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The Citadel

The Citadel
  

In the heart of the island, half way between Ajaccio and Bastia stands Corte, raised slightly above the floor of the valley by its position on a hill. On the eastern slope, the quarters of the old town rise in steps up to the ramparts of the Citadel which, perched on a rock outcrop, towers over the confluence of three rivers, the Tavignano, the Restonica and the Orta. Being the only inland military stronghold in Corsica, Corte established itself as the strategic crossroads, controlling all of the inland areas of the island. And such a position led to its being fought over in the many power struggles which tore the island apart over the centuries. As often as it could, Corte beat off the Genoese invader and became the centre of the war of independance, a war which led to Corsica becoming the first state ever to have a democratic constitution. Starting in 1729, four rebellions shook the island, and despite the intervention of Austria, a consulta (assembly) meeting in Corte in 1735 proclaimed national independance. Genoa, with military support from France, reaffirmed its authority and another revolt occurred on the departure of the French troops. The consulta of Orezzo in August 1745 nominated new heads, Ignazio Venturini, Alerio Matra and Gian Pietro Gaffori. The latter extended his influence and in 1751 established a strong government. Feeling threatened by his influence, Genoa had Gaffori assassinated.

Statue of Paoli

Statue of Paoli
  

It was then that Pascal Paoli appeared on the scene in the island's history. Nominated general of the Corsican nation by the consulta of Sant'Antonio de la Casabianca on 15 July 1755, this twenty-nine year old made it his aim to crush resistance and establish the political unity of the nation and to raise moral. He set up the seat government in Corte, and from 1755-1769 Corte was the capital of independant Corsica. He had a constitution ratified which affirmed the sovreignty of the nation, he decreed the separation of the powers of church and state, minted coins, reorganised the courts, raised a small army, attempted to revitalise an economy ruined by 25 years of war, opened public schools in all the villages, founded the university of Corte and started a newpaper. But the Genoese still held the principal ports on the island. Paoli thus built a small fleet and founded the port Ile Rousse. But when by virtue of the Treaty of Compiègne and then the Treaty of Versailles of 1768, Corsica was ceded to France, Paoli found himself  fighting against one of the strongest powers of Europe. The subsequent fight was very one-sided and with defeat at the Battle of Ponte Nuovo on 8 May 1769, Paoli fled to England.
The visit to Corte begins at the end of Cours Paoli in Place du Duc de Padoue. Here stands a statue of Jean Thomas Arrighi de Casanova (Corte 1778 - Paris 1853), present at all of the battles of the Consulate and the Empire, as the inscription on the pedestal records: Salhieh, Jaffa, Saint-Jean d'Acre, Marengo, Wertingen, Friedland, Leipzig and Fère Champ. Raised to Duke of Padua in 1808, Arrighi was exiled from Italy after Waterloo and ended up Senator for Corsica during the Second Empire. Indeed, this bronze statue (the work of Auguste Bartholdi, 1867) was designed and erected during that period. Going back up the Cours Paoli to the Place Paoli the visitor enters the heart of the old town. A statue of the 'Father of the Homeland', made in 1901 by Alembert, marks the centre of the town. Here there is an itinerary marked with numbered arrows which takes the visitor to all of the interesting monuments in Corte. And the old town makes for a delightful wander; the narrow streets and rudimentary buildings often on very steep inclines very much give the town the feel of a village. The small Rue Scoliscia has a stepped rise up to Place Gaffori where a statue of this hero of Corte stands with its back to the house where he was born. Bullet marks can still be seen on the façade, providing eloquent witness to the violence of the wars of Corsican independance. The story runs that Faustina, Gaffori's wife, threatened to set light to a barrle of gun powder to prevent the partisans from surrendering to the enemy in 1750, and in 1752 Gaffori is said to have replied to the enemy who held his son hostage "I am a patriot first, and a father second"! Fortunately both the child and the citadel of Corte were saved. Just above this Place is the Place Poilu where Napoleon's parents once lived.

The house in which Joseph was born

The house in which Joseph was born
  

After having been sent by his uncle Lucien to study law at the university of Corte, Joseph Bonaparte was introduced to General Paoli who welcomed the young man from Ajaccio warmly. As a result Joseph joined the struggle for the defence of the Corsican nation. After the marriage of Charles Bonaparte to Letizia Ramolino, the young couple moved to Corte and their first son was born there. And on the house in which Joseph was born, number 1 Place Poilu, there is a commemorative plaque bearing the inscription: 'In this house were born Joseph Napoleon Bonaparte, King of Naple and Spain,on 7 January 1768, who died in Forence on 28 July 1844, and Jean Thomas Arrighi de Casanova, Duke of Padua, Division general and governor of the Invalides on 8 March 1778, who died in Paris on 22 March 1853'. To the left of this Place stands the Palais national, the administrative building inhabited by the representatives of Genoa and where Paoli set up his government of the independant Corsica. The ground floor of the building was for a long time used as a prison, and this function was to last in part until the end of the 19th century. With the re-establishment and inauguration of a new university in Corte in 1981, the Palais National became a Centre for Corsican studies and now houses that institution's library.
On climbing to the left the steps which follow the walls of the citadel, you reach a viewing point with a magnificent view of Corte and its environs. The rocky outcrop of the citadel can clearly be seen, as can the Eagle's Nest built in 1419 by the viceroy of Corsica, Vincentello d'Istria, on behalf of the king of Aragon. The ensemble of the citadel was rebuilt under Louis XV and again under Louis XVI. Under Louis-Philippe the houses within the walls were demolished and the military buildings were used as the garrison for the town before being converted into a main prison for political detainees. From 1962 to 1983 the Foreign Legion occupied the site. Today the citadel houses the Musée de la Corse and the Fonds Régional d'Art Contemporain. The Musée de la Corse is a museum of anthropology opened in 1997 largely to exhibit the objects collected by Father Louis Doazan between 1951 and 1978 in Ajaccio, Castagniccia, Violais, Niolo and Filosoma. The visitor is taken on a fascinating journey through the history of Corsican traditions where local techniques, know-how and craftsmanship are perfectly illustrated by the exhibits. Mention is made of the Merimée's visit in 1839 and also the excursion made by Prince Roland Bonaparte, president of the Société française d'anthropologie and member of the Société des Traditions populaires. On the prince's request a collection of artefacts and eye-witness accounts was made and the results were published. The second floor of the museum takes as its subject industrial development in Corsica in the second half of the 19th century, the refounding of the Confraternities and the expansion of tourism. A space for temporary exhibitions, a record library, an image library and an educational visitors' centre complete this excellent museum.
On leaving Corte, take the N193 in the direction of Ponte Leccia and follow the road as far as Ponte Nuovo. It was here on 8 May 1769 that Paoli's troops were defeated by the French. The ruins of the Genoese bridge which was at the centre of the battle can still be seen - the bridge itself was destroyed during the Second World War. Nearby can be seen small monument with a cross on top bearing the following inscription in Corsican: 'Qui casconu u 5 maghu 1769 e milizie di Pasquale de Paoli luttendu per aliberta di a patria' (Here on 5 May 1769 fell the armies of Pascal Paoli fighting for the liberty of the homeland). Charles Bonaparte took part in the armed campaigns of 1768 and 1769 against the French. After the defeat of Ponte Nuovo, he was forced (along with his wife Letizia - then six months pregnant with Napoleon!) to take to the mountains with other Paolist supporters. This tragic episode just before Napoleon's birth was to have a strong influence on the young Bonaparte's political activity: "I was born when the homeland was dying. Thirty thousand French soldiers were regurgitated onto our shores, drowning the throne of liberty in a sea of blood. Such was the odious spectacle which greeted my eyes as they opened for the first time. The cries of the dying, the groans of the oppressed, the tears of those in despair surrounded my cradle right from my birth". These were the words which Napoleon wrote to Paoli, his childhood hero, in a letter dated 12 June 1789. He subsequently added: "When you left our island with you went all hope of happiness, slavery was the price of our submission". But despite his parents rallying to the French cause shortly after Ponte Nuovo and the exile of the 'Babbu di a patria' (Father of the homeland), during his chilhood and adolescence Napoleon had developed a bitter hatred of the French invader. However, gradually his feelings changed. For three years Bonaparte was torn between his passion for Corsican independence and his recognition of the fact that to succeed the island could not avoid being attached to France. After distancing himself from his spiritual leader, whom Napoleon considered had abandoned the ideas of the revolution, Napoleon set himself against Paoli and joined the Convention. The split between Paoli and Napoleon was final when Paoli was declared 'traitor to the Republic' and was removed from his post of command following accusations by Lucien Bonaparte in 1792. On fleeing the island in 1793, Napoleon forgot his dreams for Corsica to play out his destiny on another, larger stage.


Pascal Paoli (Musée Paoli, Morosaglia)

Pascal Paoli (Musée Paoli, Morosaglia)
  

Set next to the Col du Prato right in the centre of Castagniccia, the village of Morosaglia brings us to the symbol of Corsican independance, Pascal Paoli. Eldest son of Hyacinthe Paoli, a leader of the second of the four uprisings in the Corsican revolution, Paoli was born on 6 April 1725 in the hamlet of Stretta in the comune of Morosaglia. Following his father into exile in Naples, he acquired a good classical education whilst at the same time familiarising himself with the ideas of French philosophers. Taken on by the Neapolitan army, he was stationed on Elba in 1854 and subsequently was the leader of independent Corsica from 1755 to 1769. After Ponte Nuovo, Paoli spent 21 years of exile in England before returning to the island in triumph in 1790. He had achieved almost mythical status and was well-known and highly acclaimed by the 'age of enlightenment'. But his dreams of an independent Corsica foundered on the division between differing political factions. Against France, Paoli called on the support of England and this led to the founding of Anglo-Corsican kingdom on 15 June 1794. But the troubles which split the island forced him once again into exile. He died in London on 5 February 1807 and was buried in St Pancras cemetery. His remains were brought from England to Corsica on 3 September 1889 to rest in a chapel created on the ground floor of the house where he was born in Morosaglia.
After Ponte Nuovo, take the D71 to Morosaglia. At the sign marking the village, take the path on the left which leads to an old traditional Corsican house of the type common in the Castagnaccia region, itself so beautiful in the autumn when the forests of chestnut trees turn gold. A statue of Paoli stands at the entrance to the village and a museum has been installed in the house where Paoli was born. In it, various documents, engravings and paintings recount the life of this extraordinary man. His relations with Bonaparte are referred to several times. Whilst their first meeting in 1790 is marked by Paoli's respect for Napoleon - "You are like an antique hero, like a man out of Plutarch" were his words - nevertheless their opinion of each other later deteriorated. Soon they reacted to each other not only with defiance but also with annoyance - when Bonaparte asked for some documents which he needed to write a history of Corsica which he had begin to write, Paoli snapped back "History cannot be written by young men". Later on, in exile, Paoli finally expressed his admiration for Napoleon: "Liberty was the aim of our revolutions: it is only to be enjoyed on the island of Corsica. What does it matter who brought it about? For our part, we have the pleasure of having received our liberty from a compatriot, from someone who with all glory and honour avenged our homeland for the many outrages perpetrated upon it by almost every nation. Today, the name of Corsica is no longer despised".

 

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