History of Corsica

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The history of Corsica is a very troubled one, made of conquers, difficult coexistences, colonisations, occupations and submissions. But above all this, it is a history of stubborn yearning for independence. Resuming the history of this country is a hard job, but beyond the famous Moorish head which represents Corsica in the world, the very essence of this country lies in its language, a language which paradoxically sounds more familiar to a Genoese or a Sardinian, rather than to a Parisian. A language, though, with strong connotations, which has remained over the centuries a living testimony of the historic and cultural identity of Corsica.

The origins of the ancient inhabitants of Corsica can be traced in north-central Italy, probably in Tuscany, from where they left around the VII millennium BC. These primitive populations had their shelters in caves and on foot of the cliffs, and lived by hunting, fishing and agriculture. A thousand years later other colons landed on the island, and started to cultivate the soil and breed cattles, according to the usage of transhumance. In the IV millennium BC, a new population arrived from Asia and the Aegean sea, to whom historians have attributed the construction of the megalithic structures, dolmen and menhir, often bound to the cult of the Mediterranean Goddess Mother. Numerous groups of menhir were found in proximity of Sartène, with the function to protect the tombs were dead people were buried. Afterwards, the menhir were given human resemblance: some of them were provided with swords or daggers, others were carved with the shape of rudimental shoulder-blades, and all statues differenced from one other, maybe a representation of the spirit of the dead, or maybe war trophies, each representing a defeated invader.

The majority of these mysterious figures of warriors has been found inFilitosa, currently one of the most suggestive archaeological sites of the Mediterranean. Around 1500 BC a new wave of invaders, the mysterious population of the Torreani, landed in Corsica and found its first base near Porto-Vecchio: they were probably the Shardana, known as the population that attacked Egypt at the end of the II millennium Bc. Some remains of fires came to life inside the stone towers that they built, which were probably used to burn the dead or for human sacrifices. During the colonisation, the autochthons were forced to move inland and then north, where they were finally free to practice their own cult.

In the VI century Bc begins a new wave of foreign occupations: first the Greek refugees, who founded the first big colony in Aléria and lived a peaceful life, dedicated to the cultivation of vineyards and olive trees and to trading of metals and cereals. In 535 BC the Greeks abandoned Aléria and left it to the Etruscans, who, in their turn, were chased away by the Cartages in the III century BC.

In 259 BC the Romans began the conquer of Corsica. The east coast was soon colonised with the construction of bridges and ports, but the Romans had to fight more than a century against the courageous local people, before the island was completely won.

Corsica remained a Roman province for more than 500 years, during which Christianity was introduced to the island. After the fall of the Roman empire, the vandals began to sack the coast, followed by the Ostrogoths and Longbards’ invasions. These last ones in particular conquered the island in 725, but they always found themselves facing the Saracens incursions, especially on the shores. For the subsequent two centuries, the autochthon populations were confined inland, where they developed a feudal system based on communities, each electing their own chiefs. It’s behind the ascent of these big and powerful feudal families that seems to lie the importance of the clans and their ancient rivalries.

Meanwhile, around the year 1000, Corsica passed under the Papal domain with the various feudal families asking for the protection of the Pisans and the Genoese. Under the Pisans, Corsica lived a period of relative peace, wealth and economic development. But in 1133 Genoa obtained part of the island by Pope Innocent II, and Corsica is filled with fortresses and fortified citadels, like that of Bonifacio (the most faithful of the Genoese towns).

Thanks to the military superiority of the Genoese, Corsica turned into a colony of Genoa, and for 5 centuries the island lived a dark and totalitarian period, during which any form of opposition was cruelly shut down. Between 1553 and 1559 there is a short parenthesis with the French administration, which saw the figure of Giampiero Corso emerging, a passionate activist who fought against the Genoese tyranny. In 1559 the Genoese took over the island again, and suppressed all attempts of rebellion. This harsh repression brought to the first waves of emigration.

During the XVII and XVIII century numerous rebellions followed, until a young man, Pasquale Paoli, took the command of the anti-Genoese movement, and founded an independent state, with seat in Corte and an autonomous constitution, university, judicial power, economic and commercial system, and currency.With the support of the Genoese, France took advantage of this moment of confusion and weakness, and occupied Bastia, Ajaccio, Calvi and Saint-Florent: just a preview of what would have been the definitive conquer of Corsica by France, officially acknowledged by the treat of Versailles in 1768.

The relationship with France was never easy, as the policy adopted by Napoleon, to Frenchisize the island proved. After an illusory period of reconciliation, especially with the active participation of Corsica in the Resistance against Nazi-fascism, a new wave of intolerance burst out, and the dream of independence of the Corsican population re-emerged even stronger than before. In the post-war period, the struggle for independence lead in 1976 to the foundation of a movement for the autonomy of the country, the so called FLNC (Fronte di Liberazione Nazionale Corsu). Unfortunately, the mere political claims at the origin of the movement were soon replaced by the armed fight, with episodes of violence and blood, which caused in their turn a bloody suppression by the army, until the fratricidal fights of the ‘90s.

The proud Corsican population seems to have survived the foreign occupations, the fights for power, the political and social claims (more or less pacific), the often ambiguous relationship between the French government and the spokespeople of the Corsican movements. How did it manage to survive all this? With its culture (that has never betrayed its origins), its music and traditions, its respect for the environment, and above all, its language, that here, more than in any other place, is a symbol of identity and distinction. Nowadays Corsica seems to be winning its fight to keep alive the most peculiar and original aspects of its identity, even in a time of ever changing situations and events such as the contemporary age.