Ajaccio in Corsica, France breathes the unique atmosphere of the old streets against the green mountains

Ajaccio

Ajaccio is the capital and largest city of Corsica. Sunny, picturesque, bustling but cozy, Ajaccio is a witness and keeper of a history that tells the dramatic and epochal stories that have marked the face of this Mediterranean island and the legendary temper of its inhabitants.

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Highlights

Today, mountainous Corsica, whose proud beauty was admired by the ancient Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans, is the territory of the French Republic. Iberian and Ligurian tribes once lived here, and later, in the III-II centuries B.C. the island was conquered by the Romans. In the VI-VIII centuries, Corsica belonged to the Byzantine Empire. Corsica belonged to Byzantium, and it was in this period that written sources first mention Ajaccio.

In 601, Pope Gregory the First wrote in a letter to his representative in Corsica about the city of Adiation (Ajaccio). The document refers to the city as the center of an ecclesiastical diocese and the seat of a bishop.

The popular local interpretation of the name Ajaccio, which associates it with the name of the ancient Greek hero Ajax, is more likely to be from the realm of mythology. A more plausible version is that the name comes from the ancient Greek Αγαθή (“good”, “good”, “comfortable”).

From the Genoese to Napoleon

Ajaccio is situated on the southwestern coast of Corsica, at the foot of wooded hills. The city owes its fortified position to the Genoese, who, with greater or lesser success, held the Corsican territories for more than five hundred years, from the 13th to the 18th centuries.

The Genoese Tower of Ajaccio

Constantly under threat of capture by other Mediterranean powers as well as Berber pirates, the Genoese Republic built citadels in the island’s coastal towns with enviable persistence. In 1492, under the direction of the Italian architect Cristoforo de Gandino, a fortress was also built at Ajaccio. At first its fortifications were very weak, and during the Italian wars they did not deter the French troops, who easily captured the city. But after the return of Corsica to Genoa, the citadel was strengthened, rebuilt, and it acquired its modern look.

You would be surprised, but the fortress of Ajaccio is a military facility even today. The citadel is closed to tourists, but nothing prevents a walk by its walls or admire from afar the fortress bastions and towers, which look especially romantic at sunset.

Ajaccio in the mid-twentieth century

Perhaps the Genoese fortress would still be the main historical site of Ajaccio to this day, if it were not for the birth of a great man – a talented politician and a brilliant military leader Napoleon Bonaparte – on August 15, 1769 in this city. It is said that as a child, the future emperor loved to watch the changing of the guard at the gates of the Genoese citadel.

In Ajaccio every street, park and square is in one way or another associated with the great French emperor and his family. The famous family name is reminded in the names of fountains, squares, museums, and sculptural statues of Napoleon himself are literally everywhere, and the exact number of them no one knows.

Sights of Ajaccio

The most interesting historical sites are located in the Old Town area. Among them is the Town Hall, which houses the Napoleon Museum. It contains the emperor’s personal belongings, valuable historical documents, as well as paintings and works of art of that era. The museum owes this collection largely to the uncle of Napoleon – Cardinal Joseph Fesch, because originally many of the exhibits were in his Roman residence.

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The best art gallery in Ajaccio bears the cardinal’s name. At one time, the emperor’s uncle invested almost all of his capital in art, and today the Musée Fesh boasts an impressive collection of paintings that includes works by masters of the French, Spanish, Flemish, Germanic and Dutch schools. The cardinal was particularly fond of Italian paintings from the Renaissance. The most valuable painting in the museum is Botticelli’s Madonna and Child. The museum ranks second in France for the number of collected Italian paintings, second only to the collection of the Louvre. They are represented in four thematic areas: religion, mythology, history and still life.

Another pilgrimage destination for tourists in Ajaccio is the Bonaparte House on the Place Laetitia. Napoleon was born here and spent his childhood years. The atmosphere in the house is as close as possible to that which reigned within these walls during his childhood. The museum also has an excellent collection of weapons, paintings, miniatures, historical documents and personal correspondence. Entrance to the museum is free on Sundays, but on weekdays you have to pay 7 euros.

It is also worth visiting the private museum Capitella. Its exhibits illustrate the history of the ancient families associated with Ajaccio from the Genoese times to the present day. The museum is located on the street named after Daniella Casanova, the legendary heroine of the French Resistance. Those who are interested in this period of history can visit her house, which is not far from the fortress.

Also worth a visit is the Millelli Museum, where you can get acquainted with the local traditions of decorating houses in the Tuscan-Corsican style. Here you will see items of folk art, antiques, and ethnographic exhibits.

Another important landmark of Ajaccio is the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. It was built at the end of the 16th century, during the Genoese domination, and in 1771 Napoleon Bonaparte was baptized here. Today the church has the status of the cathedral of the diocese of Ajaccio. The architectural design of the church was by architect Giacomo della Porto and is a striking example of Renaissance architecture.

Hiking

Ajaccio, like any other coastal Mediterranean city with its narrow streets and bustling port, is a perfect place for leisurely walks.

Monument to Napoleon on Place Foch

The traditional tourist route winds its way between the Cité, the Port, Place de Gaulle and Place Foch.

Make a pleasant shopping in the Napoleon’s Alley and rue de Fauche. Here are tourist offices, cafes, a square and one of the many monuments to Napoleon, at whose feet peacefully settled not at all menacing, good-natured lions.

The neighboring streets are almost entirely occupied by crowded restaurants and cafes with cozy terraces.

Fans of Napoleon are pleased to discover another statue of the French emperor on Austerlitz Square. Here he is depicted in his typical military surcoat and the famous triangle. The figure itself is mounted on a high pedestal, which resembles an Egyptian pyramid.

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If you like peace and scenic views, take a walk from the port along the coast, just beyond the fortress, between the Naval Station and Napoleon’s Alley. Here you will feel the real atmosphere of a southern Mediterranean town, where the narrow streets are constantly filled with the laughter of children and the shouts of their mothers, and the conversations of the neighbors are very emotional.

In the garden at Miot square, next to the Air Force headquarters, it’s nice to sit in the shade and take a break from strolling around the city.

Beach relaxation

There are lots of lovely beaches around Ajaccio, set in picturesque coves. You can drive towards the airport where there are long, sandy shorelines next to the Mezzavia shopping center. This is where recreational runners (joggers) usually train.

From Ajaccio you can take a catamaran trip, motor boat or excursion to the very beautiful Sanguinaries islands, so called because of the color of the rocks that form them. Here excellent beaches, and especially spectacular look islands at sunset. The cost of the tour – from 17 euros per person.

Casinos and restaurants in Ajaccio

There is a casino in Ajaccio, the only one in Corsica. Here you can spend your time with both avid gamblers and those who are not attracted to gambling. The casino is in a spectacular historic building and has been open for decades. The atmosphere is exquisite and historic and many people come here just to enjoy the elite drinks at the trendy bar.

Gourmets love to hang out at Le Grand Napoleon which has been in continuous operation in Ajaccio since the Second World War. Many adventurous stories are associated with this establishment, which attracts a large number of curious visitors. The cafe has a wide representation of national cuisine, and the first, second courses and desserts, created according to ancient recipes, are simply delightful. The cost of a hearty lunch will be from 20 to 40 € per person. There are also excellent vegetarian dishes. If you wish to have such a lunch or dinner, you should warn the administrator by phone beforehand. Lovers of refined alcoholic beverages won’t be disappointed either: in the cafe you can get a taste of the best local wines.

Every restaurant in Ajaccio that serves national cuisine offers visitors an incredible array of seafood dishes that the local chefs create in a variety of ways. Sea bass stuffed with vegetables, trout and salmon cooked on coals, all kinds of salads with squid and mussels, lobsters, sea urchins – everyone can choose a dish to match their own idea of Corsican cuisine.

Accommodation

Hotels in Ajaccio are mostly three- and four-star. Regardless of the hotel category, tourists can count on excellent service. Ajaccio, as in France as a whole, has a developed system of renting inexpensive apartments.

The highest ratings from travelers received Villa Aiaccina. The hotel is 5 km from the Sanguiner Islands and Parata Tower. You can walk to the beach in just 1 minute. There is a garden with a terrace and every morning guests can enjoy a traditional Corsican breakfast with meats, cheese, pastries and fruit.

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Good value for money is demonstrated by the three-star Hôtel Du Golfe, located in the center of Ajaccio, next to the main market square. The hotel overlooks the sea, which can be accessed through a beautiful flower garden. Directly in front of the hotel is a paid city parking lot.

The French-style Loft Barbicaja Plage has also earned the love of tourists. It offers free bike rentals, a private beach and a sun terrace with an outdoor canopy bed. The apartments feature a private kitchen and free Wi-Fi. Barbecue facilities are available. Grocery deliveries are available as well. Active guests can go fishing, hiking or cycling.

How to get there

Ajaccio Napoleon Bonaparte Airport Napoleon Bonaparte airport is located 8 km east of the city center. Since 2013 there are charter flights from Moscow airport “Domodedovo” (once in 11-12 days). You can get to Ajaccio from the airport by car, cab or by bus, which stops in particular at the bus and train stations.

Take a bus to Ajaccio from Bastia (3 hours, 18€ ticket), Bonifacio (4h, 19,5€), change from Calvi (2,5h, 20€).

Ajaccio

Ajaccio is the soul of Corsica. It is the largest city of the island and at the same time its capital. The city is located on the west coast of Corsica in a picturesque landscape. Its population is 69,075 people. To get here, you can take a bus from Bastia in 3 hours, from Bonifacio in 4 hours or from Calvi with a connection in 2.5 hours. The town has a train station, a local airport and ferry services to other cities in France, Italy, Britain and other countries.

Ajaccio is the cultural and tourist center of the island. It has both mesmerizing scenery and historical heritage, and modern recreation and entertainment centers. Pretty cafes, boutiques and historic monuments are nestled in the city’s secluded streets. History and modernity are woven into one.

The history of the city officially dates back to 1492, although according to many historical sources much earlier was inhabited by the Latin tribe Ajax, which gave the city its name. According to mentions in letters to the bishop Ajaccio was built in 1492 by merchants of the Genoese Bank of St. George. For several decades, Corsicans were forbidden to settle here because it was a Genoese republic. From 1553 to 1559 the city was under French occupation, and in 1768 officially became part of France.

Ajaccio is also called the “Birthplace of Napoleon”, because it was in this city, where the great emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was born and grew up. Corsicans are very appreciative of this fact. On the streets you can find a large number of monuments and busts of the emperor. The church of St. Mary with the font, in which the little Corsican Napoleon was baptized, has been preserved to this day. The house where the Bonaparte family lived is now a National House Museum. There is also the Bonaparte family crypt in Ajaccio.

Napoleon’s image is everywhere: on coffee cans, on tea and coffee sets, on wine bottles, on postcards, in the form of various trinkets and souvenirs. Even the street names here are in one way or another connected with the imperial family: Napoleon Street, Cardinal Fesch Street, Imperial Prince Street, and Laetitia Square, named after Napoleon’s mother. Most of the cafes and hotels are also named after Bonaparte. And Napoleon’s birthday (August 15, 1769) is a great holiday for Corsicans. He only lived here for nine years of his life, but his life is forever enshrined in the history of the city.

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Art lovers visit Ajaccio first of all because of the famous museum of Cardinal Fèche, Napoleon’s uncle. The cardinal once collected about 3,000 paintings, among which were works by great masters: Botticelli, Tazia, Veronese.

Founded: 1492 Area: 82.03 km 2 Population: 69,075 (2016) Currency: euro Language: French Official website: http://www.ajaccio.fr/

Flight time: from Moscow – from 6 hours 35 min. (1-3 transfers) from Saint-Petersburg – from 6 hours 55 min. (1-3 transfers) from Kazan – from 11 hours 15 min. (2 transfers) from Ekaterinburg – from 12 hours 10 min. (2-4 transfers) from Novosibirsk – from 16 hours 30 min. (2-5 transfers)

The old quarters with narrow streets around the citadel on one side and modern casinos and cafes on the other. Everyone will find a place for the soul here. Appreciate the natural beauty around Ajaccio on a boat trip along the bay. The catamaran trip is one of the 5 things you must do in Ajaccio:

1. A boat ride on a 12-passenger catamaran;

2. Visit the Napoleon House Museum;

3. Check out the colorful Sunday market, making sure to buy Brocciu goat cheese (a French soft cheese produced exclusively in Corsica);

4. Stroll through the old streets of the city;

5. See 150 kinds of turtles in the park of Cupulatta.

How to get there

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Transportation

Photos of Ajaccio

Sights of Ajaccio

The main attraction of Ajaccio is the house where Napoleon Bonaparte was born and lived until the age of 9. This is the family home of the Bonaparte family, built at the end of the 17th century. Napoleon’s family began living in the house, initially sharing it with other residents. Gradually, the family began to buy room after room and eventually took possession of the entire building. Prince Victor, who is Napoleon’s heir, donated the house to the state. Today, the house has been given the status of the National House Museum of Napoleon Bonaparte. Visitors to the museum can see a collection of the emperor’s weapons, numerous portraits of Napoleon and his family, as well as documents that relate to the Bonapartes. The museum is open daily except Mondays and exceptions: January 1 and December 25. The price of admission ticket is about 7 euros.

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Piazza Laetitia is a famous place for many tourists. The square is named after the mother of Napoleon. In the center of the square stands a bust of the Corsican emperor. People come here to get away from the hustle and bustle, feed pigeons with a French loaf and dream of great feats.

In the main square of Ajaccio is the famous “Four Lions Fountain” and the statue of the majestic emperor. The Sainte-Marie Cathedral is another attraction to visit in Ajaccio. It is located at the intersection of Rue Saint Charles and Rue Forsioli Conti. It is an amazingly beautiful temple. The marble font in which Napoleon was baptized has been preserved to this day. One of the chapels is adorned with a work of art by Eugène Delacroix, The Virgin with the Sacred Heart. It is one of the French painter’s most beautiful works.

Another “abode of beauty” in Ajaccio is the palace of Cardinal Fesch. Cardinal Joseph Fesh was the uncle of Napoleon Bonaparte. The palace was built in the 16th century. There is a unique library of the Cardinal and the Museum of Art. A rich collection of paintings occupies places of honor on the walls of the museum. Among the canvases here are works by famous Italian artists: Titian, Lorenzo di Credi, Paolo Veronese, and Sandro Botticelli. All in all, about 3,000 paintings were bought by Fesch. The most valuable painting of this museum is Botticelli’s Madonna and Child. At the exit of the courtyard is the Chapel of Chapel-Imperiale. It is the family crypt of the Bonaparte family. It was the last wish of Cardinal Fesch to have all the members of the family buried under one roof, which, in fact, was fulfilled. The Cardinal himself rests here.

Ajaccio overlooks the famous “Bloody Islands”. It gets its name from the fact that at sunset, when the sun is almost down, the cliffs are dyed burgundy. Tourists love this place for its uniqueness. Officially, the islands are called the Sanguiner Archipelago. The archipelago includes four small islands of pink-red porphyry. The archipelago islands shelter two medieval Genoese fortresses – Casteluccio and La Parata, as well as a lighthouse of the XIX century.

The tower of Nonza (Nonza), located in the north of the island and the Capitello Tower in the bay of Ajaccio are the most conspicuous on the island of Corsica. Nonza rises on a black vertical rock and resembles a chess rook that is about to fall into the sea. Capitello is located at the north end of Porticcio beach. This tower was built to protect the island from attacks by Berber pirates. It is 12 meters high and 42 meters in circumference. Work on the construction of the tower was carried out under the keen guidance of the Genoese architect Geronimo de Levanto. The appearance of Capitella dates back to 1552-1553 years.

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