Ajaccio in Napoleon's footsteps

Four years ago, Ajaccio celebrated the 250th anniversary of Napoleon's birth (August 15, 1769). Follow us through the historic heart of Corsica, from his birthplace to the memorial erected in his honour. An imperial visit!

A chef's birthplace

The presence of the Bonaparte family, of Genoese origin, in Corsica dates back to the end of the 15th century. The imposing ochre-coloured house with green shutters in a narrow street in the old town was Bonaparte's birthplace in 1769, a year after Corsica became part of France. Today it houses a national museum commemorating the Emperor and his family in Corsica, with an attractive collection of furniture and a programme of temporary exhibitions.

Dreams of grandeur nurtured in the Casone cave

On a hill at the top of the Cours Grandval, Ajaccio's elegant boulevard lined with 19th century villas, a chaos of granite blocks forms the Grotte du Casone. It is said that the young Bonaparte retreated here to read and imagine his future. At the top of a grand staircase, a statue of Napoleon 1st wearing a bicorne commemorates the man and his work, with landmark achievements such as the Civil Code, the University and the Banque de France inscribed in stone.

Place Foch honours the local hero

The luminous esplanade leading down to the seafront and its liners forms the link between what were once the Genoese quarter, where Napoleon was born, and U Borgu, the working-class suburb of the corailleurs and leather workers. At the beginning of the 19th century, Napoleon Bonaparte, who had become First Consul, modernised the city by demolishing the ramparts that separated the two areas. Ajaccio's lively square is a must for visitors and is watched over by a statue of Napoleon Bonaparte dressed as a Roman consul.

The Cathedral, cradle but never grave

Napoleon Bonaparte was baptised in July 1771 in this baroque building overlooking the sea. Although he left Ajaccio at the age of nine, visited it a few times in his early adulthood and returned for the last time in 1799 on his return from Egypt, he loved his hometown. A red marble plaque on a pillar in the nave expresses his last wishes, delivered to St Helena: *If they forbid my body, as they did my person, if they refuse me a little earth, I wish to be buried with my ancestors in the cathedral of Ajaccio, in Corsica.

The imperial chapel, last refuge of the Bonapartes in Ajaccio

Napoleon's ashes were transferred to the Invalides in Paris in 1861, but Napoleon III had an imperial chapel built in the Fesch Palace in Ajaccio to house the tombs of nine members of the Bonaparte family, including the emperor's parents and Cardinal Fesch, his maternal uncle. Cardinal Fesch, a great art collector, bequeathed to the city some of his treasures, which are displayed in the building he designed during his nephew's reign. Numerous portraits of the family, including some of the Emperor, are on display, forming a Napoleonic collection.

Find out more :

Getting to Ajaccio in Corsica