The port town of Ajaccio on the west coast of Corsica is most famous as the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte. In France, Napoleon is a revered figure. He is remembered fondly for numerous reforms. Improvements in higher education, the tax code, the road and sewer systems, and the establishment of the Bank of France can all be traced to Napoleon’s rule.
Outside of France Napoleon’s history is viewed differently. He is remembered as megalomaniac and is held up as an example of a leader with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The difference of views is not surprising. Napoleon’s military campaigns expanded the borders and influence of France to the edge of Russia. The Napoleonic Wars continued the chain of European military conflicts that ultimately culminated in two World Wars. For much of the rest of Europe Napoleon Bonaparte’s reign was a catastrophe.
Though it is Napoleon’s birthplace, Corsica does not share the same intensity of fondness for its favorite son that Continental France has. Napoleon left Corsica at the age of ten to be educated in military academies in mainland France. At twenty he changed his name from Napoleone di Buonaparte to the French variant, Napoleon Bonaparte. To the Corsicans, Napoleon is more French than Corsican.
The people from Corsica will tell you that they are Corsican first and French second. After all Corsica did not come willingly into the French Empire. Indeed, prior to the French taking control, the Corsicans had driven the ruling Genoese from most of their island and established their own republic. The Genoese, concerned about their ability to regain control of Corsica from the resistance, bargained away the island to the Kingdom of France with the Treaty of Versailles of 1768 to repay their debts. After the deal the French moved in and crushed the young Corsican Republic. With their fate being brokered by outside parties the Corsicans have never fully considered themselves French. It is telling that the current Corsican flag is a variant of the version used by patriots as they fought the French occupation. And even today there remains a Corsican nationalism movement.
Despite the presence of numerous statues and a Napoleon museum Ajaccio has lukewarm feelings for its famous child. Ajaccio’s role as the birthplace of Napoleon draws in tourists. But to the people of Corsica Napoleon wasn’t fully Corsican. He is not truly a favorite son.