The town of Calvi on the French island of Corsica was originally a Roman settlement, it was refounded by the Genoese in the 13th century who built it not at the foot of the rocky headland as the Romans had done but on top of it. The Genoese citadel still dominates the bay.
Calvi was unsuitable as a port as the sea was too shallow here, but it was an ideal site for a military garrison. It was off Calvi that the British Admiral Nelson received the shot that cost him an eye.
Today Calvi no longer lives primarily from the fishing (especially lobsters) and agriculture but has a tourist industry. It is busiest during the summer months when the tourist flock to its broad, shallow beach, lined with plane trees. It is awoken from its winter hibernation as summer comes and bursts into life with hotels and camping sites filled to capacity. The beach offers lazy days of sunbathing while the more energetic tourists don their walking boots to explore the neighbouring mountains. There are opportunities for tennis and minigolf, horse-riding and go-carting, and a thriving night-life in the bars and clubs.
Calvi is worth a visit just to look at. The citadel is a beautiful sight from a distance and the streets have a wonderful atmosphere that combines the old with the new.
A suggested walking route around Calvi:-
Begin from the railway station – just across the road is a lovely old 14th century chapel, which is raised about three metres above the newly built road. The vaulting of an even older building is now visible by the roadside where it was previously buried underground. Turning right into town along the Avenue de la Republique which quickly becomes the Boulevard Wilson, then on the left a square opens out called the Place Dr Marchal, at the far end is the Town Hall. This contains a number of beautiful paintings, including three Rubens presented by Cardinal Fesch.
The Boulevard Wilson ends at the foot of the citadel, where it enters a broad square called the Place Christophe Colombe. There is a war memorial ahead.
Citadel – The ramparts of the citadel date back to 1545. The citadel is also known as Haute-Ville. The entrance was once protected by a drawbridge and portcullis. Many of the old buildings have fallen into ruin but there is a magnificent view from the top. To the east is the Bay with the hills of Balagne and the mountains beyond; to the west is the rocky peniinsula of Revellata.
Immediately to the left of the gate is the former Governor’s Palace. built in the 18th century, it is now known as the Sampiero Barracks and houses the Forgien Legion’s parachute regiment.
Behind the barracks is the 16th century cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, which stands on the highest point of the citadel. Further south towards the southern battlement is St Anthony’s Oratory. Though restored it is the only example of a Renaissance church in the whole of Corsica.
To the east of the Oratory is the old Bishop’s palace. Originally from the 15th century, it has been heavily restored and is now known as the palais Glubega. Next we come to the Maison Pacciola, which is of interest for its marble steps and window decorations.
Further round on the north side of the citadel are the remains of a house where, according to the plaque, Christopher Colombus was born in 1441.
The route returns to the war memprial by the Place Christophe Colombe. To the left are a set of steps leading down to the Rue Clemenceau, which forms the main street of the old Basse-Ville. It is narrow and lined with buildings containg shops, bars, restaurants and hotels. Flights of steps or narrow alleyways lead to the Boulevard Wilson above or the harbour below.
On the Rue Clemenceau is the 18th century church of St Mary of the Assumption. The Quai Landry goes down to the harbour and is lined with cafes and souvenir shops. To the right is the marina or the quai de plaisance where the yachts and pleasure boats dock. Brightly painted fishing houses add to the colourful scene.
Below the citadel at the end of the Quay is the Tour du Cel, a massive round 15th century tower that was once used for storing salt.
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