Maison Bonaparte, Napoleon’s birthplace

In Corsica, the most famous house is the Maison Bonaparte in Ajaccio where Napoleon was born on August 15, 1769.  According to tradition, his mother, Letizia Ramolino was praying in the nearby cathedral when she felt severe labor pains.  She hurried home, only making it to a first floor parlor where she gave birth to her second son, named Napoleon after an uncle who had died in the Corsican struggle for independence.  This is a photo of the parlor but the settee is not the original.

In fact, aside from the evocative setting and exterior of the building, not much from Napoleon’s time remains in Maison Bonaparte.  The original Bonaparte belongings were pillaged when they hurriedly left Corsica under a political cloud in 1793.  Then, when Napoleon’s mother returned to Corsica in 1796, after her son’s early successes in France, she had the place made over.  Now, it’s a museum, with few personal effects and no kitchen, dishes or clothing in sight.

On the other hand, due to its location in Ajaccio’s unchanged narrow streets, you can easily imagine young Napoleon with his older brother Joseph in tow, running the two short blocks to the citadel to mingle with the soldiers.  The streets must have echoed Letizia’s scolds as she dragged her unwillingly son away from the citadel to attend the cathedral’s daily mass.

Most poignant for me was looking out the window of Napoleon’s father’s study at the terrace where Carlo Bonaparte set up a small shelter to which his industrious second son could escape from his large, noisy family to study mathematics and to dream.

12 Comments

  • Rebecca
    March 22, 2011 - 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Lovely photos! How amazing to imagine his life there…

  • mrodenberg
    March 22, 2011 - 8:48 pm | Permalink

    Thank you. Yes, and being here has definitely given me new insight.

  • Stephanie
    April 23, 2011 - 6:44 pm | Permalink

    I can just see the boy playing there, dreaming huge dreams.

  • mrodenberg
    April 23, 2011 - 9:48 pm | Permalink

    Yes, I know it’s my imagination but for me, his past still echoes in that house and throughout Ajaccio’s narrow streets.

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  • AnnB
    August 16, 2014 - 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Ajaccio is a lovely place and knowing Napoleons was born there adds to the interest.

  • mrodenberg
    August 18, 2014 - 10:01 pm | Permalink

    Yes, Ajaccio is lovely. I would have enjoyed my time there, even without the extra interest that the Napoleon connection brings. I hope to go back sometime soon.

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  • Randall
    December 26, 2014 - 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I am always fascinated by places where the famous people grew up, as one comment says he imagines the young Napoleon playing in the yard there, it reminds me of a home movie I saw once of Che Guevara as a boy, you see this little lad playing with his dad and sister and knowing his fate gives the whole thing a strange atmosphere and I get the same feeling looking at Napoleon’s childhood home too, what conquests (if any) were formed in that innocent mind within and around his home.

  • mrodenberg
    December 31, 2014 - 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Yes, Randall, I have had the same experience. I, too, find the childhoods of historical figures with outsized personalities–Napoleon, Che, Abraham Lincoln–fascinating. Have you ever looked back on yourself in your own childhood in the same way?

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