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Napoleon and Corsica



Corsica's cultural heritage is extraordinarily rich. It would be is impossible to recount here the multitude of treasures potentially of interest to the curious visitor - archeology, pre-history, proto-history, Greco-Roman history, Mediaeval art, the Corsican school of art, sacred Baroque architecture, etc. All we can do here is give a few indications of the recommended visits in Ajaccio and the surrounding area. In one of the Napoleonic routes round Ajaccio, two towers - the Parata and Capitello towers - were mentioned. Others constructions of a similar type can be seen all over Corsica. We give here a short history of these so-called Genoese Towers.


Ajaccio is not simply Genoese town, a First Empire town and the cradle of Napoleon Bonaparte. It also developed considerably during the second half of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century as a direct result of increased tourism. Up to the First World War, Corsica had been a tourist destination reserved for the privileged few. The first tourists to follow the travellers of the Romantic period were the English aristocracy. In 1830, the first steam boats to Corsica took only a single night to travel to Ajaccio from Marseilles and Nice. The island then became a holiday resort for the English upper classes who were attracted by the gentle climate and the wild beauty of the countryside. To the west of Ajaccio, the 'foreigners' quarter' ideally situated between the Cours Grandval and the sea was the principal area inhabited by these cosmopolitan visitors. Private villas and luxury hotels attracted the likes of Sissi and Joseph Conrad. By walking up the Cours Grandval towards the Place d'Austerlitz, the visitor can still see buildings dating from this period, both sumptuous villas and converted Grand Hotels. The Grand Hotel Continental, today the main office of the Collectivité territoriale de Corse, is a fine example of this 'Belle epoque' phenomenon, and it transports the viewer back to an age of luxury and elegance. The magnificent exotic garden which stands in front of the building was part of the original hotel. A little further up the street, the Château Conti is a grand residence built by a Collector General of Finances of the Second Empire, Etienne Conti. Yet further up, at number 2 Rue du Général Leclerc, a wealthy Scots lady Miss Campbell built an Anglican church in local granite. Destined for English ex-patriots in Corsica, it was consecrated in 1878. By taking Rue Miss Cambell and then Rue Gabriel Péri, you come to the sea front and the casino built in 1934. In the 30s, visitors began to be attracted to Corsica for its thermal spas. After an interuption during the Second World War, tourism began again in the 60s and this island of beauty is today one of European holiday-makers' preferred destinations.
In addition to its architectural jewels, the region of Ajaccio has rich resources of flora and fauna. The outskirts of the city offer the possibility of excellent walks and there both beautiful flowers and interesting wildlife can be seen inabundance. The Office national de forêts also suggests walks of different lengths in the forests of Chiavari and San Antone, both close to Ajaccio (see Practical information). Here below are some easy walks which visitors may take (be sure to take some water, something to protect you from the sun and good shoes!).
Le sentier des Crêtes (The walk along the cols)(1h30) - a walk along the side of the hill from the Bois des Anglais to Vignola. Finishing at a height of 370 feet, the walker ends up with an excellent view of the Gulf of Ajaccio. Those too tired to walk back can take the number 5 bus.
La corniche du Couchant (The western cliff walk)(1h30) - a walk which starts about a kilometre from the Parata Tower. The clifftop path (fifty metres above the sea) leads to the beaches of the Capo di Feno. There are many points where the walker gets spectacular view of the Iles Sanguinaires. The return can either be by the same route or by a route which starts from the beach and joins the Route des Sanguinaires.
La Rocher de Gozzi (The Gozzi cliff) (3h) - this walk is accessible via the D81, direction Calvi and Cargèse. Turn right at the Route d'Appietto and stop at the San Chirgu Chapel. The path begins again behind the church and leads to an eagle's nest where the Counts of Cinarca once built a fort, traces of which can still be seen.
La tour de Capo di Muro (The Capo di Muro Tower)(1h30) - this walk is marked on the D155 after the hamlet Acqua Doria. Walk on the right until the beginning of the path which turns off into the undergrowth in the direction of the Capo di Muro tower. From that tower the viewer can see 7 of the 90 watch towers built all around the Corsican coast.


The towers which are incorrectly known as Genoese towers - incorrectly in the sense that not all of them are in fact Genoese - are a typical feature of the Corsican coastline. And whilst they lend charm to the sites where they are placed, they are also first-hand witnesses to Corsican history. The construction of coastal watch towers began to be part of Corsican defence policy as early as the end of the 15th century, and it continued up to the 17th century. The Order of St George and subsequently the Republic of Genoa were the originators of this policy, and the Corsicans followed suit. This system of defence was designed to help in the fight against the piracy which at the period was the scourge of the coastal plains. Tower building increased to such an extent through out the 16th century that on 25 June 1593 a standardised plan for them was laid down. Towers could not be built without the governor's permission, and the cost was shared between all the inhabitants who benefited from the protection which the tower (guarded by two or four torregiani) afforded. Some of the towers are square in plan - such as the Porto tower - but the majority of the 90 towers are circular. In height they vary from 12 to 17 metres and they were built as frequently at sea-level as on the cliffs. In construction they are made up of three clearly defined sections: the base (solid and without windows), the shaft (pierced by doors, bays and loopholes), and the platform (crenelated and sometimes topped by a watchtower). For more details consult: A.M. Graziani, Les Tours littorales, Editions A. Piazzola, 1992 and G. Méria and F. Rombaldi, Les Tours du littoral de la Corse, La Marge, 1990.



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