Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean Sea and one of the 13 regions of France. It is located west of the Italian Peninsula, southeast of the French mainland, and north of the Italian island of Sardinia. Mountains make up two-thirds of the island, forming a single chain.
While being part of France, Corsica is also designated as a territorial collectivity (collectivité territoriale) by law. As a territorial collectivity, Corsica enjoys a greater degree of autonomy than other French regions; for example, the Corsican Assembly is able to exercise limited executive powers.
The island formed a single department until it was split in 1975 into two departments: Haute-Corse (Upper Corsica) and Corse-du-Sud (Southern Corsica), with its regional capital in Ajaccio, the prefecture city of Corse-du-Sud. Bastia, the prefecture city of Haute-Corse, is the second-largest settlement in Corsica.
After being ruled by the Republic of Genoa since 1284, Corsica was briefly an independent Corsican Republic from 1755 until it was conquered by France in 1769. Due to Corsica's historical ties with the Italian peninsula, the island retains to this day many elements of the culture of Italy. The native Corsican language, whose northern variant is closely related to the Italian language, is recognised as a regional language by the French government. This Mediterranean island was ruled by various nations over the course of history but had several brief periods of independence.
Napoleon was born in 1769 in the Corsican capital of Ajaccio. His ancestral home, Maison Bonaparte, is today used as a museum.
An animated island, past and present, Corsica "often conquered, never subdued" was successively ruled by the Italian city-states of Pisa and Genoa, passing under French rule only in 1768. An autonomist movement emerged in the 20th century, leading to some politically motivated violence. The region now enjoys a special constitutional status.
Mountain in the sea, Corsica is also called "Island of Beauty", not without reason. The diversity of its scenery, and its preservation from the aggressions of development and tourism, makes it one of the pearls of the Mediterranean sea.
The places of interest to tourists in Corsica are various: Sea (beach, scuba diving, sailing), mountain (hiking on GR 20).
Most visitors come to Corsica in the summer months, and particularly in August, when the number of tourists doubles or triples from the already large populations in July. If you can only go to Corsica in August, planning ahead is essential, as hotels, campsites, car rental agencies, and ferries are all likely to be pre-booked.
The official language is French. However, Corsica has its own native language, Corsican, which is quite close to Italian. It is estimated that up to 50% have conversational knowledge of Corsican. Italian is also spoken in tourist areas.
Corsica was formed about 250 million years ago with the uplift of a granite backbone on the western side. About 50 million years ago sedimentary rock was pressed against this granite, forming the schists of the eastern side. It is the most mountainous island in the Mediterranean, a "mountain in the sea".
It is also the fourth largest island in the Mediterranean, after Sicily, Sardinia and Cyprus.
It is 183 kilometres (114 mi) long at longest, 83 kilometres (52 mi) wide at widest, has 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) of coastline, more than 200 beaches, and is very mountainous, with Monte Cinto as the highest peak at 2,706 metres (8,878 ft) and around 120 other summits of more than 2,000 metres (6,600 ft). Mountains comprise two-thirds of the island, forming a single chain. Forests make up 20% of the island.
About 3,500 km2 (1,400 sq mi) of the total surface area of 8,680 km2 (3,350 sq mi) is dedicated to nature reserves (Parc naturel régional de Corse), mainly in the interior. Corsica contains the GR20, one of Europe's most notable hiking trails.
The island is 90 kilometres (56 mi) from Tuscany in Italy and 170 kilometres (110 mi) from the Côte d'Azur in France. It is separated from Sardinia to the south by the Strait of Bonifacio, which is a minimum of 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) wide.
Under the Köppen climate classification scheme, coastal regions are characterized by a hot-summer Mediterranean climate (Csa). Further inland, a warm-summer Mediterranean climate (Csb) is more common. At the highest elevation locations, small areas with a subarctic climate (Dsc, Dfc) and the rare cold-summer Mediterranean climate (Csc) can be found.
Climate data for Ajaccio, central-western part of island
|Average high °C (°F)||13.3|
|Daily mean °C (°F)||8.6|
|Average low °C (°F)||3.9|
|Source: Hong Kong Observatory|
Climate data for Bastia, north-eastern part of island
|Average high °C (°F)||13.6|
|Daily mean °C (°F)||9.1|
|Average low °C (°F)||5.1|
|Source: Quid 2004, page 618 and Météo-France, data for 1981–2010|
Corsica has a population of 322,120 inhabitants (Jan. 2013 estimate).
At the 2011 census, 56.3% of the inhabitants of Corsica were natives of Corsica, 28.6% were natives of Continental France, 0.3% were natives of Overseas France, and 14.8% were natives of foreign countries.
The majority of the foreign immigrants in Corsica come from the Maghreb (particularly Moroccans, who made up 33.5% of all immigrants in Corsica at the 2011 census), and from Southern Europe (particularly Portuguese, 22.7% of immigrants on the island), and Italians (13.7%).
Corsica is the least economically developed region in Metropolitan France. Tourism plays a big part in the Corsican economy. The island's climate, mountains, and coastlines make it popular among tourists. The island has not had the same level of intensive development as other parts of the Mediterranean and is thus mainly unspoiled. Tourism is particularly concentrated in the area around Porto-Vecchio and Bonifacio in the south of the island and Calvi in the northwest.
In 1584 the Genoese governor ordered all farmers and landowners to plant four trees yearly; a chestnut, olive, fig, and mulberry tree. Many communities owe their origin and former richness to the ensuing chestnut woods. Chestnut bread keeps fresh for as long as two weeks. Corsica produces gourmet cheese, wine, sausages, and honey for sale in mainland France and for export. Corsican honey, of which there are six official varieties, is certified as to its origin (Appellation d'origine contrôlée) by the French National Institute of Origin and Quality (Institut National des Appellations d'Origine – INAO).
Corsica's main exports are granite and marble, tannic acid, cork, cheese, wine, citrus fruit, olive oil and cigarettes.
Transportation - Get In
From France, the simplest and fastest solution is the NGV (High Speed Boat, Navire à Grande Vitesse): it takes 2:45 to 3:30 to go from Nice to Calvi, l'Ile-Rousse, Ajaccio and Bastia, and you can enjoy the view of the Corsican seashore and arrive practically downtown. It is also possible to take regular ferries from Marseille, Nice and Toulon. You can also get to Corsica from Italy, leaving Genoa, Livorno, Savona, Naples or Sardinia.
There are four airports on the island: Ajaccio, Bastia, Calvi and Figari (next to Porto-Vecchio). There is unfortunately not much available for getting into the big cities from the airport, other than renting a car or hitching, though Bastia airport has an almost-every hour bus service to town for €8, except in the evening where the interval is bigger. The last bus leaves at 22:45. Easyjet fly to Corsica from the UK.
During the season you can book flights for Corsica with Air France, Corsica Travel and Easy Jet.
Transportation - Get Around
- A metre gauge railway links Ajaccio and Bastia with a branch to Calvi. The scenery and the ambience of the railway would not be out of place in South America. Trains are infrequent, at best every two hours in each direction.
- It is advisable to rent a car when in Corsica, as the public transportation is very poor. There are only 3 train lines connecting the major cities, the rest is by bus - which at most leaves twice a day!
- Saint-Florent / San Fiurenzu
Italian was the official language of Corsica until the 9th of May of 1859, when it was substituted by French, starting a process of linguistic homologation which invested Italian as well as the local Corsican languages. Corsican (Corsu), a minority language that is closely related to medieval Tuscan (Toscano), has a better prospect of survival than most of other French regional languages: Corsican is in fact, after French (Français), the most widely spoken language on the island. However, since the annexation of the island by France in the 18th century, Corsican has been under heavy pressure from French, and today it is estimated that only 10% of Corsica's population speak the language natively, with only 50% having some sort of proficiency in it.
The language is divided into two main varieties: Cismuntanu and Ultramuntanu, spoken respectively northeast and southwest of the Girolata - Porto Vecchio line. This division was due to the massive immigration from Tuscany which took place in Corsica during the lower Middle Ages: as a result, the Cismuntanu became very similar to the Tuscan dialects, being part of the Italo-Dalmatian language group, while the Ultramuntanu could keep its original characteristics which make it much more similar to a Southern Romance language like Sardinian (Sardu). Therefore, due to the differences between the main dialectal varieties, many linguists classify Corsican as an Italo-Dalmatian language, while others consider it a Southern Romance one.
It should also be noted that fewer and fewer people speak a Ligurian dialect, known as bunifazzinu, in what has long been a language island, Bonifacio. In Cargèse, a village established by Greek immigrants in the 17th century, Greek (Ελληνικά) was the traditional language: whereas it has long disappeared from spoken conversation, ancient Greek is still the liturgical language and the village has many Greek Orthodox parishes.
From the mountains to the plains and sea, many ingredients play a role. Game such as wild boar (Cingale, Singhjari) is popular. There also is seafood and river fish such as trout. Delicacies such as figatellu (also named as ficateddu), made with liver, coppa, ham (prizuttu), lonzu are made from Corsican pork (porcu nustrale). Characteristic among the cheeses is brocciu (similar to ricotta), which is used as a fresh ingredient in many dishes, from first courses (sturzapreti) to cakes (fiadone). Other cheeses, like casgiu merzu ("rotten cheese", the Corsican counterpart of the Sardinian casu marzu), casgiu veghju are made from goat or sheep milk. Chestnuts are the main ingredient in the making of pulenta castagnina and cakes (falculelle). A variety of alcohol also exists ranging from aquavita (brandy), red and white Corsican wines (Vinu Corsu), muscat wine (plain or sparkling), and the famous "Cap Corse" apéritif produced by Mattei. The herbs which are part of Maquis (Corsican: machja) and the chestnuts and oak nuts of the Corsican forests are eaten by local animals, resulting in the noticeable taste in the food there.
Corsica has produced a number of known artists: Alizee, Martha Angelici (opera singer), A Filetta (polyphonic chant group), Canta U Populu Corsu (band), Laetitia Casta (model/actress), Baptiste Giabiconi (model/singer), Julien de Casabianca (cineast), Jérôme Ferrari (writer), Patrick Fiori (singer), Petru Guelfucci (singer), José Luccioni (opera singer), Gaston Micheletti (opera singer), I Muvrini (band), Jenifer (singer), François Lanzi (painter), Ange Leccia (visual art), Henri Padovani (musician, original guitarist from the Police), Thierry de Peretti (cineast), Marie-Claude Pietragalla (dancer), Jean-Paul Poletti (singer), Robin Renucci (comedian), Tino Rossi (singer), César Vezzani (opera singer).
AC Ajaccio and SC Bastia are the two main football teams, which have played the Ligue 1 frequently since the 1960s and contest the Corsica derby. Since 2015, Gazélec Ajaccio, the city's second team, has begun playing in the Ligue 1. The Tour de Corse is a rally held since 1956, which was a round of the World Rally Championship from 1973 to 2008 and later the Intercontinental Rally Challenge and European Rally Championship.
Prehistory and ancient age
The origin of the name Corsica is subject to much debate and remains a mystery. To the Ancient Greeks it was known as Kalliste, Corsis, Cyrnos, Cernealis, or Cirné. Of these Cyrnos, Cernealis, or Cirné derive from a corruption of the most ancient Greek name of the island, "Σειρηνούσσαι" (meaning of the Sirens), the very same Sirens mentioned in Homer's Odyssey. The claim that latter Greek names are based on the Phoenician word for 'peninsula' (kir) are highly unlikely.
Corsica has been occupied continuously since the Mesolithic era. It acquired an indigenous population that was influential in the Mediterranean during its long prehistory.
After a brief occupation by the Carthaginians, colonization by the ancient Greeks, and an only slightly longer occupation by the Etruscans, it was incorporated by the Roman Republic at the end of the First Punic War and, with Sardinia, in 260 BC became a province of the Roman Republic. The Romans, who built a colony in Aléria, considered Corsica as one of the most backward regions of the Roman world. The island produced sheep, honey, resin and wax, and exported many slaves, not well considered because of their fierce and rebellious character. Moreover, it was known for its cheap wines, exported to Rome, and was used as place of relegation, one of the most famous exiles being the Roman philosopher Seneca. Administratively, the island was divided in pagi, which in the Middle Ages became the pievi, the basic administrative units of the island until 1768. During the diffusion of Christianity, which arrived quite early from Rome and the Tuscan harbors, Corsica was home to many martyrs and saints: among them, the most important are Saint Devota and Saint Julia, both patrons of the island. Corsica was integrated by Emperor Diocletian (r. 284-305) in Roman Italy.
Middle Ages and early-Modern Age
In the 5th century, the western half of the Roman Empire collapsed, and the island was invaded by the Vandals and the Ostrogoths. Briefly recovered by the Byzantines, it soon became part of the Kingdom of the Lombards—this made it a dependency of the March of Tuscany, which used it as an outpost against the Saracens. Pepin the Short, king of the Franks and Charlemagne's father, expelled the Lombards and nominally granted Corsica to Pope Stephen II. In the first quarter of the 11th century, Pisa and Genoa together freed the island from the threat of Arab invasion. After that, the island came under the influence of the republic of Pisa. To this period belong the many polychrome churches which adorn the island, and Corsica also experienced a massive immigration from Tuscany, which gave to the island its present toponymy and rendered the language spoken in the northern two-thirds of the island very close to the Tuscan Language. Due to that, then began also the traditional division of Corsica in two parts, along the main chain of mountains roughly going from Calvi to Porto Vecchio: the eastern Banda di dentro, or Cismonte, more populated, evolved and open to the commerce with Italy, and the western Banda di fuori, or Pomonte, almost deserted, wild and remote.
The crushing defeat experienced by Pisa in 1284 in the Battle of Meloria against Genoa had among its consequences the end of the Pisan rule and the beginning of the Genoese influence in Corsica: this was contested initially by the King of Aragon, who in 1296 had received from the Pope the investiture over Sardinia and Corsica. A popular revolution against this and the feudal lords, led by Sambucuccio d'Alando, got the aid of Genoa. After that, the Cismonte was ruled as a league of comuni and churches, after the Italian experience. The following 150 years were a period of conflict, when the Genoese rule was contested by Aragon, the local lords, the comuni and the Pope: finally, in 1450 Genoa ceded the administration of the island to its main bank, the Bank of Saint George, which brought peace.
In the 16th century, the island entered into the fight between Spain and France for the supremacy in Italy. In 1553, a Franco-Ottoman fleet occupied Corsica, but the reaction of Spain and Genoa, led by Andrea Doria, reestablished the Genoese supremacy on the island, confirmed by the Peace of Cateau-Cambresis. The unlucky protagonist of this episode was Sampiero di Bastelica, who would later come to be considered a hero of the island. Their power reinstated, the Genoese did not allow the Corsican nobility to share in the government of the island, and oppressed the inhabitants with a heavy tax burden: on the other hand, they introduced on a large scale the chestnut tree, improving the diet of the population, and built a chain of towers along the coast to defend Corsica from the attacks of the Barbary pirates from North Africa. The period of peace lasted until 1729, when the refusal to pay taxes by a peasant sparked the general insurrection of the island against Genoa.
Rise and annexation of the Corsican Republic
In 1729 the Corsican Revolution for independence began, first led by Luigi Giafferi and Giacinto Paoli, and later by Paoli's son, Pasquale Paoli. After 26 years of struggle against the Republic of Genoa (plus an ephemeral attempt to proclaim in 1736 an independent Kingdom of Corsica under the German adventurer Theodor von Neuhoff), the independent Corsican Republic was proclaimed in 1755 under the leadership of Pasquale Paoli and remained sovereign until 1769, when the island was conquered by France. The first Corsican Constitution was written in Italian (the language of culture in Corsica until the middle of the 19th century) by Paoli.
The Corsican Republic was unable to eject the Genoese from the major coastal fortresses (Calvi and Bonifacio). After the Corsican conquest of Capraia, a small island of the Tuscan Archipelago, in 1767, the Republic of Genoa, exhausted by forty years of fighting, decided to sell the island to France which, after its defeat in the Seven Years' War, was trying to reinforce its position in the Mediterranean, and in 1768 with the Treaty of Versailles the republic ceded all its rights on the island. After an initial successful resistance culminating with the victory at Borgo, the Corsican republic was crushed by a large French army led by the Count of Vaux at the Battle of Ponte Novu. This marked the end of Corsican sovereignty. Despite triggering the Corsican Crisis in Britain, whose government gave secret aid, no foreign military support came for the Corsicans. However, nationalist feelings still ran high. Despite the conquest, Corsica was not incorporated into the French state until 1789.
Following the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, Pasquale Paoli was able to return to Corsica from exile in Britain. In 1794 he invited British forces under Lord Hood to intervene to free Corsica from French rule. Anglo-Corsican forces drove the French from the island and established an Anglo-Corsican Kingdom. Following Spain's entry into the war the British decided to withdraw from Corsica in 1796. Corsica then returned to French rule.
Despite being the birthplace of the Emperor, who had supported Paoli in his youth, the island was neglected by Napoleon's government. In 1814, near the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Corsica was briefly occupied again by British troops. The Treaty of Bastia gave the British crown sovereignty over the island, but it was later repudiated by Lord Castlereagh who insisted that the island should be returned to a restored French monarchy.
After the restoration, the island was further neglected by the French state. Despite the presence of a middle class in Bastia and Ajaccio, Corsica remained an otherwise primitive place, whose economy consisted mainly of a subsistence agriculture, and whose population constituted a pastoral society, dominated by clans and the rules of vendetta. The code of vendetta required Corsicans to seek deadly revenge for offences against their family's honor. Between 1821 and 1852, no fewer than 4,300 murders were perpetrated in Corsica. In this period was born the myth, created by writers like Mérimée and Gregorovius, of Corsica as an arcadian society, inhabited by fierce and loyal people. During the first half of the century, the people of Corsica belonged still to the Italian cultural world: the bourgeoisie sent children to Pisa to study, official acts were enacted in Italian and most books were printed in Italian.Moreover, many islanders sympathised with the national struggle which was taking place in nearby Italy in those years: several political refugees from the peninsula, like Niccolò Tommaseo, spent years in the island, while some Corsicans, like Count Leonetto Cipriani, took active part in the fights for Italian independence.
Despite all that, during those years the Corsicans began to feel a stronger and stronger attraction to France. The reasons for that are manifold: the knowledge of the French language, which thanks to the mandatory primary school started to penetrate among the local youth, the high prestige of French culture, the awareness of being part of a big, powerful state, the possibility of well-paid jobs as civil servants, both in the island, in the mainland and in the colonies, the prospect of serving the French army during the wars for the conquest of the colonial empire, the introduction of steamboats, which reduced the travel time between mainland France from the island drastically, and - last but not least - Napoleon himself, whose existence alone constituted an indissoluble link between France and Corsica. Thanks to all these factors by around 1870 Corsica had landed in the French cultural world.
Corsica paid a high price for the French victory in the First World War: agriculture was disrupted by the years-long absence of almost all of the young workers, and the percentage of dead or wounded Corsicans in the conflict was double that of those from metropolitan France. Moreover, the protectionist policies of the French government, started in the 1880s and never stopped, had ruined the Corsican export of wine and olive oil, and forced many young Corsicans to emigrate to mainland France or to the Americas. As reaction to these conditions, a nationalist movement was born in the 1920s around the newspaper A Muvra, having as its objective the autonomy of the island from France. In the 1930s, many exponents of this movement became irredentist, seeing as the only solution to the problems of the island annexation to fascist Italy, which under Benito Mussolini had become one of the main goals of Italy's imperialist policy.
After the collapse of France to the German Wehrmacht in 1940, Corsica came under the rule of the Vichy French regime, which was collaborating with the Nazis. In November 1942 the island, following the Anglo-American landings in North Africa was occupied by Italian and German forces. After the Italian armistice in September 1943, Italian and Free French Forces pushed the Germans out of the island, making Corsica the first French Department to be freed. Subsequently, the US military established 17 airfields, nicknamed "USS Corsica", which served as bases for attacks on targets in German-occupied Italy.
During the May 1958 crisis, French paratroopers landed on Corsica on 24 May, garrisoning the island in a bloodless action called Opération Corse.
Between the late fifties and the seventies, the project of building a nuclear polygon in the mines of Argentella, the immigration of 18,000 former settlers from Algeria ("Pieds-Noirs") in the eastern plains, and continuing chemical pollution (Fanghi Rossi) from mainland Italy increased tensions between the autochthonous inhabitants and the French government. Tensions escalated until an armed police assault on a pieds-noirs-owned wine cellar in Aleria, occupied by Corsican nationalists on 23 August 1975. This marked the beginning of the armed nationalist struggle against the French government. Ever since, Corsican nationalism has been a feature of the island's politics, with calls for greater autonomy and protection for Corsican culture and the Corsican language. Periodic flare-ups of raids and killings culminated in the assassination of Prefect Claude Érignac in 1998.
In 2013, Corsica hosted the first three stages of the 100th Tour de France, which passed through the island for the first time in the event's 110-year history.
Things to see
Long Distance Walking
Corsica has many walking trails, including the GR 20, perhaps the best known and most difficult of all the Grande Randonnée trails. The trail takes approximately 17 days if using the traditional waypoints, though may take more or less time depending on your experience and needs. The trail is particularly crowded in August, many people suggest the best time is in late spring or early fall. The greatest danger on the GR 20 are the intense summer storms, with lightning claiming the most fatalities.
All walks will need topographical maps, despite usually excellent trail marks. The IGN maps may be found in many of the bigger cities, and at the airports, including Bastia airport. Additionally, you can purchase these maps (more expensively) from the internet ahead of time.
Other Corsican Trails
Other trails include the two Mare e Mare (Sea to Sea) trails which cross the island, and the Mare e Monti trails (Sea and Mountain).
Mare e Mare Nord: Cargése to Moriani la Plage. Suggested time - 11 days. This trail intersects with the one of the Mare e Monti Trails. The trail is only lightly traveled from Corte to Moriani, as this is perhaps the less interesting half, with uniform scenery, and Gites that may not be open unless you call first.
Mare e Mare Sud: Porto-Vecchio to Propriano. Suggested time - 5 days. Considered an easier trail than the other trails on the island.
Mare e Monti: Calenza to Cargèse. Suggested time - 10 days. This trail includes the beautiful fishing village of Girolatta, unnusual in that it is only accessible by boat (from Calvi) or on foot.
There are additional Mare e Monti trails.
Things to do
Corsica has excellent beaches and if you, like most of Corsica's visitors, are there in the summer many of your activities will center around the beach. Beside sunbathing and swimming almost every beach offers opportunities to snorkel. Some more popular beaches will rent windsurf boards and kite-surfing boards. Scuba diving is available, particularly at popular beaches near islands and in major towns. Expect to pay around €45-60 euros for a one hour dive.
Once the sun goes down, many people stay on or near the beach, enjoying gelato or one of the many beachside bars and restaurants.
Sightseeing in Corsica's major towns is also an excellent activity, though those who wait to do this on cloudy/rainy days may find the roads in and out of town completely overwhelmed by summer traffic, with traffic jams up to 2 hours in August. On cloudy days, your best bet is to avoid the centers and head into the mountains, for a walk along a marked trail or a meal in a small village.
Corsica food has French and Italian influences, but has many unique dishes. The chestnut was one of the ancient (and even current) Corsican's mainstay foods, and many meals and even desserts are prepared with this. Also, most of the domesticated pigs on the island are semi-wild, released to forage for food much of the year, and the charcuterie reflects this excellent flavor. Typical Corsican charcuterie include lonzu, coppa, ham, figatellu and saucisson made from pig or boar meat. Canistrelli are typical Corsican pastries which come in many different flavors. Corsica also produces a uniquely flavored olive oil made from ripe fruits collected under trees. Many villages have small shops where locally produced food is sold. That said, it may be difficult to find a restaurant that prepares truly Corsican dishes, and you may find yourself eating at a tourist oriented Pizzeria, which nonetheless serves excellent food.
Corsican brew a wide selection of local beers, have their own coke and make their own wine, reflecting their independent ways. Don't be surprised if you are asked "Américain ou Corse" when ordering a coke. It's highly recommended to try the beers "Colomba", "Pietra" or "Bière Torre" when visiting - a very distinct taste that you won't find anywhere else in France.