Sailing into the Gulf of Ajaccio the sun rose over impressive rows of mountains, like the rows of shark teeth. Dolphins were happy about our arrival. Large ships stir up the local fish giving predators such as dolphins a nice meal.
Ajaccio is the capital of the French ruled island and about one in four Corsicans live in the area near Ajaccio. Corsica is a large island with a sparse population of only one-third of a million, almost half of whom are not native to Corsica. The island has the highest mountains of any Mediterranean island and the rugged interior has the old medieval hilltop villages where the historic population lived, avoiding the dangerous and pirate-ridden coasts. Genoa ruled the island for much of the 500 years before 1755 when Pascal Paoli declared independence. Corsica was nominally a nation until the Genoese signed a treaty turning over the island they did not rule to France in 1768. By 1780, the French Army had turned back the rebels. In 1769 Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Ajaccio. Among his other accomplishments, Napoleon ensured that Corsica did not regain its independence. That explains the local’s ambivalence to their most famous native son.
As the birthplace of Napoleon, Ajaccio has more than its share of Napoleon statues, museums and historic markers which are popular with tourists. We took the Ajaccio city tour that included walking in the city and near the Iles Sanguinaires, three small scenic islands that provide a wonderful view with several of the Genoese towers that were constructed to protect the island from pirates. The entire island coast is dotted with these stone monuments. At the view point for the three island the water is calm and stunningly clear, allowing Donna to notice a small pink jellyfish floating below a pier. It was a bit cool, but if we ever stay there in the Summer the beaches would be wonderful, since pirates are no longer an issue.
After the islands and several monuments to Napolean in scenic parks and squares, we visited the Ajaccio cathedral where Napoleon was baptized. It is a small church that featured trompe l’oeil walls (3D painting used especially during the Baroque period) were meant to look like marble and other more expensive ornaments. The island has never been rich, even in the capital. The end of our tour was at Place Foch where there was a small but attractive farmer’s market.
The other popular tours offered from Ajaccio included a trip to the verdant Prunelli Gorges with long blue lakes and dramatic cliffs or the Vizzavona Pass with views of the Monte d’Or and rustic town of Bocognano. The setting of the Gulf of Ajaccio is wonderful, but the natural wonders of Corsica are even more dramatic as you explore the central mountains. Oh, well. Next time!