Ajaccio is Corsica's largest town. As such, it retains the image of a typical French Mediterranean resort - palm trees, street cafe's and a marina full of yachts from around the world. Set in a magnificent bay with a shadowy mountain range as a scenic backdrop, its first image is of yellow-toned buildings and a majestic citadel. Ajaccio is a popular departure point for trips into Corsica's rugged interior. The fact that it is the birthplace of Napoleon further adds to Ajaccio's attraction. The self-styled 'Imperial City' boasts numerous statues and sites in commemoration of its most famous son. Francophiles agree that it was Napoleon Bonaparte who put Ajaccio and Corsica on the historical map. In his hometown, however, people are not always as appreciative. Many consider him to be a self-serving Frenchman rather than a dedicated Corsican. Emotions run high when the topic of conversation involves the island's proud heritage.
The name of Ajaccio can be traced to the Roman Adjaccium, meaning 'a place of rest.' It was a winter stop-off point for shepherds to stock up on goods and sell their produce. Later the town grew around the citadel, which was founded in 1492 by a Genoese military organization. For many decades, the island experienced a fierce struggle between Genoese and French rulers; an attempt at becoming independent was made in 1739. The French finally prevailed in 1796. Ajaccio expanded rapidly and maintained its economic success right through the 19th century. During World War II, as a center for resistance fighters, Ajaccio became the first town to be liberated. Since then, the tourist industry has become the most important source of income. Visitors enjoy strolling the lively boulevards with its sidewalk cafes, shops and restaurants that offer a pleasant holiday atmosphere.