14 September 1321
Death in Ravenna of Florentine poet Dante Alighieri. Dante’s best-known poem, his Divine Comedy, has been described as the finest work ever written in the Italian language.
14 September 1812: Napoleon’s grand entrance into Moscow turns to ash and ruins
Victorious French troops find a city deserted and ablaze
It should have been one of the greatest moments of Napoleon’s life. On 14 September 1812, a week after his crushing victory at the battle of Borodino, the French dictator rode towards the gates of Moscow, ready to take the city’s surrender. But there was nobody there: no dignitaries, no nobles, nobody.
The first French troops to enter the city sent back strange reports. The place was empty, save for peasants and foreign residents. And then, on the first night of the French occupation, came the first reports of fire in the Kitay-gorod bazaar.
Even as Napoleon rode into the Kremlin, the fire spread. Some French – and even Russian – officers suggested it had been started deliberately as part of a campaign of Russian resistance, by arsonists equipped with flammable materials.
“The existence of inflammable fuses, all made in the same fashion and placed in different public and private buildings, is a fact of which I, as well as many others, had personal evidence,” wrote one of Napoleon’s generals. “I saw these fuses on the spot and many were taken to the emperor.”
By the 16th, with the city ablaze and smoke rising over the Kremlin, Napoleon was persuaded to move to the Petrovsky Palace, over the Moscow river. Thousands were killed. And with so many buildings being made of wood, the fire was simply unstoppable. Churches, shops, warehouses, offices – all went up in smoke.
By the time Napoleon returned to the Kremlin, he was the master of a city in ruins. His dream had – quite literally – turned to ashes. A few weeks later, with no sign of a Russian surrender, he ordered his army to begin the long march west.
14 September 1982
Princess Grace of Monaco died of her injuries after her car went off the road and over a cliff in Monaco. Her daughter, Princess Stephanie, was with her in the car but she survived the accident.