10 largest cities in France


Ajaccio (Aiacciu)


Ajaccio (Corsican: Aiacciu; Italian: Aiaccio; Latin: Adiacium) is a French commune, prefecture of the department of Corse-du-Sud, prefecture of Corsica and seat of the territorial community of Corsica. Its urban area had 106,488 inhabitants in 20161, the largest on the island. Ajaccio is located on the west coast of Corsica, 390 km from Marseille.

After experiencing a decline in the Middle Ages, Ajaccio developed with the presence of the Genoese, who built a citadel there in 1492 south of the city.

"Imperial city" and formerly "coral city". Ajaccio is the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte, and is also known to be the first French city liberated during World War II on September 9, 1943.



The Sanguinaires Islands, quite simply magical in the evening, when the sun sets, setting the horizon ablaze.
The old town of Ajaccio, in particular the Fesch museum as well as the birthplace of Napoleon. It is an area to be visited on foot therefore at your own pace and especially by leaving the car in one of the many public car parks in Ajaccio.


Imperial Chapel (Palatine Chapel)

The Palatine Chapel, better known as the Imperial Chapel, is a church in Ajaccio in Corsica. Dating from 1859, it was erected at the request of Napoleon III wishing to respect the last wishes of Cardinal Fesch who is buried there as well as several members of the Bonaparte family including Marie Letizia Bonaparte from 1860, as well as Charles Bonaparte in 1951, respectively parents and grandparents of Napoleon I and Napoleon III. Property of the State, it has been listed as a Historic Monument since July 22, 1924.

The church is built in Saint-Florent stone in a neo-renaissance style in the shape of a Latin cross, on the plans of Alexis Paccard, architect of the crown and built by the architect Jean Caseneuve, first inspector of the palace of Fontainebleau2. It adjoins the Palais Fesch, built twenty years earlier and of which it forms the south wing.

Several personalities of the imperial family rest in the chapel (in particular in the crypt, now saturated):
Charles Bonaparte (1746-1785), father of Napoleon I, transferred in 1951.
Letizia Bonaparte, Madame Mère (1750-1836), mother of Napoleon I
Joseph Fesch (1763-1839), cardinal, uncle of Napoleon I
Charles-Lucien Bonaparte (1803-1857)
Zénaïde Bonaparte (1860–1862)
Louis-Lucien Bonaparte (1813-1891)
Napoleon-Charles Bonaparte (1839-1899)
Victor Napoleon (1862-1926)
Clementine of Belgium (1872-1955), wife of Victor Napoléon
Louis Napoléon (1914-1997), son of Victor Napoléon


Fesch Museum

The Palais Fesch-Musée des Beaux-Arts is an art museum in the city of Ajaccio in Corsica. Located in the Borgu district of Ajaccio, in the palace and the street of the same name, the Fesch Museum was created by the donation made to its hometown by Cardinal Joseph Fesch, uncle of Napoleon I.

In particular, it presents one of the most remarkable collections of ancient paintings in France as well as one of the most important Napoleonic collections. It benefits from the “Musée de France” label.

When Joseph Fesch died, his personal collection numbered no less than 17,767 works and objects of art, including around 16,000 paintings. Enlightened amateur and bulimic collector, he had decided, in 1806, to create in his native town an institute of artistic studies. By will registered on April 25, 1839, he donated to the City of Ajaccio 1,000 works of art, busts and sculptures, including 843 paintings, its library, its manuscripts, part of its furniture and of the statue of Napoleon Consul by Maximilien Laboureur, after his nephew and heir Joseph Bonaparte, Count of Survilliers, had obtained, on September 1, 1842, a modification of this will to keep the collections of engravings and the entirety of the Grande Galerie of paintings by the cardinal, which had to be partially sold to complete the buildings then under construction. In return, 300 additional paintings, to be taken outside the Grande Galerie, were donated to several Corsican municipalities, including 100 to the Royal College of Bastia, now kept at the Bastia Museum and 50 at the Paoli de Corte school.

Work on the building, the current Fesch Palace, started in 1828 was completed in 1852, well after the death of the patron. The plans of the palace and the first parts built were the work of the architect Frasseto until 1837, then of Jean Caseneuve, architect of the government, and of the municipal architect of Ajaccio Jérôme Maglioli, assisted by Jean Exiga who completed the last parts like the library wing and the main staircase.

The Palatine Chapel or Imperial Chapel, where Cardinal Fesch, Maria Letizia Ramolino and many members of the Bonaparte family are buried, was built from 1857 to 1859 by Alexis Paccard, architect of the Crown, with the collaboration of Jérôme Maglioli, architect of the City of Ajaccio.

Carried out under the Second Empire according to a testamentary wish from Cardinal Fesch, this chapel was consecrated on September 9, 1860 in the presence of Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie.


It was following these last works that the bronze statue of the Monument to Cardinal Cardinal Fesch by sculptor Gabriel-Vital Dubray was erected in 1856 in the main courtyard of the palace. In the meantime, over the course of these expansions and other rearrangements, the museum's collections were enriched by other important donations, such as the bequest by Félix Baciocchi in 1866 of 64 paintings, mainly from the 19th century.

The city subsequently decided to transform part of the building into a high school and the collections were put away and poorly maintained. During the twentieth century, the situation of the museum deteriorated and only three rooms were devoted to the presentation of works before the museum closed its doors in June 1979.

Renovation of the buildings and restoration of the works were undertaken in 1980 and led to the reopening of the museum on July 9, 1990, in the presence of Jack Lang, Minister of Culture.

From April 15, 2008, the museum undergoes a second campaign of works and redevelopment before its reopening on June 26, 2010, then the visit of the Minister of Culture Frédéric Mitterrand on July 11 of that same year.

The museum, which today consists of around thirty rooms distributed over four floors, exhibits around 400 paintings and houses a library and an auditorium.

The museum's collections, spread over four levels and 27 rooms, are very important, especially for a provincial town like Ajaccio. With 448 paintings, it is the second French museum in terms of conservation of Italian paintings after the 1034 of the Louvre. The museum presents works from different schools of European painting up to the 18th century, as well as a section dedicated specifically to Corsican art, especially from the 19th and 20th centuries. Another part of the museum presents collections from the Napoleonic era.

Italian painting
The Italian school is present in large numbers in the museum's collections, of which it constitutes the highlight with 486 paintings, dating from the fourteenth century for the oldest and for the most part from the collection amassed in Italy by Cardinal Fesch.



The beginnings are modest and the city is not mentioned by the Greek geographer Ptolemy of Alexandria in the 2nd century AD which uses somewhat earlier sources, despite the presence of a locality called Ourkinion in the neighboring Cinarca. However, it was shortly after this time that the city of Ajaccio (then undoubtedly already adjacium which evokes a lodging, a stage) knew its first development. In this period of prosperity in the Mediterranean basin (the Pax Romana), the need for a real port capable of accommodating buildings downstream from the various valleys which end in the gulf was probably felt (important recent underwater archaeological discoveries of Roman boats tend to confirm this).

Other recent excavations have led to the discovery of important early Christian remains likely to considerably reassess the size of the Ajaccian agglomeration in the second part of Antiquity and at the beginning of the Middle Ages. The city was in any case sufficiently notable to be already the seat of a diocese, mentioned by Pope Gregory the Great in 591. The city was then located further north than the location later chosen by the Genoese, at the location of the current districts of Castel Vecchio and Sainte-Lucie.

Medieval and Genoese times
It is established that from the seventh century the city, like most of the other Corsican coastal communities, declined sharply and almost completely disappeared. Nevertheless, we know that a castle and a cathedral were still in place in 1492 and that the latter was not demolished until 1748.

At the end of the 15th century, the Genoese wishing to assert their domination over the south of the island decided to rebuild the city of Ajaccio. Several sites were then considered: the Pointe de la Parata (not retained because too exposed to the winds), the old town (ultimately considered unsanitary because of the proximity of the Salines pond), finally the Punta della Lechia on which the choice was made. Work began on April 21, 1492. The city developed rapidly and became the capital of the province of Delà Des Monts (more or less current Corse-du-Sud), Bastia remaining the capital of the island whole.

At first a colony populated exclusively by Genoese, the city slowly opened up to the Corsicans, even if practically until the French conquest, the Ajaccians legally citizens of Genoa, very readily distinguished themselves from the island paesani, the latter mainly living in Borgu , a suburb outside the city walls (the current rue Fesch was its main artery).

Modern times
In 1553 de Thermes took Ajaccio where he established his domicile and headquarters. To defend the place, "he built the citadel from which he separated it by a ditch cut almost entirely in the rock, and which receives water from the sea; he also built several other pieces of fortifications, among others the bastion which flanks the two sides of the city, opposite the mountains and the convent of S. Francis. - Goury De Champgrand in History of the Isle of Corsica - 1749, p. 35 ”. Ajaccio was occupied by the French until 1559.

The great revolt of the Corsicans against Genoa (1729-1769)
In 1731, the rebels were almost masters of the whole island. The Genoese unable to control the rebellion, imperial troops, 4,000 men under the orders of Baron Wachtendonk, were sent to Corsica. The Genoese only had Bastia, Calvi & Ajaccio left. Shortly afterwards, 2,000 men under the orders of Prince Louis of Württemberg were sent as reinforcements. For two years, the Germans ruined the island without being able to obtain from the inhabitants their submission to the Genoese.
On June 5, 1733, Corsica appearing entirely pacified, the imperial troops evacuated the island.
At the beginning of 1734, the fire rekindled more strongly than ever and set the whole island ablaze.

On November 10, 1737 in Fontainebleau, an agreement was signed between France and Genoa for the sending of troops to Corsica.
In 1739, many inhabitants come to obedience, return a large quantity of weapons in the hands of the commander of the frigate "Flore" which was in the gulf of Ajaccio, or in particular officers that Maillebois had sent in.


At the same time, during the months of July and August, great work is being done to facilitate communication between Corte and Ajaccio, "these two parts of the island being separated by awful & almost impassable mountains, to cross what it is called the Foci di Bogognano which is a path of about four leagues, where one could only enter through large woods and snow-covered mountains most of the year. - Jean F. De Champgrand in Histoire de l'isle de Corse - 1749, p. 97. »

In his book, the contemporary historian Goury De Champgrand, who says he lived in Ajaccio for two years, writes: "The city is very small, & that besides three French battalions which were garrisoned there with about 600 Genoese & nearly 900 Greeks , men, women & children, there were several families from the surrounding villages who had taken refuge there after the ruin of their houses during the rebellion, making three-quarters of the town poor & miserable, some on the others; I saw in those times in several different places five & six households in one room with all their children. »

The attachment to France
Corsica finally passed to France in 1769: after defeating the royal army at Borgo in October 1768, Pascal Paoli's patriots were crushed in May 1769 at Ponte-Novu.

The city was imagined by Napoleon I, who was a native, the capital of the only department of the island at the expense of Bastia. It was during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that Ajaccio caught up with the latter and became the most populous city on the island.

In the nineteenth century, Ajaccio was a very popular winter resort of the high society of the time, especially English, like Monaco, Cannes, Nice. An Anglican church was even built.

The first children's bathhouse in France was built in Ajaccio in 1855: the horticultural colony of Saint Antoine. It was a correctional colony for young offenders, (from 8 to 20 years old) established under section 10 of the law of August 5, 1850. Nearly 1200 children from all over France stayed there until 1866, when of its closure. One hundred and sixty of them perished there, victims of deplorable health conditions and malaria infesting unhealthy areas, which they were tasked with sanitizing.

In 1862, Ajaccio ceded part of its territory, together with Alata, to form the new commune of Villanova.

Contemporary era
On September 9, 1943, Ajaccio rose massively against the Nazi occupier and became the first French city liberated from German rule. General de Gaulle went to Ajaccio on October 8, 1943, and declared: "We must immediately learn the lesson from the page of history that French Corsica has just written." Corsica has the fortune and honor of being the first piece released from France; what she has caused to burst forth from her feelings and will, in the light of her liberation, demonstrates that these are the feelings and will of the whole Nation. »

During all this time, no Jews were executed or deported to Corsica thanks to the protection granted by its inhabitants and its administration. This peculiarity today allows Corsica to claim to become just among the nations, a title that no region has yet had (in France, the only territorial authority to have obtained this title is the commune of Chambon-sur- Lignon). The file is being studied in 2010.

Since the middle of the twentieth century, Ajaccio has undergone significant development. The imperial city experienced population growth and considerable urban sprawl. Today the capital of Corsica and the main agglomeration of the island, it seeks to establish itself as a true regional metropolis.