Napoleon’s Corsican Grotto

Young Napoleon, growing up in a household in which his mother seemed always to be pregnant, sought out solitary refuges. One was a wooden lean-to on the family porch, another was a grotto on the outskirts of Ajaccio. Legend says he was hiding in this second spot, when his father and the Count de Marbeuf (then the French governor of the island) came to tell him his scholarship at military school in France had been approved.

The illustration of Charles Bonaparte and Marbeuf visiting Napoleon at his grotto comes from a beautiful new edition of Napoléon Bonaparte Une Jeunesse Corse (A Corsican Youth) written by Jean-Baptiste Marcaggi (1866-1933), a Napoleon scholar from Corsica. I picked up a copy last spring at the Château de Malmaison, Napoleon and Josephine’s home outside of Paris.  In addition to the link above, the publishers have a Facebook page for this charming book.

Today, Ajaccio’s villas and apartment houses surround Napoleon’s refuge. One of the town’s monuments to its famous son abuts the granite boulders. The imposing monument itself towers above a soccer field. When my husband and I visited last March, we cleaned candy wrappers and a Coke bottle from the cave. Despite the encroaching development, I could easily imagine the young boy scurrying a couple kilometers from his home to his cave in the countryside. There, Napoleon said, his “dreams [for his future] were limited only by his imagination.” Now a statue of himself as Emperor overlooks it.


  • July 19, 2013 - 12:19 pm | Permalink

    “There, Napoleon said, his “dreams [for his future] were limited only by his imagination.” Now a statue of himself as Emperor overlooks it.”

    You almost killed me with these lines! So amazing, he’s such an inspiration!

  • mrodenberg
    July 19, 2013 - 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Yes, he is an inspiration. The more I read the more I am astounded by the breadth of his accomplishments.

    I enjoyed your singing on YouTube.

    Take care,

  • Leonid
    March 1, 2016 - 3:50 pm | Permalink

    He probably foresaw his statue by his grotto.

  • mrodenberg
    March 5, 2016 - 7:53 pm | Permalink

    I’m sure he’d be happy to see it there now!

  • Laszlo
    August 29, 2016 - 8:20 am | Permalink

    Dear Masam,

    I hope you may support me with requested info. Few years ago I started to read a book aboit
    the young Napoleon, most probably an archived version of the book. Unfortunatally due to so-me techical problems lost all saved “favorites” on my PC. Maybe you can help me with the tiitle of that book. First chapter starts in August 1766—two girs are walking in Ajaccio…

    Thank you in advence
    Laszlo(from Budapest)

  • mrodenberg
    November 28, 2016 - 11:51 am | Permalink

    Hello, Laszlo. I’m glad you found my website. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any books in my library that start with that scene. The closest is Vincent Cronin’s excellent “Napoleon Bonaparte, An Intimate Biography” which starts with the marriage of Napoleon’s parents in 1764 on the steps of the cathedral in Ajaccio, Corsica. Good luck! I’ll keep an eye out for anything closer.


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