Drive above Bastia
Bastia is a city between sea and mountains, and offers some amazing scenery. From the little roundabout at the top of Boulevard Pascal Paoli take a sharp right to the direction of St. Florent (D81). As you ascend above the city watch for the Monserato sign. This little oratory has a very good panoramic view of Bastia and an interesting story to tell.
In 1803 Napoleon restored the Catholic church official status to France, but like any totalitarian control freak, he wanted everything his own way, and those who disagreed (424 of them) were sent on a one way vacation ticket to Bastia's keep. Les Bastiais were angered and shocked, demanded their release, this was forthcoming on the condition that they house the priests in their own home, to which the city folk willingly dedicated. Pope Pius VII was touched by their kindess and granted a copy of the Lateran's Scala Santa (the stairs trodden on by Christ at Pontius Pilate's palace) to lead up to this oratory. Hence its name "Chapelle Notre Dame de Monserato" or, as the Bastians economically call it: "Chapelle de la SCALA SANTA".
If you've had fun in Corsica and you, for whatever reason feel guilty, stuff your therapist and climb up the stairs on your knees (well, maybe you do need a therapist after all...), like the Scala in Rome, you are promised to be absolved of all your sins! Merry masochism! G'd bless!
You can take from here the D64 towards Cardo (and then to the Cap Corse via Ville de Pietrabugno & San Martino di Lota), a lovely village perched above Bastia, which was founded by the Romans in Porto Cardo fleeing from destruction. It has a Genoese tower and a fountain. Otherwise you can continue on the D81 to St. Florent.
Bastia, capital of Haute Corse
Take some time to get to know Bastia. Most people use it as a port of entry/exist, but it is a kind of place that the more you get to know the more it will reveal its charms.
Bastia is the lively and lovely cultural and financial centre of the Island. It was the capital of the Genoese administration of Corsica until the mid 18th century. It has perserved the related architecture and atmosphere, and has a rugged, unrifined charm. I find it very Corsican in spirit, while Ajaccio has a more middle-class, refined, continental feel to it.
"Ancient and Medival History"
The origins of Bastia are probably quite ancient. It was a Roman town that towards the 8th century was reduced (like all Roman towns in Corsica) to a small fishing village of Porto Cardo.
Bastia really began its contemporary history in bloodshed, following the first Corsican revolution (1372) against Genoa, the then capital, Biguglia, was razed and the governor Leonello Lomellino, built a "Bastiglia" (which over the years became Bastia), on a rock, overlooking Porto Cardo. A decade later Givanni Bonaparte built a citadel, that is confusingly (for us, as it contains the oldest buildings in town) called Terra Nova as it was newer than Porto Cardo.
"Bastia - the 18th century to the present"
Eventually the town grew wealthy, expanded and built up, including St. Joseph, and over Porto Cardo (now known also as the Vieux Port) the neighbourhood of Terra Vecchia (old land), an allusion to the fact that this was Porto Cardo (of which nothing remains). The 17th century brought great wealth to Bastia due to its status as a trading post, Baroque churches, oratories, a literary Academia (Accademia dei Vagabondi), and an opera (!) poped up. But this was the play ground of the rich Genoese, Corsicans were not allowed to join the party. In the 1730 Corsican revolution, Terra Vecchia, which was unprotected by a wall, was sacked, and its Genoese population killed. Terra Nova, remaind in Genoese hands. In 1759 Pascal Paoli decalred Corte the capital of the secular republic of Corsica, and abolished the administrative centre in Bastia.
When the French invaded and occupied Corsica they moved the administration back to Bastia. During the revolution Bastia became the capital of the district of Upper Corsica. Then came briefly the British who made Bastia the capital of the "Anglo-Corsican Kingdom", who were kicked out by Napoleon. Besides having a "modest" statute of himself as a Roman Emperor in the centre of Bastia (Place St. Nicolas) he kindly removed the capital status altogether from the city in favour of its forever rival, Ajaccio. Bastia regained its status as a captial of Haute Corse only in 1975.