Far from the chic glamour of the cities on the east coast and the tourist influx of Ajaccio, Bastia happily cultivates its atmosphere of a modest village with somewhat austere facades.
It is also a city rich in art and history, as evidenced by its many churches, especially baroque, which are hidden in the network of streets. Mediterranean and popular, Bastia deserves to be taken seriously, letting yourself be conquered by its atmosphere, lingering on the terraces of the cafes and contemplating the arabesques drawn by the last rays of the sun on the facades of the Vieux Port, dominated by the twin steeples of the Église Saint Jean Baptiste.
Although the site of present-day Bastia was already inhabited in Roman times, the town was founded only in 1372, when the Genoese governor, who was then living in the Castle of Biguglia, located a few kilometers south of Bastia, in an area difficult to defend and infested with malaria, decided to move his residence to a more suitable location.
Recognizing for the first time the strategic importance of this area, the governor made his choice on the only rocky promontory on this flat stretch of coast and had the bastille (fortress) built there that would later give its name to the city.
Today, there is a new space in the historic center that offers a unique view of the second-largest city in Corsica: the Mantinum.
Inaugurated on February 23, 2020, this state-of-the-art construction contrasts with the history-filled Terra Nova neighborhood.
The Mantinum operation, about the name given by the Romans to the city of Bastia, made it possible to create a gentle connection over a drop of more than thirty meters between the Old Port and the top of the citadel. It also consisted of the creation of a green theater with eight hundred seats and the restoration of the Romieu garden, a vestige of the pleasure garden of the Genoese rulers, a precious belvedere attached to the Palais des Gouverneurs, located on the heights of the old town.
From the Old Port, there are two possible options:
• The most impatient will prefer to take the elevator that will take them effortlessly to the upper town;
• while the less impatient will take the time to stroll through the narrow alleys of the Romieu garden before reaching the large esplanade of the green theater.
No matter how you get there, on foot or by elevator, you will be fascinated by the postcard setting and the beauty of the landscape.
Address: Ascenseur du Spaziu Mantinum, Rue Saint Michel 8
THE SACRED APPETIZER
It was in 1872 that Louis Napoleon Mattei invented his famous appetizer, the "Cap Corse Mattei".
Born in Ersa, on the tip of Cap Corse, a region open to the sea and the first wine-producing region on the island, Louis Napoleon Mattei had the idea of developing a drink based on grapes, aromatic plants and cinchona brought from the Caribbean. Cap Corse Mattei then became a mythical brand of the island.
A few years later, the Fantauzzi building was built on Place Saint Nicolas in Bastia. Louis Napoleon Mattei opened the Mattei store there to sell, of course, his famous aperitif, his wines, but also products from the island region.
Located in the historic heart of Bastia, the store has been decorated by sculptor Ivo Borghesi. We discover friezes of vines, large baskets carved in high relief and advertising bas-reliefs depicting in still life the products of Mattei establishments.
The only Corsican boutique listed as a Historic Monument, it has since become Mattei Concept Store.
With its high ceilings, its Lariciu pine floor that creaks under your footsteps, and its red wooden shelves filled with delicious products, the store itself is a journey into the past: a place steeped in history where Cap Mattei lovers can delve into the brand´s iconic universe.
The "museum" corner of Mattei Concept Store features historical stills, accessories, and vintage bottles... reminding us that Louis Napoleon Mattei was also a pioneer in communication.
Mattei Concept Store, in line with the wishes of its creator, today offers a fine selection of the best gastronomic products whether regional, national or even international, with a wine cellar that has more than 700 references for exceptional wines, cavas and spirits, from Corsica and from all over the world.
It is also a delicatessen, ambassador of quality products, with a pleasurable offer built around rare or traditional tastes and flavors.
It is, finally, a space where the products mix the art of living, fashion and design.
Come in and let them guide you to discover the universe of the most famous wine of the island.
Address: Boulevard du Général de Gaulle 15
Corsica, rooted in its traditions, proud of its identity and rich in ancestral knowledge, has many talented creators. Men and women who have chosen to live on this island so dear to them and to value its raw materials every day.
Many of them have decided to leave their suitcases in Bastia, after traveling the world and discovering new horizons. Half craftsmen and half artists, these new generation creators reflect the image of a modern and creative Corsica that reveals itself in the workshops and showrooms scattered in the alleys of the historic center.
From Terra Vieja to Terra Nova, from the commercial arteries to the most secret streets, everyone exhibits the fruits of their labor and shares their know-how with unquestionable enthusiasm.
Discovering Corsica, and discovering Bastia, a multifaceted city, also means taking the time to meet these passionate creators, who draw their imagination from the richness of this region, nicknamed the Island of Beauty.
There is no doubt that the excellence of its collections, a happy combination of regional traditions and distant influences, will seduce lovers of beautiful works made in Corsica.
Entirely handmade, Kitsouné jewelry is based on a double concept associating couture and jewelry.
Like a couture garment, this jewelry requires hours of manufacturing, which gives it the status of an exceptional piece. The creations combine threads, Swarovski crystals, and gilded metals with fine gold and semi-precious stones. All in limited editions. Singular and poetic, they are nourished by the colors of the sublime Corsican landscapes: in particular, the green, the infinite reflection of the wave of the island´s rivers found in the shimmering emerald stone.
The style is elegant and refined and evolves with the seasons and inspirations to give birth to a unique aesthetic, the Bijou Couture.
Always passionate about fashion, it was at the age of eight that Patricia Renard created her first piece: a crochet swimsuit made entirely by herself. Thus, the designer, originally from Albertacce, a small Corsican village, founded 2014 her jewelry brand Kitsouné (fox in Japanese).
Kitsouné jewels are designed with the idea of seeing them intertwine as you wish to best reveal the facets of your personality. The woman is an "island of beauty", sublimated by these handmade jewels.
For lovers of fashion and design, the Mediterranean Festival of Fashion and Design which takes place every year in June, in the sumptuous setting of the Museum of History of Bastia, welcomes sixty creatives from all over the island to present their latest creations.
Meeting, exchange and conviviality in a decidedly chic and authentic atmosphere are the keywords of this emblematic event that marks the beginning of the summer vacations.
Address: Rue César Campinchi 22
BETWEEN THE WAVE AND THE ROCK
Corsica´s main port, as well as the capital of one of the two districts into which the island is administratively divided (Haute Corse), Bastia gives Ajaccio the palm of the most inhabited city and the status of the regional capital.
Moreover, the dispute between the two cities for the primacy of the island´s queen has been going on since time immemorial. Indeed, provincialism is a distinctive feature of insularity in Corsica, also affected by its relations with France.
Apart from history, tourism represents one of the main economic resources of the territory along with industry and commerce.
Bastia welcomes crowds of visitors from Italy (ferries from Genoa, Livorno, Savona, etc.) and France (from Nice, Marseille, Toulon).
Since its inauguration in December 2020, the Aldilonda promenade has become a new attraction for tourists and a captivating place for photos.
Anchored in the rock, the promenade borders it at five meters above sea level.
The gently curving road contrasts with the massive fortress and the rock on which the bastion rests.
The road nestles against the rock, leans against it and cuts through it.
The road widens and offers resting places.
The sea is perceived through the area covered by a transparent grid.
The balcony is exposed to the rough sea; when the waves are high, the water penetrates the stainless steel grid of the rock, thus reducing its massive strength.
To get there, head for the Old Port and its postcard setting, going around the cove you will reach the south pier, and you will discover this extraordinary structure built on a rocky hill between the walls of the Citadel and the Tyrrhenian Sea, which stretches as far as the eye can see.
Fishing enthusiasts love to gather on the rocks to enjoy their favorite activity in an exceptional setting. Adopted very quickly by the people of Bastia, this gentle trail connecting the city center of Bastia to the beach of L´Arinella is very popular with runners and walkers.
Alone, with family or friends, the Aldilonda is the place to start the day admiring the sublime sunrises over the Mediterranean Sea.
Photography enthusiasts and selfie aficionados roam the area daily in search of the perfect shot.
Address: Chem. des Turquines 9
U CRISTU NEGRU
The Église Saint Croix is the oldest church in the city, famous for housing a wooden sculpture from the early 15th century, better known as "U Cristu Negru".
The crucifix is kept in a beautiful coffered chapel and is the object of genuine veneration by the faithful.
Every May 3rd, the inhabitants of Bastia pay homage to the Black Christ of Miracles, with a mass in the Corsican language and a blessing in the sea, followed by a procession.
Legend has it that, on the night of May 2 to 3, 1428, two fishermen from the Camugli and Giuliani families rescued in their nets a black wooden crucifix that glittered on the surface of the water.
It was placed in a cave under the citadel, overlooking the old port of Bastia.
The fishermen began to offer him the first fish when they returned from fishing.
In 1542, on land belonging to the Roman Basilica of St. John Lateran (Holy See), it was decided to build a church to house the Crucifix of Miracles.
Since then, the Black Christ has given rise every year, on May 3, to a well-attended religious ceremony in which sailors, fishermen and brotherhoods participate, among which the Brotherhood of the Holy Cross stands out.
The Sisterhood of Sainte Croix is the oldest in Bastia. It was she who was in charge of the management of the hospital located next to the oratory, known as the Genoese hospital. Her vocation was to care for the poor and the sick.
The procession heads to the old port of Bastia where the traditional blessing at sea takes place, where fishermen are invited to lay flowers and garlands in the sea in front of the Citadel.
Back at the Madunetta dock, the fishermen carry the crucifix, the object of their veneration, during a procession that takes the Cristu Negru back to the church perched above the harbor.
Listed as a historical monument in 1931, the oratory is famous for its gilded stucco decoration, which covers the vault and the walls. This exceptional decoration in the "barocchetto" style is unique in Corsica. It was carried out in two campaigns: 1758-1759 and 1772-1775 by several stucco workers of Corsican and Ligurian origin.
The Genoese "Barocchetto" style corresponds to the aesthetics of the French Louis XV style, also called the Rococo style.
Ornamentation abounds in the oratory: foliage, garlands of flowers and shells cover the walls and the vault.
Address: Rue de l´Éveché
Facing the sea and the high walls of the Citadel, the garden of the Museum of the Palace of the Governors is an exceptional site for the development of exotic and Mediterranean plants.
This renovated garden is one of the most beautiful viewpoints of the city of Bastia, occupying one of the three bastions of the former residence of the Genoese governors, the bastion of Saint Charles (the other two are Sainte Marie and Saint-Jean).
To understand the construction of the fortifications and the relatively recent establishment of the garden, we must go back to the history of the construction of the walls that are at the origin of the city as we know it today.
At the end of the 14th century, the Genoese governor Leonello Lomellini built a castle on the edge of the sea, five miles from Biguglia, the ancient capital. He chose a strategic site and installed the building on a plateau overlooking a cove where the inhabitants of the nearby village of Cardo had some warehouses and sheds for their boats and which successively acquired the name of Bastia.
From the 16th century, the three large bastions, initially made of earth and wood, were replaced by stone walls and bastions.
During the 19th century, the interior of the bastion of Saint Charles was gradually filled into the ground until it reached the current level of the garden, burying the pre-existing powder magazine.
At the beginning of the 20th century, an exotic garden in the style of the colonial gardens in vogue at the time was installed on this platform.
The garden is divided into several sectors: the exotic garden, decorated in particular with Callistemon, a genus of trees and shrubs commonly called pipe cleaners or bottle cleaners because of the shape of their inflorescence, and the palm grove which is composed of twenty-one plants including Brahea, Butia and Cycas palms and the alley of Mediterranean plants where ten varieties of plants are represented.
The fifty-one plants in the garden each have signage mentioning their name, family and origin, to inform walkers.
To get to know this Eden perched on the hill overlooking the Vieux Port, you will have to put your legs to the test.
To conquer the summit of the Citadel and explore the aforementioned botanical paradise, you can climb the old Saint Charles trail, laid out in 1819. It is structured in a "donkey-pass" pattern and the ground is regularly paved with stones.
Today there is a monumental staircase designed by Paul-Augustin Viale between 1871 and 1874, consisting of three flights, separated by two landings. It is completed by metal decorations: ramps and railings made by Bastia blacksmiths, as well as a statue, fountain and vases ordered from the Val d´Osne factory.
The staircase winds through another garden, the Romieu, designed in the second half of the 1870s, a bucolic spot and ideal for a green stop before the demanding climb.
Address: Escalier Romieu
WITHOUT DECEPTION, MIDSUMMER´S EVE IS THE SHORTEST NIGHT OF THE YEAR
About three hundred meters from the Vieux Port, the Eglise Saint Jean Baptiste is another unmissable stop on a visit to Bastia.
It is the largest church in all of Corsica, built in the mid-17th century in a mainly Baroque style.
The twin bell towers on either side of the main façade, added in the 19th century, stand out. In 1864, the Bastia architect Paul-Augustin Viale completed the unfinished facade of the church, during this campaign of works the triangular pediment and the right bell tower were built, and the left bell tower was erected in 1810 by the Swiss master mason Tomaso Quadri.
The interior of the church is adorned with numerous works of art. Note the marble high altar, commissioned in 1693 in Genoa to the Marseille-born sculptor Honoré Pellé.
To the left of the main altar, we keep the episcopal throne of Monsignor Matteo Guasco, a native of Bastia and the last bishop of Sagone (who had his residence in Calvi until the Revolution).
The pulpit on which preaches is the most precious of Corsica, is made of white marble inlaid with jasper from Sicily, yellow from Siena and green from Polcevera. Commissioned in Genoa in 1779, it was realized by the sculptors Gaetano and Gian Andrea Torre (father and son), they sent it dismantled and in boxes and it was mounted in place in 1781.
Among the many works of art, the silver tabernacle of the main altar, carved in the 19th century by the Sienese silversmith Gaetano Macchi, also stands out.
We will also notice, above the marble statue of St. John the Baptist (18th century), a striking group of stuccoes depicting the Circumcision of Christ.
The imposing pipe organ of 1742 was built by the Bastia master carpenter Giovan Battista Terrigo: its bold curves and imposing dimensions evoke the stern of a baroque galleon.
The statue of St. John is carried in procession through the streets of the city on the occasion of the saint´s anniversary, June 23.
A highlight of the event is the gigantic bonfire set up in the evening at the entrance of the Old Port.
It is an ancient pagan rite, also widespread in Italy and Spain, which celebrates the beginning of the beautiful season, a fundamental moment for the success of the harvest.
A clear case of syncretism in which the profane element, rather than being expelled from the celebration, is adapted in a coherent, or at least not conflicting, way with the new religious message.
This feast of fire is associated with the rite of taking a first bath in the sea that day would have regenerative properties.
An additional reason of fascination that encourages visitors to visit this beautiful church, the largest on the island.
Address: Rue Cardinal Viale Prelà 4
The distance between the old port and the commercial port of Bastia does not reflect the great historical, cultural and environmental distance between the two environments. If the commercial port, with its traffic, testifies to the economic and touristic importance reached by the city, Vieux Port, on the contrary, is a sort of postcard of the "Bastia that was".
The fishing boats, the nets on display, the balconies with hanging clothes and the decadent facades of the buildings bring the image of Bastia closer to that of many realities in southern Italy and the Ligurian coast. In short, a typically Mediterranean imprint in which the Genoese architectural heritage is evident. Therefore, before continuing any further, it is worth stopping in this area, perhaps strolling through its picturesque narrow streets.
Halfway between Place Saint Nicolas and the Old Port, the market square, called "u mercà" by the Bastiais, is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in the city.
Home to the former town hall, this pretty square lined with plane trees has many cafes and restaurants that have become the meeting place for the young people of Bastia as the weekend approaches. When the weather is nice, the terraces come alive, giving the place a new breath of life, to the sound of musical groups offering Corsican or pop-rock songs.
If during the week the mornings are quiet, Saturdays and Sundays, the market square receive many foreign and local visitors, some come to shop and discover the flavors of regional products offered by the many producers of the surrounding villages. Many people take the opportunity to have breakfast in the sun or have an aperitif accompanied by local sausages and cheeses, while the younger ones appreciate the many flavors offered by the neighborhood´s ice cream parlors.
Formerly known as the theater square, the place is housed in its center the Marbeuf Theater built at the end of the 18th century.
It was not demolished until 1881, thus creating this unique esplanade, today decorated with a stone fountain adorned with a "Naiad" in white marble, the work of sculptor Pierre Pardon.
A few meters away, the Oratory of the Immaculate Conception is another must-see in the neighborhood.
The chapel dates back to the early 17th century as proof of the secular role of the archconfraternities in the Corsican city.
The exterior facade in white marble is from the 19th century, while the portal is from the beginning of the 18th century.
Inside, however, there is a beautiful baroque Christ whose anatomical details leave visitors in awe. Finally, a historical note: from 1794 to 1796 the Oratory of the Immaculate Conception was the official seat of the Anglo-Corsican Parliament, a political-diplomatic page in the greater history of Corsican independence.
Address: Place du Marché
UNDER THE EMPEROR´S GAZE
Surrounded by the Tyrrhenian Sea, Place Saint Nicolas is the meeting place for Bastiais of all ages who like to gather for lunch on the terrace, have an aperitif with friends or relax with the family.
The little ones can enjoy the attractions or move freely around this large esplanade of more than 22,400 m², while parents can enjoy a well-deserved rest in the shade of the century-old plane trees.
Decorated with a lectern, Place Saint Nicolas is the scene of many events throughout the year: musical events and concerts during the summer, end-of-year celebrations at the skating rink, as well as many fairs, including the Salon du Chocolat in October, which attracts thousands of visitors for three days.
Fans of the flea market, on the other hand, enjoy strolling every Sunday morning among the heterogeneous stands of exhibitors offering furniture and antiques, postcards and collectable books, or simply second-hand items.
Today a place of life, of children´s laughter, of cultural and sporting exchanges, Piazza San Nicola owes its name to a small chapel dedicated to this saint, built in medieval times next to a Pisan hospital.
The square, lined with bourgeois buildings, is also dominated by the Napoleon I memorial, erected in 1853.
The statue realized by the sculptor Ludovico Bartolini represents the emperor, Augustus, with a halo of laurels, dressed in a toga and holding the scepter in his left hand and the role of the legislator in his right hand. The proportions and the presence of the eagle also evoke the god, Jupiter.
The coat of arms of Bastía is displayed on the three sides of the pedestal, as well as two Latin inscriptions. The monument is an exceptional example of the official neoclassical sculpture of the empire and demonstrates its importance as a tool of imperial propaganda in Europe.
Ideally located, Bastia´s tourist office is in this magnificent square, welcoming thousands of visitors every year.
Address: Place Saint Nicolas
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