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THE CITY AND ITS STATUES

 


 


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Statue of Bonaparte as First Consul, place Foch

Statue of Bonaparte as First Consul, place Foch
  

This third route takes as its subject the urban fabric as created under the First Empire, concentrating on the monuments erected in Napoleon's honour after his death.
We begin in Place du Général Foch in front of the Fontaine des Quatre Lions. This fountain in Corsican granite was built in 1827 following designs by Maglioli. The marble statue - of Bonaparte as First Consul and wearing a Roman toga - is the work of Maximilien Laboureur. The small size of the Place (unchanged from when it was first built), the perfect of integration of the monument in the space, and the statue marvellously set against both the sky and the white and ochre façades of the surrounding buildings lend to the site an unparalleled charm.
Take the Avenue du Premier Consul as far as Place Général de Gaulle, previously Place du Diamant. The Place was inaugurated in 1802 by the prefect Miot under the name of Place Bonaparte, and its provides a good example of the developments in urbanism at the end of the 18th century. At that period, towns were planned according to rational principles, following the plans of the cities of antiquity: in other words, with broad arterial roads, roads cutting at right-angles, an exceedingly open, square Place designed to accomodate celebrations and fêtes, symmetrical etc. With this in mind, in Year IX (1801-1802), Miot commissioned from the Maltese engineer Petrucci a grand plan for Ajaccio, comprising the destruction of both the ramparts around Place de l'Olmo (Place Foch) and of the city gate, elements which were an obstruction to the town's expansion. Miot's envisaged the new town spreading onto the private gardens on the other side of present-day Avenue Fesch. This plan was replaced by another which, legend has it, was produced under the direction of Napoleon himself. Two copies of the plan survive, and on the back of one of them there is the note 'plan for the enlargement and decoration of Ajaccio', sent from Paris via Cardinal Fesch with the added remark "the previous plans approved and partially executed". It is true that the walls were demolished, as was the Bastion du Diamant, but the new idea sketched two main axial roads for the town and created Place Bonaparte. This plan was thus the beginning of the Cours Napoleon (created from the flattening of a hill, as the still-visible cliffs behind the post office testify) and of the Cours Grandval. The excavated material was to be used to create a new space on the sea front, below Rue Fesch, making space for the construction of the Pughjolu quarter. Most of the this construction work was not completed until much later in the 19th century.


Take the Avenue du Premier Consul as far as Place Général de Gaulle, previously Place du Diamant. The Place was inaugurated in 1802 by the prefect Miot under the name of Place Bonaparte, and its provides a good example of the developments in urbanism at the end of the 18th century. At that period, towns were planned according to rational principles, following the plans of the cities of antiquity: in other words, with broad arterial roads, roads cutting at right-angles, an exceedingly open, square Place designed to accomodate celebrations and fêtes, symmetrical etc. With this in mind, in Year IX (1801-1802), Miot commissioned from the Maltese engineer Petrucci a grand plan for Ajaccio, comprising the destruction of both the ramparts around Place de l'Olmo (Place Foch) and of the city gate, elements which were an obstruction to the town's expansion. Miot's envisaged the new town spreading onto the private gardens on the other side of present-day Avenue Fesch. This plan was replaced by another which, legend has it, was produced under the direction of Napoleon himself. Two copies of the plan survive, and on the back of one of them there is the note 'plan for the enlargement and decoration of Ajaccio', sent from Paris via Cardinal Fesch with the added remark "the previous plans approved and partially executed". It is true that the walls were demolished, as was the Bastion du Diamant, but the new idea sketched two main axial roads for the town and created Place Bonaparte. This plan was thus the beginning of the Cours Napoleon (created from the flattening of a hill, as the still-visible cliffs behind the post office testify) and of the Cours Grandval. The excavated material was to be used to create a new space on the sea front, below Rue Fesch, making space for the construction of the Pughjolu quarter. Most of the this construction work was not completed until much later in the 19th century.


Napoleon and his brothers. Place de Gaulle

Napoleon and his brothers. Place de Gaulle
  

Place de Gaulle is a fine urban space measuring two hectares offering a magnificent view of the Gulf of Ajaccio. During the Second Empire a grandiose monument was erected here to the glory of Napoleon and his brothers. The ensemble comprises a statue of Napoleon in Roman costume on horse-back surrounded by standing statues of Joseph, Lucien, Louis and Jérôme, all set on pink granite pedestals. The monument as a whole was designed by Viollet-le-Duc but the individual bronze statues are the work of Barye, Petit, Tholas and Maillet. A commemorative plaque bears the following inscription (here translated): 'To Napoleon I and his brothers. Corsica remembers you with gratitude. During the reign of Napoleon III, this monument was erected by Napoléon-Jérôme with the assistance of voluntary subscriptions,and it was unveiled on 15 May 1865'. On that occasion, the Prince Napoleon delivered a stinging speech criticising the Emperor's policies. In the ensuing scandal the Prince Napoléon was forced to resign from his post as Vice-President of the Privy Council as well as from presidency of the commission responsible for organising the Universal Exhibition of 1867.


The Casone monument. Place d'Austerlitz

The Casone monument. Place d'Austerlitz
  

Take the Cours Grandval, which as we have seen was begun in 1801. This main artery for Ajaccio was lengthened in 1862 and named Cours Joseph Grandval after the Marseilles industrialist of Corsican origin of that name. Continue into and along the Cours Général Leclerc until you reach Place d'Austerlitz, traditionally called the Place du Casone from the Jesuit building which once stood there. A monumental ensemble to the glory of Napoleon I was built there and inaugurated on 15 August 1938. The work takes the form of a large promontory made from an inclined stone plane covered with inscriptions, at the summit of which there is a small stepped pyramid which acts as a pedestal for a replica in bronze of the statue of Napoleon by Seurre which once stood on the top of the Vendome column and which today is in the Invalides. The whole ensemble is framed by two eagles bearing the dates of the birth and death of Napoleon. As an architectural metaphor of the Triumph in the ancient sense of the word, this monument is the perfect expression of an ancient Roman apotheosis. The inscriptions merely serve to underline this almost deification of the person: "Napoleon I Emperor of the French 1804-1815. We have seen you rise to the empyrion". There then follow the names of most of the victorious battles of the epic, from Montenotte to Ligny under Fleurus. Napoleon's civil works are evoked by the words "Code civil, University, Bank of France, Légion d'Honneur, Cour des Comptes".

The 'Grotte Napoléon'

The 'Grotte Napoléon'
  

Below this monument of doubtful symbolic and a esthetic value lies the 'Grotte de Napoleon'. A few large rocks in the midst of some olive trees form the cave where, legend has it, the young Napoleon would go to hide. It would take too long to number the authors who have imagined the dreams of that small boy during his solitary retreats, dreams of conquest, glory and empire. That being said, many of these authors have noted the young lad's passion for ancient Rome. The story goes that during the games organised by the Abbot Recco, the religious in charge of educating the brothers Bonaparte, Napoleon refused point blank to be the Carthaginians because only the Romans could win. Even at this early age he showed a strong desire to be a soldier, as shown by some anecdotes reported by Joseph and Madame Mère. Napoleon was difficult and aggressive as a small boy and lorded it over his elder brother, Joseph, to such an extent that much later on the Emperor was laughingly to say to his son, the King of Rome, then aged two: "What a lazy boy you are! At your age I had already got one up on Joseph'.
Return via the same route as far as the Cours Napoléon. Follow this road to number 12 and then take a rest at the Grand Café Napoléon. Although we do not usually mention such monuments, this café is worth a visit. Its vast interior is decorated with dozens of fine engravings relating the principal events of the Consulate and the Empire. On its own, the café is an excellent overview of the Napoleonic period.
Carry on to Place Abbatucci and the statue dedicated to the general of the same name. Jean-Charles Abbatucci was born in Zicavo in 1770. Promoted to general in 1795, he was killed in 1796 at Huningue in Alsace. This bronze statue by Vital-Dubraywas erected in 1854.


 

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