Ajaccio, Corsica: the origins
"For me, Corsica is not a place like any other, it's a family*" said Napoleon Bonaparte, who had a passionate relationship with the island. Born in Ajaccio in 1769, a year after Corsica became part of France, his memory is present in every corner of the city. A stone's throw from the citadel, you can visit the cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, where the future emperor was baptised in 1771, the house where he was born, now a museum, and the Alcôve room, where he is said to have stayed on his return from Egypt in October 1799, The Town Hall, with its Napoleonic salon and its collection of coins and medals telling the history of the Consulate and the Empire, and the Fesch Museum, home to the Imperial Family Chapel, where you can admire the largest gallery of family portraits. The most moving of all is undoubtedly the Napoleon Grotto, where the young boy is said to have liked to come and wonder...
Toulon: the consecration of a soldier between Provence and the Mediterranean
The port of Toulon, lined with forts, bears witness to the siege of 1793, which ended with the victory of the Republican army over the Anglo-Spanish fleet. At the helm was a soldier who rose through the ranks in a flash: a simple artillery captain, Bonaparte was promoted to general at the end of the final battle. At the time, Toulon was France's main naval port and the starting point for one of Napoleon's most ambitious adventures: the Egyptian expedition led by Bonaparte in 1798. In the footsteps of this glorious past, the port can be explored by boat or on foot. On the shores of the Mediterranean, Fort Balaguier, one of the most important defensive works of the period and now a museum of local history, is the starting point for a delightful trip to La Seyne-sur-Mer, from the botanical gardens to the Corniche Michel Pacha and its sumptuous oriental-style villas (late 19th century). Fort Napoléon, built in 1821 to replace the Mulgrave redoubt, the main English stronghold during the siege of Toulon, stands on the Caire hill. In summer, concerts are held in the main courtyard, far from the thunder of the cannons of yesteryear.
Domaine national de Saint-Cloud: memories of a coup d'état
Nothing remains of the Château de Saint-Cloud from Napoleon's heyday, after it was destroyed in the war of 1870. But the history of the estate on the outskirts of Paris is written behind every tree. On one of the terraces, a large marble inlay shows the layout of the palace and its outbuildings in 1811: the Orangerie, where Bonaparte took power as First Consul during the coup d'état of 18 Brumaire (10 November 1799), and the Apollo Gallery, where he was officially proclaimed Emperor of the French in 1804. At the entrance to the main gate, a museum presents the history of the château and the estate. Listed as a historic monument and awarded the label of "remarkable garden", its 460 hectares illustrate four centuries of garden design, in particular the art of the French garden, with its ponds, fountains and groves.
Château de Malmaison: in the intimacy of a family
A stone's throw from Paris, the Château de Malmaison embodies the halcyon days of Napoleon's adventures. The seat of government from 1800 to 1802, it was, along with the Tuileries, the most intimate of the imperial residences: Josephine, who inherited it in 1809 after her divorce, put her own stamp on it, including the gardens, laid out by the greatest botanists of the time. Political meetings, balls and theatrical performances punctuated daily life, which was reflected in the richly decorated rooms in the style of the period, inspired by antiquity and the Renaissance. The mahogany library where Napoleon worked, Josephine's oval bedroom, draped in red cloth and decorated with gold embroidery, where she died in 1814. The most moving part is the top floor, dedicated to the last six years of the deposed emperor's exile on the island of St Helena.
Tuileries: the garden of remembrance
The home of kings, the official residence of the Emperor from 1802 and the birthplace of his son, the King of Rome, the Tuileries Palace was burnt down during the Paris Commune in 1871. But the memory of the Empire hangs over the gardens of this magnificent French-style park, which is a listed building.
Commissioned by Napoleon I to celebrate the victory of the Grande Armée at Austerlitz, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, with its quadriga of horses, still stands opposite the Louvre Pyramid, while the rebuilt Flore and Marsan pavilions are now part of the Louvre Museum.
Notre-Dame de Paris: Napoleon I's coronation
It's one of the most striking images of Napoleon I's reign: on 2 December 1804, the emperor crowned himself with the imperial crown in the nave of the cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris during a magnificent ceremony. Dressed in imperial regalia for the occasion, the church had come a long way: ransacked during the French Revolution, then transformed into a temple to the goddess of reason and then into a wine warehouse, it was only in the second half of the 19th century that it underwent a major renovation under the aegis of Viollet-Le Duc. To imagine the splendour of the coronation under the Gothic vaults, you will have to hold on for a little while: the monument will reopen on 8 December 2024, five and a half years after the fire that devastated it. In the meantime, the priceless collection of the "Trésor de Notre-Dame" can be admired at the Musée du Louvre, which is devoting an exhibition to it until 29 January 2024, with more than 120 works normally displayed in the sacristy (priestly vestments, reliquaries, manuscripts, masterpieces of French goldsmithing). Also on display is the famous coronation crown, known as the Crown of Charlemagne, made in 1804 by the goldsmith Martin-Guillaume Biennais, a magnificent work with 40 cameos and engraved stones.
Château de Fontainebleau: the splendour and decline of the Empire
Home to the kings of France from the 12th to the 19th centuries, the Château de Fontainebleau, near Paris, holds a special place in the Napoleonic fascination. Witness to the Emperor's dazzling rise to power, it was also the scene of the Empire's fall! The opulence intended by Napoleon I, who made it his second country residence after its restoration, has been preserved. Among the 1,500 rooms with their refined interiors, you'll find the sumptuous apartment of Napoleon I, with its gilded panelling, crimson brocade and dark green fabrics, and in particular the Abdication Room, where Napoleon signed his resignation from power on 4 and 6 April 1814. The museum dedicated to the First Empire is also worth a visit, with ten rooms devoted to the great Napoleonic epic, from the coronation to the abdication.