Two centuries after he invaded the Republic of Venice, looting its art and knocking down its buildings, Napoleon Bonaparte is at last to be tried at the scene of his alleged crimes.
Historical groups said yesterday that a mock trial is to be held in period costume in Venice's Ca'Corner palace to judge the true effect of the French emperor's invasion.
The decision is the latest and most impassioned move in a campaign to prevent the return of the emperor's statue to a Venetian museum.
Livio Simone, of Italy's Napoleonic Association, said he would be happy to defend Napoleon on trial, "provided it's fair and based on historical testimony, and doesn't become a Nuremberg hearing".
Bonaparte supporters argue that his policies profited the citizenry and that the clearance of old buildings improved the city.
Mr Simone conceded that the opposition to the statue posed an "interesting" challenge, and said Venetians were attached to their past because, unlike other Italian cities, it had been a heavyweight republic.
"We all know how things went, and that the fall of Venice wasn't only Napoleon's fault. All he did was give the final shock to a state which at most would have lasted another 30 years."
However, for Francesco Maria Elia, a lawyer organising the trial with other opponents, the statue's arrival had to be stopped.
In their view, Napoleon was a tyrant who had robbed their city of its independence, as well as its artistic and architectural treasures. "It would be like putting a statue to the glory of Nelson in the Louvre museum in Paris," he explained.
The 8ft-high marble statue, by Domenico Banti, depicts Napoleon as Caesar, bare-torsoed and with right arm outstretched, and holding a globe in his left hand.
It was commissioned by local merchants grateful for his transformation of Venice into a free port and stood in St Mark's Square from 1811 until 1814, when the city fell to the Austrians.
Historians lost track of the sculpture and when it resurfaced at auction last year, the French Save Venice Committee and a local foundation bought it and gave it to the city.
Now, in a move which has infuriated opponents, it has been decided to put it on permanent show in the Museo Correr in St Mark's Square.
The local history museum, which boasts a Napoleonic wing, stands on the site of the San Giminiano church, which Napoleon demolished along with other buildings.
"The return of this statue to Venice is justified by the fact that it is a Venetian work and that Napoleon is part of Venetian history," said Jerome Zieseniss, a French historian who is the committee's president.
He defended Napoleon, saying that much looted art went to museums in accordance with revolutionary ideals, and that the emperor had toppled an archaic state and in its place introduced modern concepts such as equality of citizens.
But Prof Pietro Bortoluzzi, a specialist in Venetian history and a local administrator, disagreed. "Venice had nothing to learn from Napoleon and if anything it was the other way round," he said.
"No one can deny that Napoleon gave a certain impetus to European history, but that is no reason not to do justice to the institutional quality of the Venetian republic.
"It was the only republic in the world. Yes, it was an oligarchy, but it provided for the different social classes to be widely represented, all of whom were treated equally before the law.
"In addition, in May 1797 the Great Council, under the Doge and before the arrival of the French, decided on its own to transform the republic into a democratic municipality."