On This Day

Great Fire of Moscow

Napoleon retreats from Moscow as it burns, in a painting by Viktor Mazurovsky
Napoleon retreats from Moscow as it burns, in a painting by Viktor Mazurovsky

Historical Context

In 1812, French Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte launched his disastrous invasion of Russia in order to pressure Alexander I to stop trading with British merchants so the UK would sue for peace with France. Scorched-earth tactics were employed by the Russians consistently during the invasion, and as a result the French found it difficult to supply their massive army.

As Napoléon approached Moscow, Fyodor Rostopchin who was the Governor-General of the city, ordered several important buildings be burned. Most buildings in Moscow were made of wood, so what started as a series of small fires quickly turned into a city-wide conflagration.

Napoleon entered the Kremlin on September 15, and was later relocated as the fires threatened the complex. The French army occupied the city for a month, waiting for a peace offer from the Tsar, which never came. It is estimated that 3/4 of all buildings in Moscow were destroyed, and more than 12,000 were dead. The French were devastated in Russia; their army was reduced to a fraction of its strength, and Napoléon's reputation was significantly weakened.

Painting Info

Artist: Viktor Mazurovsky
Location painted: Moscow, Russian Empire

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Related Events

  • 1812-09-14 Great Fire of Moscow begins as Napoleon approaches the city and retreating Russians burn it - fire continues to burn for five days
  • 1812-09-18 Great Fire of Moscow burns out after 5 days, 75% of the city destroyed and 12,000 killed

Historical Paintings