Before he set out to conquer the world (and nearly succeed were it not for the harsh Russian winter) the young Napoleon Bonaparte was born on the French island of Corsica, growing up with the Mediterranean Sea as his backdrop, and ancient ruins as his playground.
He would leave Corsica as a young man, never to return. But his passion for his homeland ran deep, even when he became a man who would lead an army of hundreds of thousands across Europe. He was undisciplined at school, and a somewhat of a loner during his boyhood days, but he had a fervent desire for Corsican independence that only his time as Emperor could diminish.
Today, the Bonaparte residence in Corsica is a museum documenting the extended family of France’s most iconic leader.
Vinci (Leonardo da Vinci)
The clue’s in the name. Helicopter pioneer and painter of ambiguous smiles Leonardo da Vinci is from the small town of Vinci, in Tuscany. Lying just west of Florence, this small town lies within a cluster of hills that flourish into shades of bright green in the summer time – the very hills where a young Leonardo first tried his hand at painting and sketching.
And how could he not. The landscape surrounding Vinci is an island of lush plant life only 30 miles from the busy, tangled streets of the art capital of Florence.
But, it’s good to know that even with the pantheon of art museums that pay tribute to this eccentric polymath elsewhere, his hometown has an amazingly unique one – an exhibit of over 60 of his drawings and models spread over three floors of a magnificent 12th century castle, the Castello dei Conti Guidi.
Aristotle was privy to great men as both student and teacher – his mentor was Plato, and he was personal tutor to Alexander the Great. But like Da Vinci, he had his humble beginnings in a hillside settlement more preoccupied with farming than philosophy.
In 348 B.C, Philip II of Macedon laid waste to the settlement and enslaved the people living there… completely unaware that his son was studying under a former resident of the village, Aristotle himself.
He later rebuilt Stagira in full in return for the philosopher’s diligent service, and resettled the villagers who had been bound in servitude. The reasons for that reconstruction were unfortunate, but they nevertheless granted Stagira aspects which let it flourish, including aqueducts for sanitation, shrines for culture, and entirely new houses.
As for Philip II, he would be overshadowed by the boy who Aristotle was tutoring – Alexander the Great.
Venice (Marco Polo)
Of all the history which pervades the streets of Venice, it was the water which weaves its way through the streets that defines its greatest son. Being a great merchant, it seemed, was a hereditary trait in Marco Polo’s family – his father Niccolo had been trading with the Near East for decades before the explorer was born.
He came into the world wealthy, but separated from his father, who was occupied with trading jewels in the bazaars of Constantinople. Years later, his father would return to Venice, where Marco had been raised by an aunt and uncle to reclaim his son.
At just seventeen, Marco set off from Venice for Asia, only returning 24 years later. During that time, he had travelled 15,000 miles, and with a hold filled with ancient manuscripts and a mass of riches. His fortune converted into gem stones, and his legacy intact, Polo then joined the war against Genoa, only to be captured and imprisoned.
There, he told stories of his travels to fellow inmate Rustichello da Pisa, who documented them into the seminal volume – The Travels of Marco Polo, a tome which inspired, among other, Christopher Columbus. After his release, and with his wandering days behind him, Marco Polo returned to his spiritual home of Venice. He spent his days selling his wares along the canals, leaving the exploring to a new generation.
London (Charlie Chaplin)
Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin was an icon of cinema by 1918, having become absurdly famous as his tramp character – the lovable vagrant whose attire of bowler hat and toothbrush moustache became a symbol of an entire generation of filmmaking.
His humble beginnings were on the streets of Walworth, his abject poverty in stark contrast to the riches that later awaited him in the United States.
The small house on Methley Street often bored Chaplin, so he took to wandering around outside the pubs in Lambeth, copying the slapstick movements of the impoverished characters who dwelled outside. Even from a young age, he was performing in the theatres of the West End, often using these strange characters as inspiration.
His famous tramp character would appear in The Great Dictator, The Kid, and City Lights, becoming more famous than Chaplin himself, who started his world domination of the cinema world from a tiny house in London.