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NAPOLEONIC SITES AROUND AJACCIO

 


 


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The Chapelle des Grecs

The Chapelle des Grecs
  

This fourth route takes the visitor out of Ajaccio to other sites and buildings linked to the history of the Bonaparte family and Napoleon's childhood.
The first of these sites is on the Route des Sanguinaires on leaving the town to the west. This coastal route which leads to the La Parata point was built in the 19th century when tourism was just beginning to develop. The road itself passes several small beaches shaded with palm trees, which the proliferation of modern buildings around completely ruins. On the seaward side stands the Chapelle des Grecs, a church built in the 17th century and dedicated to Santa Maria del Carmine. Between 1731 and 1774 it was used by some Greek families who had been driven out by Corsicans from the Cargèse region where they had been sent by the Genoese in 1610. Several member of the Pozzo di Borgo family were buried here, as was Pascal Fiorella, Brigadier General who passed over to the serve the Italian republic and he became a senator of the Kingdom of Italy in 1809. The young Napoleon often passed this chapel on his walks with his elder brother. A commemorative plaque on the wall gives a quotation from the memoirs of Joseph Bonaparte: 'Our daily walks with Napoleon went beyond the Chapelle des Grecs along a coast as beautiful as that beside the Gulf of Naples, in countryside heavy with the scent of myrtles and orange trees. Sometimes we did not return until nightfall'. On occasions they went as far as the La Parata point, about 14 km west of Ajaccio onto a promontory previously called 'La Chasse de Génois'. From the Tour de la Parata, built in 1608 to defend the coast from Moorish pirates, the view of the gulf and the 'Iles sanguinaires' (the 'blood-red islands', known as such from the red colour which they take on at sunset) is absolutely spectacular.


Les Milelli

Les Milelli
  

Return to Ajaccio and take the D61 in the direction of 'Alata'. At the first junction in the road, a slip road to the left leads to the Bonapartes' villa, 'Les Milelli'. This old house in its enchanting setting towers over the Gulf of Ajaccio. As the family's retreat from the great heat of high summer, Les Millelli with its olive groves was one of the principal sources income for the Bonaparte family. They also owned other properties, notably: La Sposata and La Casseta for their vines, Les Salines where mulberries were grown, as well as their land in Ucciani, Bastelica and Bocognano. Despite the many legends recounting their poverty, the Bonapartes in fact lived quite well for the Corsica of the period. They were wealthy but not ostentatious and with no pretentions to luxury and superfluity. On Saint Helena, Napoleon gave a detailed description of the family's sources of income, largely based in this rural milieu on harvest and barter. "In my family, the principal was never to spend. We only used money for the things which were absolutely essential, things like clothes and furniture,etc. We never bought anything for the table, apart from the thins which did not grow in Corsica - coffee, sugar, rice, etc. Everything else was supplied by the land. The family had a simple mill where all the villagers would come to have their corn milled and they would pay with a little cornflour. The family had a simple oven which people would pay for with fish. We harvested wine and people would pay for it with milk and goat's cheese. We didn't even pay for our meat. We had an arrangement with the butcher - in exchange for his butchered meat we would supply him with an equivalent amount of sheep, lambs, goats and even cows. The important thing was not to spend any money. Money was very rare. It was quite a thing to pay only with cash.
In Ajaccio there were only two olive groves, one belonged to the Bonapartes and the other belonged to the Jesuits. Many others have sprung up since. Our custom was that when the harvest came close relatives - uncles, aunts, first cousins, grandparents - would come for the oil they needed. On the Sunday, the day when the locals came with their goats, their cheese, their milk etc., there was a big celebration which lasted until the next day, and in winter even to the day after. In summer, the perishables were given as gifts to relatives - we could never have bought presents, that would have been seen as not right. The family also harvested wine. It was a point of honour for the family that they never bought bread, wine or oil" (Cahiers de Sainte-Hélène, 15 February 1821).
Les Milelli was for Napoleon the ideal place of retreat. On every one of his returns to Corsica, he came to see the house and here in 1799 on his return from Egypt he spent 2 and 3 October in the company of Murat, Lannes and Rear-Admiral Gantheaume. Two days later Napoleon left Corsica never to return. In the 1970s and 80s, Les Milelli housed the ethnographic collection belonging to Louis Dozan, today exhibited in the Musée de la Corse in Corte. Since then the house has been closed to visitors and left empty, but the beauty of the countryside makes it the place perfect for historical reverie.


Château de la Punta before the fire of 1978

Château de la Punta before the fire of 1978
  

Continuing along the road to Alata, at about 10 kilometres from Ajaccio, there is another building in an idyllic setting which is well worth the visit: the Château de la Punta, whose extraordinary history makes it of great interest to art and history enthusiasts alike. The Château de la Punta was built from the ruins of the Palais des Tuileries, burnt down in May 1871 during the Commune period. Of the Tuileries Palace commissioned by Catherine de Médicis from Philibert de L'Orme in 1564 all that remained was the external walls which the French House of Députés, in 1882, decided to demolish, against the wishes of Baron Haussmann, the Député for Corsica and supporter of the plan for the restoration of the house. It was then the Jérôme Pozzo di Borgo and his son Charles - the descendants of Napoleon I's enemy, Charles-André - offered to buy a majority of the stonework in order to build a château on their ancestral lands in Alata. This was to fulfil the wishes of their great-uncle who desired that a house worthy of the standing of the Pozzo di Borgo family should be built on this land which he had bequeathed to them. This extraordinary enterprise began in 1891 with the transportation of the stones - which themselves had witnesses the passing of so many kings and emperors - by train to Marseilles and then by boat to Ajaccio. The architect Vincent designed an edifice which took as its inspiration the west façade of the Bullant Pavilion, using on the south façade Ionic columns on the ground floor and Corinthian columns on the first. All the other façades were decorated with elements re-used from the Tuilieries Palace, notably: the terminals, friezes, door mouldings, fluted pilasters, and cabled columns by Le Vau etc. The dormers and the north pediment were copied from elements on Pierre Lescot's Petite Galerie in the Louvre. A terrace was built around the edifice with a ironwork parapet taken from the Château de Saint-Cloud, itself destroyed during the Prussian bombardment in 1870.

With peculiar irony, the Château de la Punta was again attacked by fire several times, but it was not until 1978 that a serious blaze caused real damage, destroying notably the entire roof. Since that date the château has been uninhabited and closed to visits - not even the exterior can be viewed. Today the slate roof with its lead and copper ornamentation has been rebuilt, but the decoration on the façade appears to need attention. The Conseil Général of Southern Corsica has performed a preliminary study for the restoration of the building and wishes that the monument, built here (according the text on the marble plaque in the pediment) "so as to preserve for the heritage of Corsica a part of French history", should one day be once again open to the public.

From this magnificent route which looks out over all the surroundings of Ajaccio - from the Gulf of Sagone to the Capo Rosse, from the Valley of the Liamone to Monte d'Oro - go back down to Ajaccio and take the direction 'Porticcio' as far as the airport. Then turn in front of the camp site CCAS to get to the Genoese tower known as the Capitello.


The Capitello Tower

The Capitello Tower
  

Built in the 16th century at the end of the immense Porticcio beach, the Capitello tower stands at the mouth of the river Prunelli facing the Gulf of Ajaccio. It served as a place of refuge for Bonaparte when he was pursued by Paolist troops in 1793 and was also the rallying point for the family when they fled Corsica after the house in Rue Saint-Charles had been sacked. From here, they set sail for Calvi in Salicetti merchant boats before leaving for Toulon. Legend has it that the tower was breached after an attempt by Bonaparte to mine it.

Halfway between Ajaccio and Corte (the subject of our next route) stands the principal town of the Celavo-Mezzana canton, Bocognano, and it is well worth a visit. The village provided a hiding place for Napoleon during his flight in 1793. Taken prisoner by Paolist troops, he escaped with the help of friends of the family and was able to get back to Ajaccio. In his last days, Napoleon still remembered those who had helped him flee, despite the fact that he did not remember all their names. In his will he bequeathed 10,000 Francs to Jean Vizzanova in whose house he had found refuge, and "20,000 Francs to the brave inhabitant of the commune of Bocognano who in 1792 or 1793 held open for me the door of his house when brigands had captured me and escorted me to Occiani". In 1880, after a two month stay in Corsica, Maupassant wrote a short novel entitled 'Une page d'histoire inédite' which tells in detail this swashbuckling episode from Napoleon's youth. The true identity of the "brave inhabitant" mentioned here was Ange-Toussaint Bonelli, known as Santo Riccio
A building at the end of the town bears a plaque commemorating the Bonelli family: "This house was built as the result of a wish expressed in 1796 by General Bonaparte to his comrades in arms of the Italian Army, François and Ange-Toussaint Bonelli, sons of Ange Matthieu Bonelli known as Zampagliono, hero of Corsican independence. During the Italian campaign, Napoleon sent the Bonelli brothers to Corsica on a mission to rid the island of the English. On 5 October 1796, Commandant François Bonelli took possession of the citadel in Ajaccio in the name of the French Republic". Begun in 1797 but not finished until 1859,'U Palazzu di Napulio' was never seen by Napoleon. As for Ange-Toussaint Bonelli, he became colonel in the Neapolitan gendarmerie in 1813 and then retired to Bocognano where he became mayor.


 

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