Travel Focus

How Corsica, Napoleon’s birthplace, fell out of love with the dictator – but his ‘trail’ is still worth a visit

With Ridley Scott’s epic conquering box offices, Mark Stratton travels to the emperor’s birthplace and discovers a beguiling Mediterranean jewel which is still divided over the legacy of their most famous son

Saturday 25 November 2023 06:30 GMT
<p>Napoleon, in Roman emperor garb, standing tall in Ajaccio</p>

Napoleon, in Roman emperor garb, standing tall in Ajaccio

Arriving late in Ajaccio, Corsica, at Aéroport Napoleon Bonaparte, I take a taxi to Hotel Napoleon. It’s a block south of the main thoroughfare, Cours Napoleon, where next morning I bask in the Mediterranean warmth with a croissant and double espresso at the Grand Café Napoleon.

A few doors away is a cinema advertising Ridley Scott’s new film, Napoleon, starring Joaquin Phoenix, which opened in UK cinemas this week. Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Ajaccio in 1769, yet if I imagined the density of public monuments here named after their prodigal son equated to popularity, I find his legacy divides Corsican opinion.

My local guide for a day, Catherine Lehmann, says Corsicans generally admire him but they do so through clenched teeth. “The movie trailer claims ‘he came from nothing and conquered everything’, but it’s not true as his parents were already an established noble family,” she complained. “He did nothing for Corsica during his time in power”.

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