FRANCE CORSICA AjaccioAjaccio (pop 65 150) is the largest Corsican town and is the capital of the Corse-du-Sud department. Founded by the Romans, the city’s modern-day name is an adaptation of its original Roman name, Adjaccium (meaning A place to rest). Ajaccio lives up to this title by housing several resorts and cafes, a beach and a relaxed harbour- all backed up by a stunning mountain range. However, do not let this laidback elegance fool you, as Ajaccio has had its fair share of importance in the French history books. Born as a Roman city, Ajaccio quickly grew to become an important town under the Genoese. It functioned as a Genoese stronghold all throughout the 18th century, until Corsica was annexed to France. However, the elegant and affluent port city’s main claim to fame is as the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte. The city pays homage to the great conqueror, in the form of numerous statues, museums and street names.

The city is located at the northern shore of the Gulf of Ajaccio. The port is located in the Gulf, at the eastern end of the city, while the Old City quarter is located southwest of this. Cours Napoleon is the main street that cuts down Ajaccio, longitudinally; leading you to the northern end of the city, where you will find the train station (servicing towns like Bastia, Calvi and Corte). You can also arrive at Ajaccio via boats, at the ferry terminal [quai l’Herminier] or catch a regional flight to the Aéroport d’Ajaccio-Campo dell’Oro.



FRANCE CORSICA ajaccio placeAlthough much of Ajaccio sights are Napoleon-related, it should be noted that the great ruler did not spend much time here. Born to an Italian dad and Corsican mother here in Ajaccio, the future emperor of France left his birth town at the age of nine. He took off for an education in Autun in mainland France, as he was able to leverage on his father’s minor nobility. He did not return to the city for the rest of his life- even after being crowned the Emperor of France, in 1804. Nonetheless, it is said that he held the island close to his heart, as he was quoted fondly remembering the macqui-scented Corsica during his exile in the neighbouring island of Elba.

The maison in which the man was born, is usually the first stop on the Napoleon trail. The 18th century building where Napoleon was born and lived the first nine years of his life is now known as the Musée National de la Maison Bonaparte [18 rue St- Charles, +33 495214389 www.musees-nationaux-napoleoniens.org/ ad/ch €4.5-7/Free]. Napoleon’s mother who saved the building from abandonment (as it was ransacked and destroyed by Corsican nationalists and the English, throughout the 1790s) rebuilt the house. Well-decorated with period furniture, the museum houses artefacts from the ruler’s childhood (such as a lock of his hair, baptismal certificate and other trinkets) and is treated somewhat like a holy site, by French revolutionaries. Hence, visitors are expected to maintain this level of respect whilst in the premises. If you head a few kilometres west of this museum you will arrive at Place de Gaulle, which houses an equestrian statue (erected during the Second Empire) of Napoleon on horseback, dressed in Roman attire. The triumphant king stands in the midst of his four brothers, who each have his own granite pedestal. Yet another statue of the hometown hero resides further up north, at Place Foch. This statue was created under the First Empire, depicting Napoleon (clad in Roman toga) as the First Counsel, flanked by lions. The local town hall, Hôtel de Ville is also along this street and it houses the Salon Napoléon [Avenue Antoine Serafini, +33 495515253 www.ajaccio.fr/Salons-Napoleoniens_a50.html ad/ch €2.30/Free] on its first floor. This salon pays an artistic tribute to the former emperor, by housing several paintings and statues of the ruler and his entourage, as well as his family.

If you head a few good kilometres north of this, you will arrive at one of the finest Napoléon musuems in Corsica- the Musée Fesch [rue Cardinal Fesch, +33 495262626 www.musee-fesch.com/ ad/ch €8/5]. Established by Joseph Fesch, Napoléon’s step-uncle and bishop of Lyon, the museum houses a stellar collection of European paintings, acquired from Holland, Germany and Italy. Most of the paintings belonged to the bishop’s private collection, which he bequeathed to the city. The museum is attached to the Chapelle Imperiale [ad/ch €1.50/0.75], (located across a courtyard), which is known for sheathing the crypts of the Bonaparte family. The bishop’s dying wish was to be united with his family members, and so, the chapel was built in 1857. The bodies of the family members (except Napoléon’s) were brought in soon after.

The only non-Napoléonic museum in Ajaccio is the Musée Bandera [rue du General Lévie, +33 495510734 www.musee-abandera.fr/ ad/ch €5]. This recently renovated museum is dedicated to the history of the island of Corsica. It documents the ups and downs of the island form prehistoric times, to the Second World War.
The south-easternmost section is home to the citadel. Unfortunately, this walled area is closed off the public. The only way to get inside is to apply for one of the guided tours that the local tourist office conducts between the months of April and October.

If you are unable to visit the citadel, you can venture into the Cathédrale Ste-Marie, which is located right outside the walled area. This 16th century cathedral was where Napoléon was baptised (hence it contains his baptismal font). It also houses the original Eugene Delacroix painting of The Virgin with a Sacred Heart.

You might want to head one of Ajaccio’s fine beaches; to rest your weary legs after all the sightseeing is done. The most popular beach in the city is the Tahiti Plage, which spans across its northeastern border, leading you to the airport. The southwestern section of Ajaccio also caters to beach-goers, as it is home to an array of small beaches (namely the Ariane, Parinella and Palm beaches).