The Citadel of Ajaccio – standing in witness of many a historical event ..

Auguste Emeric - Vue d'Ajaccio vers 1850 - MFA 2007.1.13 - copyright RMNWith the idea of constructing a prominent fortification, the Genoese chose this ideal spot for what would be the citadel of Ajaccio, the first stone being placed on April 30th, 1492, towards a fortified castle. All of this would entail four principle campaigns through a certain lapse of time. Sampiero Corso, accompanied by French troops arrived in 1553 wishing to extend its presence, had urged the Marchall Termes to come, the latter being responsible for the citadel, as we know it today. Giacomo Palearo  (engineer, known as ‘the Fratino’) reinforced the fortifications and separated the citadel from the rest of the town, in 1559. With the island becoming under French rule in 1789, the surrounding pits are emptied and rendered somewhat more hygienic. Accustomed to its presence nowadays, it stands along the seafront where many continue to stroll daily. I cannot help but feel somewhat saddened by the mighty sight, subject to intense proceedings in the past, the citadel today appears weary of its historic burden and awaits a long due revival.

A strategic location, certes, allowing a broad view of the Gulf of Ajaccio, Capu di Muro and the Sanguinaires Islands, and during those times this was indeed an important factor. Let us remember, it was imperative to be as far as possible away from the swampy areas, on the other side of the city, thus, this ideal setting would allow the military to settle in with ease – and the continual result of their important investment since 1453, and whereupon in 1492 the Saint George Bank was to develop.

During the 16th century, there would be three colonies in the town.

The citadel, the older part of town where we now find the Place des Palmiers/Place Diamant and the Rue Fesch (which used to be U Borgu). Peasants and immigrants mainly populated the inner districts; rue Bonaparte, rue Roi de Rome etc., and this continued to be as such for a few centuries, 16th – 19th.

Amazing, when you note that there was only one entrance at this point, one door at the rue Bonaparte, permitting to enter these districts.

Between 15th-19th centuries, catering for provisions of water clearly showed difficulty. And there were only three existing fountains: Place de Palmiers, rue Fesch just opposite the Chapelle Impériale and on the Cours Napoléon (near what is now Monoprix). Over the summer months, the fountains became almost dry, water was then brought from the Gravona river just around where today’s airport stands. (Napoléon did however, manage to make good use of the reservoir behind the area of ‘Grand St Roch’ and this between 1801-1810).  Jean-Jérôme Levie - Vue d'Ajaccio en 1837- MFA 993.1 - copyright RMN

Relating to the Bonaparte family, let us recall their first arrival from Toscany at the beginning of the 16th century, whereupon they settled at the foot of the fortifications.

Who influenced the citadel ?

Three influential and striking figures: Sampiero Corso, Napoléon, and Fred Scamaroni.

January 17th, 1567 – Sampiero Corso (soldier and patriot), is betrayed by one of his lieutenants and killed by his brother-in-laws, near the village of Suarella. He not only has a leg cut off, but is also decapitated. Thereupon, his head is stuck on a pike and exposed by order of commissioner Fornaro, for all to see, on the ramparts of the citadel, facing the town – two years later, his head was still there. The irony of it all when you think of it; this man, who had managed so much beforehand, with the help of the Marshall of Thermes and other connections, was to face his final destiny within.
In 1793 Napoleon, who is now in complete rupture with Pascal Paoli, decides to take possession of the citadel. However, his pretexts and rather crafty ways do not succeed, and he is driven back along with his troops, due to the suspicions of Major Colonna de Leca’s brother – Major Colonna de Leca, who was at that point in charge of the fortification.
Under Italian occupation, this citadel was to be the prison for many members of the Corsican resistance; one of the most notable being the young Fred Scamaroni – who committed suicide in his cell at the age of 29, rather than divulge his secrets, in 1943.
Now, a short story concerning the young Napoleon
He was on leave in Ajaccio, this was on the eve of the French Revolution, and was walking around the citadel, when he met some artillery officers, mortar firing. Thereupon, he was asked if he would like to show his capabilities, upon which he did exactly that – with three fires and each time, he reached his target, which led to the applause of the public and the shame of the soldiers …
Projections/Previsions in 2014François Peraldi - Vue d'Ajaccio en 1882 - MFA 882.1 - copyright JF Paccosi(2)
Normally, we should see the return of this historic building to activities relating to the population, and rightfully so. For the possibilities it grants are, numerous, attractive and cultural. Many possibilities have been suggested and proposed in this direction, may they see concrete realisation.
My thanks once again to Philippe Perfettini, historian at Fesch Museum, for his patience and assistance every time regarding our regular historical exchanges !
Photo credit: Fesch Museum Copyright ©
Jean-Jérôme Levie 1837
François Peraldi  1882
Auguste Emeric 1850

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