Category: World / November 30, 2012 1:20 PM EST
In October 1812, French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte wrote a one-page letter to a military commander in Moscow instructing him to "blow up the Kremlin"; the old palace did not survive the order but the letter itself did.
The letter has been on display in a Paris auction house, just a stone's throw from the Emperor's final resting place ahead of a sale to take place on Sunday (December 2).
To the naked eye the letter appears to be a string of numbers signed simply, 'Nap', but Napoleon expert working at the Osenat auction house, Jean-Christophe Chataignier, explained its significance to Reuters TV.
"It's a very rare letter which is written in code, a bit like the secret service of the time. Napoleon was in Moscow at a very difficult time for him psychologically. He arrives in a town practically burning, deserted by the Muscovites, the Tsar has left. And faced with this situation he leaves Moscow but he gives the order to blow up the Kremlin," Chataignier said.
Given its explosive content and the fact that so few such letters survive, Chataignier expects it to generate a great deal of interest among collectors.
"The estimate for the letter is 10,000 to 15,000 euros. But I think that thanks to the impact and the force of that first sentence, because Napoleon starts the letter straight away saying 'It's three o'clock and I'm blowing up the Kremlin', I think it's a letter which is striking from the first word," he said.
The order was carried out, the palace was burnt, and with it went a large number of precious works of art which were never recovered. Chataignier said that while Russian collectors still celebrate the leader's legendary military ability, they find it hard to forgive what they see as an act of vandalism.
But he considers it possible that a Russian collector may snap up the letter when it goes on sale this Sunday, if a French collector or museum does not get there first.
Two hundred years later, the historic piece of paper could end up headed back to where it came from.