Location/Culture Reports

Location Report – Corsica

Setting: Balzac described Corsica as “a French island basking in the Italian sun,” which is appropriate, given the number of times Italy and France have traded control of Corsica over the centuries.
Is it a country? Not really, at least in the independent sense, since it is ruled by France.
Is it a country? Not really, at least in the independent sense, since it is ruled by France. But it is an island with permanent boundaries and its own cultural identity. People who live in Corsica consider themselves Coriscan first, then French. See the “history” section below for a brief description of the current politics on this matter. Corsica’s size of 3,401 square miles puts it somewhere between the size of Connecticut and Delaware.

History: Corsica has been inhabited since the Paleolithic era, and for much of its early history it was a port location for sailors and merchants in the Mediterranean Sea. In the early centuries AD, it was conquered sequentially by the Romans, the Goths, the Vandals, the Byzantine Empire…. You get the idea.

The 10th Century brought the European aristocracy to the island, where numerous kings, princes, and various nobles kept estates where they ruled with crushing authority. The Italians ruled for four centuries despite numerous uprisings by the Corsicans. The island changed hands between the Italians and French again in the 16th Century, with the Genoese taking control once more. More fighting, more suppression, a lot of emigration, and another uprising later, the Corsicans were more or less united by Pascal Paoli, and then Treaty of Versailles ceded the island to the French in 1769. The Italians took over again for a few years in the 1800s, then the French got it back when it fell under the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was born on the island in the town of Ajaccio.

Corsica has been ruled by the French ever since (except for a brief period before WWII when the Italians grabbed it briefly – “you’re Italians, we promise!” – but then had to give it back to France). Attitudes towards their perceived colonizers changed starting in the 1960s, when separatists began gaining clout. A nationalist group that supports independence from France was created in 1976, Front de Libération Nationale de la Corse (FLNC). This group has clashed with the French government and Corsicans who support the French, with outbreaks of violence and terrorism over everything from the environment to economics to tourism. While there appears to be no solution in sight, the groups do not generally affect tourists.
One-third of the island is protected in National Parks and nature preserves, and provides a wild landscape that draws many people to the island.
Climate & Nature: One-third of the island is protected in National Parks and nature preserves, and provides a wild landscape that draws many people to the island. The geological history of the island involves a lot of glaciation and the end result is a mix of dramatic rugged peaks, sheer cliffs, and clear glacier lakes. Corsica is quite mountainous and its highest point is Monte Cintu at 2,710 meters (that’s 8,891 feet to you metric-phobes). Many species of animals that are rare and endangered in other parts of Europe flourish in Corsica because of the large protected areas. In 1972, a 200km (124mi) walking trail was created and now attracts 10,000 visitors a year.

The climate is categorized as “Mediterranean” (go figure) with warm summers (70s and 80s) and cool winters (40s and 50s). Snow is common at the higher elevations in the winters, but the coastal areas are more moderate. Precipitation is largely confined to the rainy season in March and November.

The People: The majority of those who reside in Corsica live in costal regions, and as a result the middle part of the country is very sparsely populated. Many people have emigrated from Corsica to France, the United States, and Puerto Rico over the centuries, and as a result it is said that a million Corsicans reside all over the world. The population on the island itself is 260,000, of which about 60% are “native” Corsicans and the rest are foreigners.

Traditionally, people have lived in small villages, and the village is still the center of Corsican life. Things are starting to change, though, as more people live in the smaller villages and then commute to the larger cities where the jobs are. Music is central to the Corsican culture and particularly a capella singing in groups. The literacy rate is very high (99%) and people are generally well-educated. French is the official language of Corsica, but a large number of Corsicans speak Corsican – or in French, Corsu. Although it has no current legal status, it is taught in elementary school and at the University in Corte. The language is apparently related to Italian and most closely resembles Tuscan.

Interesting fact: Apparently the island is aligned such that it commonly creates very cool saucer-shaped clouds. You can see pictures here.

For further reading:
Lonely Planet
A way-cool Corsican weather site