Finding Napoleon's roots in Corsica

Updated: Jan 18


The Citadel overlooks the blue-green Mediterranean of Corsica.

Napoleon was born in the town of Ajaccio on the island of Corsica and the townspeople have not forgotten their native son. August 15 of 2019 marks the 250th anniversary of his birth and Ajaccio is in the midst of a year-long tribute. We arrived here to catch a boat for a 7-day sail along the Corsican coast to Bonifacio. We had the serendipitous gift of experiencing this port city for two-days of non-stop Napoleon fun. His well-known profile is on many bars and restaurants and we coincidentally had booked a stay at the Hotel Napoleon just steps from the waterside and the heart of the old town.The hotel features Napoleon-themed decorations as well as a boutique of souvenir items that are artistically inspired by the era of the Empire.

Many bars and restaurants in Ajaccio have Napoleon in their name.

Hotel Napoleon in Ajaccio surrounds guests in the Napoleonic era.

The first stop to learn a bit about Napoleon and his dynastic family is the Maison Bonaparte, a national museum situated in his family home. Although much has been made of Napoleon being a self-made man, he certainly had help along the way, as he was born into a wealthy and educated family. His home grew through the years as the family achieved greater success, but the original part of the house was not modest. An audio tour is included in the admission price. The story of the house where Napoleon lived until he was sent to France for school at age 9 is told in the voice of his nursemaid. The folksy way of telling the story works in this instance and keeps the tour lively. There is also a temporary exhibit in the museum this year which is aimed at children but which is fun for adults too. Scenes from Napoleon’s life are illustrated in cartoon fashion and a large revolving papier mache structure is filled with Playmobile figures re-enacting scenes from his younger years.

The family home exudes the opulence of the era.

A small tourist train makes a circuit of the old town with a 15-minute stop at the Grotte Napoleon, where there is a large memorial to the emperor at the site where he said to have played as a child. Apparently he was known for playing military games even as a very young child.

Also of interest is the cathedral with its bright orange façade overlooking the Mediterranean. Just to the right of the entrance is the font where Napoleon was baptized.

A short walk away on Charles DeGaulle Square is a large statue of Napoleon in Roman toga on horseback and surrounded by his brothers who he made into monarchs in Europe. We were especially interested in Joseph who ruled Spain for a time but spent his exile years in Bordentown, New Jersey. That’s a little-known fact as far as we can tell.

This painting shows Napoleon's brother Joseph, former king of Spain, at his home at Point-Breeze, New Jersey where he lived from 1815 until 1824.

Also in the center of town is a much-photographed statue of the Emperor wearing a toga and guarded by lions in a fountain.

After visitors have overdosed on Napoleon-themed sightseeing, they can take a stroll to one of the beautiful town beaches for a dip in the sea. A little further away by public bus as the beach stops on the way to the Sanguinaires Islands. Many tour operators offer reasonably priced boat trips to the outer islands including sunset cruises and trips that include snorkeling and swimming.


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