Bucchi di Bunifaziu in Corsican (or le Bocche di Bonifacio in Italian) is simply the strait between the Islands of French Corsica and Italian Sardinia. The Strait of Bonifacio was named after the French island town and it is 11km wide separating the Tyrrhenian Sea from the Western outskirts of the Mediterranean Sea. No matter how tiny the strait is, it’s well known among sailors and mariners for its constantly changing weather, currents, tides and other natural and sea obstacles.
B O N I F A C I O
I mentioned above that the strait was named after the town of Bonifacio (Bunifaziu in Corsican) which is a very small settlement. It’s situated in the French region of Corse-du-Sud. The commune is the southernmost one in France and it has barely 2600 habitants called Bonifaciens and feminine Bonifaciennes whose local dialect is bonifaccino (actually, an antique version of the Liguria dialect, Genoese in particular). Despite this, it’s one of the most famous places on the Island of Corsica.
This little Corsican dwarf is really very characteristic for its location on rocks overlooking the sea. Moreover, it’s rich in history that dates back to ancient times (let’s say to some 6500 years ago). It was a preferable place for the anchoring of the ships of ancient Greek merchants and afterwards of those of the ancient Romans. During the period when le repubbliche marinare (the Maritime Republics) flourished, Bonifacio moved from the dominion of Pisa to that of Genoa. Finally, it was given into the hands of France according to the Treaty of Versailles of 1768. As for the name of the town, it was named after its creator, i.e. Boniface II, in 830 when the first fortress was erected on the steep rock.
Bonifacio overlooks directly le Bocche di Bonifacio, i.e. the strait, and as I said above, this hardly 11-kilometre strip of sea separates Corsica from the myth of the Mediterranean Sea, consequently France from Italy. It could be literally described this way … Bonifacio is embedded and cut into a small bay that reminds of a typical Norwegian fjord surrounded by walls of white limestone. It is a place which you will remember for a long time owing to its picturesque views – cliff houses, the city walls and the 9th century Citadel, and restaurant terraces, the staircase which will take your breath away and also the extraordinary colourful graveyards.
Sooo …. Bonifacio is a place which gives you the splendid chance to enjoy awe-inspiring views while drinking a coffee. It is a labyrinth of tiny, tiny streets and tunnels between the houses which make you get lost pleasantly. Unfortunately, it’s hardly for you to meet locals in the oldest and most touristic town in Corsica and at a time it gives you the feeling that it’s a Mediterranean tourist shell of restaurants and souvenir shops while the concentration of tourists and holiday-makers is much above the average. In spite of all this, this is an extremely beautiful place with Mediterranean air and atmosphere, a true, extraordinary blend of Italian and French cultures. Would you like to have a short walk with me? Okay, then, let’s get started from ….
Everything could become even impeccably boring at a time. You might easily find a boat to hire for a boat ride around Bonifacio so that you can explore the town from all sides by land and sea.
The Old Town and the Citadel: The town is divided into two sections. There is no doubt that the vieille ville (old town), or la Haute Ville (the Upper town) is more attractive and fascinating. It’s actually located on the side of the citadel built on the promontory overlooking the turquoise Mediterranean Sea. When you dive into the upper town, you enter the labyrinth of numerous tiny and narrow streets, marvellous tunnels and passages. Wandering here and there you reach Rue des Empereurs (or the Emperors’ Street). Do you know why it was called like this? Of course, Napoleon was involved, i.e. he and his relatives spent some of their vacations in one of the houses in this street. But nowadays one could hardly have a rest and a quiet vacation in the Old Town of Bonifacio as the town’s tiny streets are full of crowds of tourists who would like to step and walk on the medieval stones and pavements. Souvenir and art shops are overcrowded as well as restaurants and caffés and that’s why it’s rare happiness to find a quiet and peaceful corner in this bustling and vivid, ancient town.
As far as the Citadel is concerned, it dates back to the 9th century, as I said above, when the foundations of the town were laid down. It’s been reconstructed and renovated lots of times through the centuries and today it serves more as a museum. Walking along the city walls and its fornications you do enjoy awesome views from terraces, streets and locals on the cliff-tops which are only 70 metres above the sea level. The cliffs have been undercut by the sea and cliff houses have been placed on the very edge of the precipice, thus giving the illusion of their overhanging the rough, some-shades-of-blue sea waters below.
Escalier du Roi d’Aragon (King Aragon Steps): The steep flight of stairs has been cut and carved into the vertical side of one of the cliffs (at a near 45° angle) outside the Citadel. When looked at from the sea and from a distance, the stony staircase of the King of Aragon appears like a very dark slanted line in the white “face” of the limestone cliff while reaching it more and more it looks like a tube scooped out of stone. No matter how it looks like, the 187 steep steps tempt you to do some physical exercises. But it is worthy, indeed because when you reach the natural spring and cave at the very bottom of the staircase, you will be rewarded with the amazingly beautiful views from there. And how did this staircase appear, actually?
Nobody can say it with 100% certainty. Why? Because some people, mainly locals, are of the opinion that the very first steps were carved in Neolithic times and this theory has been constantly improved ever since. According to another theory and above all local stories, Franciscan monks have dug the stony staircase descending and leading to this natural spring and cave I mentioned a minute ago. Last but not least, I should tell you that as a matter of fact, the “official legend” recalls that the stony staircase was dug 1420. The troops of the King of Aragon carved it in the course of a single night only during the unsuccessful siege of the town of Bonifacio.
And finally, spend some time outside the town, hiking east from Bonifacio. There you will find the picturesque Mediterranean beaches with white sand and crystal clear sea water near the Lavezzi Islands. Mmmm …Enjoy them. 🙂