Visits and heritage in Corsica
Corsica history is engraved in the very stones of this unique island. The villages of Corsica are dotted with Genoese towers, prehistoric ruins and fortified bastions...These intriguing sites and monuments are marked by the passing of time and bear witness to the island’s rich history.
Built to defend the island against attackers during the Genoese occupation, Corsica’s Genoese towers can be seen all over the island and are a reminder of this important period of its history.
Many of these towers are being restored and those open to the public include the Tour de Porto, Tour de Capitello, and Tour de la Parata. Also of interest is the Genoese bridge which spans the Golo river in the village of Ponte Golo, the site of a famous battle between the troops of Pasquale Paoli and the King of France in 1769.
Evidence of Italian military genius can be seen across Corsica, which is dotted with citadels, forts and bastions. One of the best examples is the citadel at Calvi, which is marked by the island’s long struggle for liberty with its stone fortifications, imposing keep and drawbridge overlooking the sea.
As you explore the island’s history, you’ll discover the Genoese forts at Matra, Girolata and Saint-Florent. Admire the old fortifications at Porto-Vecchio, a fine example of Ligurian architecture
and contemplate the ruins of Filitosa, an important prehistoric site dating back 8,000 years which is famous for its menhirs and other fascinating remains. Also of major historical significance are the archaeological sites of Capula and Cucuruzzu in Levie in the heart of the Alta-Rocca, both of which are listed by the “monuments historiques” association – Cucuruzzu is accessed via a delightful track lined with ancient oaks, tall pines and sweet chestnut trees.
Finally, the Ancient town of Aléria is not to be missed, with its Greek ramparts, pre-Roman necropolis and Roman villa.
The history of Corsica is marked by its battles, numerous revolts and the great men who have lived here.
Fought over by the Carthaginians and the Romans, Corsica became a place of banishment under the Roman Empire – Seneca was one of the many exiled here. In the Middle Ages, the island was the centre of conflict between the Papacy, Pisa and Genoa, with the latter city taking the island in 1284. The Genoese attempted to make Corsica an agricultural centre, but numerous revolts by the inhabitants, organised into clans, put a stop to this ambition. Pasquale Paoli, who fought for the independence of Corsica and became governor of his region, introduced democracy to the island.
The Moorish headstill emblazoned on the flag of Corsica, which was only annexed to France in the 18thcentury, became the island’s emblem at this time.
These important characters are distinguished by their strong identities and united by their love for Corsica. Napoleon I, born in Ajaccio, made his mark on history and is famous around the world. He never stopped proclaiming his affection for Corsica, whose values of combat, honour and conquest informed his greatest victories. His maternal uncle, Cardinal Fesch, a great art enthusiast, bequeathed his magnificent collection to the city of Ajaccio. Other figures who have helped to forge the island’s character include Ghjuvan Petru Gaffory and Sampieru Corsu, both of whom symbolise the image of liberators in the face of oppression.
Older Corsicans believe that the island is a cathedral which vibrates to the song of life. Corsican song is a distinctive symbol of this culture which is proud of its unique identity, and polyphonic singing is an excellent ambassador for the island. For this reason, Corsican “paghella” is included on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
According to legend, these uplifting songs were inspired by shepherds who once recounted the events of their daily life in this way. The songs are performed today by groups such as A Filetta, Canta u Populu Corsu, I Chjami Aghjalesi and I Muvrini, all of whom keep alive this tradition in some of the world’s greatest theatres.
From Franciscan country churches to Genoese frescoes and stunning apses, the influence of Christianity is evident throughout Corsica. Traditions have kept unusual and fascinating myths alive, with each town having its own patron saint venerated by huge processions. The most important pilgrimages are those of La Madonuccia, Notre-Dame de Lavasina, and Santa di U Niolu. The faithful also commemorate the festival of Santa-Lucia of Ville di Pietrabugno, as well as numerous other saints. In Sartène, “the most Corsican of Corsican towns”, the Catenacciu procession which takes place on Good Friday is an extremely popular festival attended by huge crowds. A cross weighing more than 30 kilos and a chain of 15 kilos are given to a penitent whose identity must be kept secret and who, clad in a large red robe, makes his way through the streets of Sartène, commemorating Christ’s journey to Golgotha. Emotion, peace, reverence, respect and beauty all play a part in Corsica’s religious heritage. The worlds of reality and dreams, of the religious and the profane occasionally merge on this island where ancestral beliefs in the “Signadore” (believed to ward off ill fortune), “Mazzeri” (those who possess the gift of premonition) and “Streghe” (evil witches) are still firmly held. These mysterious beings form a part of the island’s collective memory and it’s in the heart of the villages, sitting in a shady square or invited into a local’s house, that you’re most likely to encounter some of these fascinating stories.
From singing to cinema, and international theatre events to local festivals – the choice is huge.
Corsica’s cultural calendar is peppered with numerous events all year round. Encompassing chanting and cinema, international theatre events and local festivals, the choice is highly eclectic and ensures that there’s something for everyone.
The religious Easter weekend ceremonies are important aspects of popular devotion, with numerous processions taking place in every region of Corsica, during which local brotherhoods carry their patron saints aloft through the island’s towns and villages. The most famous of these is the Catenacciu in Sartène, which symbolises Christ’s journey to the cross.
The beginning of autumn is the perfect time to catch up with other artistic events: the “Musicales” festival in Bastia, the oldest in Corsica, always promises great excitement with its varied programme. A party atmosphere is also very much part of Porto Latino, a music festival in Saint-Florent, where bright lights and rousing rhythms make this a must-see event!
If jazz is your thing, head to Ajaccio at the start of the summer season for a fusion of harmony and swing from around the world. Blues and rock are the big stars in July, however: in Patrimonio, guitar rhythms resonate so strongly that the whole island seems to pulsate; while in Calvi, music-lovers can spend several frenetic evenings tuning into the kings of Rock at the “Calvi on the Rocks” festival.
Film-buffs are also well catered for on Corsica with an eclectic mix of events and festivals. In February, Bastia celebrates Italian cinema with a festival that is always a huge success with cinema-goers; in July, the Lama film festival offers open-air screenings on the theme of rural life; while, the French actor Robin Renucci has chosen the villages of Le Giussani and in particular Olmi Capella as the venues for his “Rencontres Internationales de Théâtre”, an annual drama festival which he has founded.