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Ajaccio (Municipality, Corse-du-Sud, France)


Last modified: 2024-01-28 by olivier touzeau
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Flag of Ajaccio - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 23 August 2017

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Presentation of Ajaccio

The municipality of Ajaccio (Corsican, Aiacciu; 65,153 inhabitants in 2008; 8,203 ha; municipal website) is located in the south-western coast of Corsica.

Ajaccio was originally an episcopal town known as Adjacium. Located on the marshy sea shore, the town was threatened by pirates' raids; epidemics spread by mosquitos also endangered the population. In the 15th century, the Republic of Genoa established its rule over Corsica and commissioned the St. George's Magnificent Office, indeed a bank, to manage and develop Corsica on the Republic's behalf. The Office commissioned the architect Cristoforo de Gandino, from Milan, "to construct, build and erect a fortress or a fortified castle in the place called Ajaccio". The cornerstone of the new town was placed in April 1492 on a promontory locally known as Capo di Bolo. The fortress built on a small peninsula to watch the Gulf of Ajaccio was transformed in the 16th century into a citadel. In the same time, a civil town emerged, housing some 700 inhabitants in traditional, without floor Genoese houses; those houses had slated roofs and narrow openings, and were either colored with ocher or whitewashed. In the 16th-17th centuries, the cathedral, the San Ruccheliu church, the St. Erasmus church (known today as the former Jesuit church) and the St. John the Baptist church were built.
"U Borghu" (The Borough) spread out of the town walls along the road leading to the main town's gate. Originally made of a few houses built near a big salt barn ("Saliniera"), "U Borghu" developed in the 17th century, when fishers and coral merchants set up in "e Gallerie" (The Arcades). Known as the Coral Borough, "U Borghu" was limited by "a Barrié" (the Barrier), a checkpoint for people and goods entering and leaving the town.
At the end of the 18th century, the inner town, included 5,000 inhabitants, was deemed obsolete. Three successive urbanization plans allowed the development of the modern town. In 1801, First Consul Napoléon Bonaparte approved the plan d'extension et d'embleiissement proposed by Count Miot, appointed General Administrator of Corsica in January 1801. The town walls were suppressed and the Bonaparte Square was inaugurated in 1802. Three botanical gardens were created; among them, the Casone Acclimatization Garden, managed by the Paris Museum of Natural History, was used to experiment the cultivation of new plants, such as tea, coffee, cotton and mulberry. The main administrative buildings, including the Préfecture and the Town Hall, were erected in 1826. The second plan, drafted by the architect Padovani in 1830, increased the streets designed by Miot and created two residential boroughs. Finally, the third plan, credited to J&ecute;rôme Maglioli, completed in 1865 the revamping of the town with the building of the railway station borough and of the Court of Justice.
The "Quartier des Étrangers" (Foreigners' Borough), protected from the northern and eastern winds, became in the late 19th century a posh place of winter tourism. Count Bacciochi, Chamberlain of Emperor Napoléon III, convinced rich tourists from all Europe to overwinter in Ajaccio and to enjoy its temperate and sunny climate. A Scottish aristocrat, Miss Campbell, definitively moved to Ajaccio and invited several of her friends to join, funding the building of an Anglican church. Prestigious hotels (Grand Hôtel Continental, Cyrnos Palace, Germania) and cottages were built. The bimonthly L'Île de Beauté (Beauty Island, the nickname of Corsica), edited by the tourist bureau of the town, became a main advertising channel. In 1890, some 1,000 tourists overwintered in Ajaccio.

The destiny of Ajaccio is linked to the most famous child of the town, Napoléon Bonaparte (1769-1821), who actually spent little time in Ajaccio. Born in a notables' family, young Bonaparte left the town aged 9 to be trained in the military colleges of Autun and Brienne-le- Château, and came back only in September 1786. He supported the French Revolution but his Jacobinism prevented him to join Pascal Paoli in his struggle for the independence of Corsica, as opposed to his father Charles Bonaparte (1746-1785). After a failed attempt by the troops of the French Republic to seize the citadel of Ajaccio on 17 May 1793, the whole Bonaparte family left Corsica on 1 June under the pressure of Paoli's supporters. Bonaparte would subsequently spend only a few days on the island, when returning from Egypt in 1799.
The Bonapartist party, once powerful all over France, subsisted all along the 20th century in Ajaccio as the Comité Central Bonapartiste (CCB), founded in 1908 as a "municipal party". With a few breaks, the CMB ran the municipality of Ajaccio until May 2001, when a coalition of leftist parties, supported by Charles Napoléon, the head of the Imperial house, won the municipal election. Charles Napoléon indeed rejected modern Bonapartism and recognized the French Republic; that is the reason why he does not bear any nobility title that would not have any legal existence.

The second most famous child of Ajaccio is the singer and actor Tino Rossi (Constantino Rossi, 1907-1983), a model of "Latin lover". During his long singer's career (1932-1982), Tino Rossi sold 40 millions of records on the French market (and is still the French top seller); his sales worldwide have been estimated at 600 millions. Highly estimated by the public, Tino Rossi had several friends in the artistic sphere; popular songwriters, such as Reynaldo Hahn and Vincent Scotto (Marinella, Tshi, tshi) wrote several songs for him. Petit Papa Noêl, originally an obscure Christmas lullaby, is Tino Rossi's emblematic song, representing 10% of his sales on the French market, with some 300,000 copies still sold every year.

Ivan Sache, 3 October 2011

Flag of Ajaccio

The flag of Ajaccio (photo) is white with the municipal logo, designed after the coat of arms, and the name of the town in French and Corsican.

Olivier Touzeau, 23 August 2017

Former flag of Ajaccio

[Flag]         [Flag]

Flag of Ajaccio, two versions - Images by Olivier Touzeau, 3 October 2011

In 2009, Ajaccio used a flag vertically divided light blue-white, either with (photo, Town Hall) or without (photo, Chamber of Commerce and Industry) the municipal arms in the middle.

The arms of Ajaccio are "Azure on a mound vert a column argent surmounted by a crown supported by two lions rampant or armed and langued gules".
These arms were originally granted to the town on 27 January 1575 by the Republic of Genoa. The grant of arms, written in Latin, says:

The Doge and the Government of the Republic of Genoa [...] grant the town of Ajaccio, which until now never bore arms, the use of a coat of arms bordered in gold, showing in the middle a column argent ensigned with a small-sized copy of the shield of our Republic, with a red cross; the column shall be supported on each side by a white dog. The shield's background shall be azure with a plain vert in base. Around the shield the writing 'Sic Adjacenses in Rempublicam Genuensem' (So the inhabitants of Ajaccio to the Republic of Genoa)

On some versions of the arms, there is a crown above the column. After the end of the Genoese rule, the arms of Genoa were removed, leaving only the crown, and the writing was dropped. The hounds were replaced by lions. A bigger crown was added above the shield, probably to symbolize the Kingdom of France.
in the version of the arms designed in 1892, the big crown was replaced by two palms, probably more Republican. A document dated 1951 shows the arms with a mural crown instead of the palms, which are shown again in the current design of the arms, probably based on a drawing made in 1985 by Jean Mariani.
[Ajaccio Art Histoire Culture, by Philippe Martinetti]

Borel d'Hauterive (Histoire des armoiries des villes de France, Euraldic website) claims, erroneously, that the Corsican towns "as a rule had no arms". He shows a coat of arms "Argent a cross gules", "sometimes shown as the arms of Ajaccio, but, seemingly, rather the arms of whole Corsica" (indeed the arms of Genoa!).

Ivan Sache, 3 October 2011

Société Nautique d'Ajaccio

[Burgee of SN Ajaccio]

Burgee of SNA - Image by Ivan Sache, 13 July 2002

Société Nautique d'Ajaccio (SNA, website), founded in 1867, is the oldest Corsican association.
The burgee of SNA has two blue triangles placed vertically along the hoist and a red "arrow" at the point of the flag. The white lozenge in the middle is charged with a Moor's head. The Franco-Corsican symbolism is straightforward.

Ivan Sache, 13 July 2002