Corsican History, Culture and Gastronomy
While you are waiting to join us on our Grand Tour of Corsica Walking tour, here is a little preview of what to expect from this mesmerising island!
A History of Corsica
Archaeologists estimate that the first humans arrived in Corsica around the 7th century BC after crossing the sea from the Tuscan coast. These Neolithic populations lived mainly from breeding livestock and hunting wild animals, although there is proof that the Corsicans of this time traded with the neighbouring populations of the Italian coastline.
Today many examples of Corsican Neolithic culture are still visible, mostly under the form of Anthropomorphic Menhirs connected to religious rituals related to the cult of the dead. Most of these examples of prehistoric Corsican heritage are located in the archaeological sites of Cucuruzzu, Filitosa, Cauria and Arraggio and date back to approx. the 2nd century BC.
With the advent of the Bronze Age around 1500 BC Corsica was invaded in turn by multiple populations, starting from the Torrens, followed by the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians and the Etruscans. The Romans finally settled on the island making Alalia, previously founded by the Phoenicians, their capital and renaming it Aleria.
Following the fall of the Roman Empire around the 5th century AD, Corsica was repeatedly invaded by Barbarian populations such as the Vandals, the Ostrogoths, the Lombards and the Saracens. During this period there was a brief spell of Byzantine rule and Catholic evangelization, but this was short lived due to the many barbarian incursions.
Corsica was finally freed from the Moorish incursions of the 8th century by Charlemagne, who conquered and annexed the island to the Holy Roman Empire, granting its titular rule to the Papacy. In 1077 the rule of Corsica was granted by the Papacy to the bishop of Pisa, and thus began a period of Pisan domination.
In the following centuries the Island was fought between Pisa and the increasingly powerful Republic of Genova, culminating in the ultimate conquest of Corsica by the Genovese in 1284. The Genovese rule lasted until 1729, despite various contentions initially with the Kingdom of Aragon, repeatedly with the Corsican Aristocracy and Nationalist movements and ultimately with France.
In 1729 a rebellion against the island’s rulers ushered a period of war and revolt, culminating in the establishment of a Corsican Republic by the nationalist leader Pascal Paoli in 1755. Corsican Independence lasted for 14 years, during which Paoli granted it a remarkably liberal constitution, arguably one of the most enlightened in Europe, and founded a university in Corte.
Independence was short lived and the island was soon taken over by an invasion of French troops in overwhelming numbers, following the sale of the rights to Corsica by the Genovese to France in 1768.
Except for brief periods of occupation by the British (1794–96), the Italians and the Germans (1942–43), Corsica has remained French territory ever since.
Geography & Landscape
The island of Corsica is located in the northernmost waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea, with the Côte d’Azur and the Tuscan Archipelago only a stone’s throw away. The island boasts a wide variety of scenery including 1,000 km of coastal landscapes, stunning shorelines, breath-taking mountains, refreshing forests and even high-altitude lakes.
A central range of steep mountains, staring in Calvi in the North and ending in Porto Vecchio in the South, physically divides the island into two distinct regions. The south and the west substantially more mountainous and volcanic. Its coast line is rugged and defined by steep and jagged granitic cliffs and creeks, with the occasional sandy beach, often only accessible by boat. The north and the east in comparison have lower and softer mountains, and the coastline has long stretches of sandy beaches spanning from Bastia to Porto Vecchio.
Bonifacio & St Florent stand alone with their limestone enclaves where the rock is clear and light, a stark contrast to the deep red volcanic cliffs of Scandola and the Western most coast of Corsica.
With 120 peaks at more than 2,000 m. in altitude, Corsica is the tallest island in the Mediterranean sea. It is also the greenest. From its raised, compartmented mountains run streams, rivers and cascades that bring fresh water as far as the sea, hollowing out gorges and valleys (Tavignano, Restonica…). The mountains are covered with forests, where water is omnipresent (Castagniccia, Vizzavona…). In the highlands of the mountains (Cuscionu and Ese), alpine grasslands can be seen, forming vast natural prairies irrigated by water sources and strewn with streams.
Corsu – The Corsican Language
Corsican dialect is an extremely important part of the Island’s culture. Developing as an agro-pastoral society, often taking refuge in the mountains from invading populations, most of the island’s culture was essentially vocal, expressed through its songs and language.
The Corsican language finds its roots, like most Indo-European languages, in Latin. Since Roman times it has evolved and been influenced by the numerous peoples who conquered the Islands. Undoubtedly the most influential language was Tuscan, brought over by the Pisans and the Genovese who ruled the Island for over 5 centuries. French only came to the island in the late 18th century, and didn’t become compulsory until the 19th century.
France was historically very strict about imposing the French language and repressing regional dialects. This applied to Corsica, but also to other regions such as the Basque Country and Brittany where the local languages were harshly supressed. It was not until 2008 that regional language diversities were recognized as part of the country’s cultural heritage. Today Corsican is taught in schools and is recognised as the island’s official second language.
Curiously, Italians who travel to Corsica find it easier to communicate in the native Corsu’ dialect than in French, as it still resembles the dialect of central Italy today.
Corsican cuisine is defined by its simplicity, a clear reflection of a landscape difficult to farm.
Cured meats are the strongest expression of Corsican gastronomy. The most emblematic are ‘prisuttu’ ‘lonzu’ ‘coppa’ and ‘fegatelli’. They have fresh and characteristic flavours given by the pigs that live in the wild and almost total freedom to feed on chestnuts, acorns and wild herbs.
Corsican gastronomy is as diverse and regional as its culture, and nowhere is this more apparent than with the cheeses. Each region has its own cheese, each producer his own method, recipe and maturing time to manufacture a wide variety of goat or sheep cheese. “Brocciu”, the most famous is a variety of fresh cheese produced using whey and is eaten at the end of meals by itself, with a sprinkling of sugar or infused with eau de vie.
Chestnuts are an extremely important ingredient and used in a wide variety of ways and dishes, including the curing of meats and the aging of cheeses, as well as for grinding into flour. The plant was initially introduced by the Genoese, and since widely spread all over the island.
Corsica has olives trees which could rival the more famous secular trees of Puglia. Initially introduced by the Phoenicians, today they are widely used to make olive oil, and some of the most ancient trees in the south are as much as a thousand years old.
The island culture shapes both the personality of the wine and the character of the winemakers. Corsica offers a melting pot of soils: limestone and clay primarily in the north, granite mostly in the south, sandstone and volcanic soils in the center. The climate is both maritime and continental, heavily influenced by the mountains. Winds are constant, including the famous Mistral from the northwest and the hot Sirocco from the south, countering the dampening effect of frequent sudden rains. And the people? Proud, fierce and independent barely begins to describe them.
One of the main Corsican grape varieties in Nieluccio, a close cousin to Tuscan Sangiovese, even though Nieluccio wines taste nothing like a Chianti or a Brunello.
Similarly Vermentino, the main white wine variety, is also of Italian origins, but again, Corsican vintages present stark differences in taste to its Italian counterparts.
Sciaccarellu is a variety unique to Corsica, and is a much more complex wines than the others. It is grown typically in the south and can be compared to the complexity of a Pinot Noir.
Corsica Grand Tour
If all this sound fascinating and you would like to learn more about Corsica, and explore this incredible island then you should join us on our next Corsican Adventure.
Click on the picture bellow for all the information about our Walking tour to Corsica!