royal House of Austria, Maximilian of Habsburg (who married Charlotte of Belgium, also known as Carlota of Mexico), with the military support of France, which was interested in exploiting the rich mines in the north-west of the country. Many historians believe that the French established the monarchy when they did because the United States was in the middle of its Civil War (1861–65), and thus was unable to intervene as it might according to its Monroe Doctrine.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cacahuamilpa Grotto

While in Mexico, Henri documented in an 1853 letter a journey he made to the Cacahuamilpa gotto. I have translated the following exerpt:

"After a small duck hunt at a nearby lagoon we arrived at Cacahuamilpas. After paying the local judge 15 pesos for the right to enter the grotto, we were met by 20 or so Indians who would light the way for us inside this immense dark labyrinth. Once inside we were treated to one of the most grandiose displays of unique natural beauty that we are ever likely to witness."

Cacahuamilpa is one of the largest cave systems in the world. It is a "live" cave system, meaning that groundwater still filters down into it, and that the formations there are still growing. Inside the cavern system are ninety large "salons" separated by large natural rock walls and connected to one another via a central gallery. However, only about twenty of these are fully explored and open to the public. Most of these salons are located under the Cerro de la Corona, a limestone mountain ridge.

Credit for the “discovery” of the caves is given to Manuel Saénz de la Peña, who used the caves in 1834 to hide from Spanish authorities, which prompted a thorough search of the area. In 1866, Dominik Bilimek and Maximiliano von Habsburg made the first biospeleological visit to the cave. F. Bonet surveyed and mapped the cave up to 1,380 meters in 1922 and it was opened to the public during that decade. The first scientific expedition to the caves was organized by the Secretary of the French Legation in 1935, and the national park was established in 1936 by President Lázaro Cárdenas. Guided tours began in 1969, and a second survey in 1987 established the cave system’s length at between four and five kilometers.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Agricultural Society & Champ-de-l'Air

Henri de Büren like his father before him was a great botanist and lover of agriculture. Henri was President of the Neuchâtel Society of Agriculture from 1859 to 1884 and was for a time also President of the Agricultural Society for all of French Speaking Switzerland. A plaque given to Henri by the Canton of Neuchâtel denotes his service.

Le Conseil d'Etat de la République et Canton de Neuchâtel au Citoyen Henri de Buren, Président de la Société Neuchâteloise d'Agriculture, 1859-1884.

On a related note, in 1872 Henri helped his father Albert, the last Baron of Vaumarcus, donate his extensive Herbarium (An organized collection of dried plants) to the city of Bern and his collection of 1700 living plants to the city of Lausanne. The living plants would become the Jardin du Champ-de-l'Air. Many of the dried plant samples within his father's collection were surely examples Henri had brought back with him from the Americas.

Jardin du Champ-de-l'Air © Musées et jardins botaniques cantonaux, Lausanne

The following passage about the Champ-de-l'Air comes from Alphonse Laverrière, 1872-1954: parcours dans les archives d'un architecte By Pierre Frey

"Au XIXe siècle, l'idée de créer un jardin botanique à Lausanne accompagne plusieurs projets d'établissement de nouveaux quartiers: Derrière-Bourg, Georgette, Montbenon sont évoqués successivement. C'est une préoccupation à la fois urbaine et scientifique, soutenue par des étrangers de passage, un argument à porter au crédit de la villégiature. Mais c'est un legs de 1700 plantes et de 25 000 francs fait par Albert de Büren, dernier baron de Vaumarcus, à l'Etat de Vaud qui permet de concrétiser les projets. Les plantes léguées sont installées au jardin du Champ-de-l'Air pour les besoins de l'Ecole de pharmacie et de l'Ecole d'agriculture. Dès 1893, sous l'impulsion du professeur Ernst Wilczek, le jardin botanique universitaire s'installe à la rue de Couvaloup."

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Legacy of Artistic Expression - Natalie de Buren

My project is not only about my great-great-grandfather Henri de Buren, his life and travels, but it is also about what has happened since.

Henri was encouraged by his father to express himself artistically (as described in an earlier post), and he passed that same enthusiam down to his family. Natalie de Buren, Henri's granddaughter and my great-aunt was a shining example of that passion for art. She was a Swiss 20th century artist whose most important works were created between the 1920s and 1940s. She engaged in many artistic styles, but sculpture was her first love.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Santa María de Guadalupe & the Arbol de la Noché Triste

In a February 1853 letter home from Mexico, Henri talks about a number sites he has visited around Mexico City, namely Otumba and Guadalupe.

He says "I went two times to Otumba to admire the beautiful cedar under which Cortés rested after the combat of the Noché Triste. It is a venerable old tree, with a huge base and a crown that has suffered over the years with many parts having died back. From there I went to Guadalupe, to see the beautiful church of Santa María where people come on pilgrimage from many distant points within this vast republic. We found a natural mineral spring in the chapel, where the water is said to be blessed."

Arbol de la Noché Triste

Basilica de Santa María de Guadalupe

From Central and South America, Augutus Henry Keane, 1901
Another historical tree that of Cortés Noché Triste stands near an old church in the village of Popotla on the road to Guadalupe At the foot of this tree a species of cedar still 40 feet high Cortes is said to have passed a sad night bemoaning his misfortunes after the disastrous retreat of the Spaniards during the night of the evacuation The famous sanctuary of Guadalupe which is still resorted to by thousands of devotees commemorates a popular legend about the apparition of the Madonna to an Indian ordering him to have a shrine erected on the spot and confirming the message by miraculous incidents.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


For those of you who donated recently, many thanks. Every bit helps towards the production of my documentary.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Fortress of Kuelap

While traveling across Peru in 1853, Henri and his expedition became bogged down in the town of Chachapoyas. After a couple of days in the city square he became restless. He and a couple members of the expedition went with local villagers to the ancient fortress of Kuelap. Henri marveled at the height of the stone walls and the sheer size of the overall fortress.

He says “The feeling of awe and admiration that one feels when confronted with a great work of human achievement is what I felt the moment I walked in the great door of Kuelap.”

It is interesting to note that Henri was at Kuelap only 10 years after its “discovery” by Juan Crisóstomo Nieto.

The fortress of Kuelap (or Cuélap), associated with the Chachapoyas culture, consists of massive exterior stone walls containing more than four hundred buildings. The structure, situated on a ridge overlooking the Utcubamba Valley in northern Peru, is roughly 600 meters in length and 110 meters in width. Radiocarbon dating samples show that the structures construction started in the 6th century AD and occupied until the Early Colonial period (1532-1570).

This prime example of Chachapoyan architecture, Kuelap, remained ignored by the outside world until 1843, when Juan Crisóstomo Nieto, a Chachapoyas judge, made a survey of the area and took note of Kuelap's great size, guided by villagers who had known of the site for generations. Subsequently, Kuelap earned the attention of explorers, historians and archaeologists. Notable observers who helped publicize the site included Frenchman Louis Langlois (who wrote a description of Kuelap in the 1930s), Adolph Francis Alphonse Bandelier, Ernst Middendorf, Charles Wiener and Antonio Raimondi.
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