In about 1380 Leonello Lomellini, a representative of Genoa in Corsica, decided to build a bastia on a rocky promontory 10 kilometres to the north of the local seat of Genoese power. The new site had several advantages: it was easy to defend and it was flanked by two natural bays where boats could berth. Also, while the bays were part of the villages of Cardo and Belgodere and were used as ports, the promontory itself was unoccupied. The first rooms of the museum give the visitor an understanding of how the town developed around these two initial vocations: providing a fallback position for the military power in case of conflict and effective protection for maritime commerce.
A century later, a small town began to arise near the bastia. Towards the end of the 15th century, ramparts were built, as extensions of the first fortified enclosure. This terra nova, established on a grid of streets, then acquired the status of capital when it became the only official residence of the Governor. Below, outside the ramparts, the open town, called the terra vecchia because it had been established earlier, also grew and gradually spread around the port.
The first theme is an exploration of the urban and architectural development between the 15th and 20th centuries; it was characterised by its closeness to the natural environment surrounding the town in its position between sea and mountain and by the urban expansion which had long since begun with the relatively unorganised development of the low town.
Of particular interest are the two districts which make up the core of the historic centre of town: Terra Nova and Terra Vecchia, approached through their main respective functions: the defensive system of the town and the port facilities.
Bastia, the political capital, was soon to become the religious capital of the island, leading to the construction of many religious buildings in the town. By bringing in construction overseers from the Terra Ferma (the Italian continent), the commanditaires encouraged the introduction of baroque architecture to Corsica. The visitor will discover both a panorama of the most remarkable buildings still visible today and an evocation of some buildings which are no longer standing.
The Italian influence is also seen in private architecture and it lasted long after the island's annexation by France. It marked not only the style and organisation of the habitat but also influenced daily life, as can be seen in some elements of the décor, such as the furniture and table-ware presented in the last rooms on the ground floor.