8000 years of Corsican history


Since prehistoric times there have been people on Corsica , the oldest known human skeleton on the island is the socalled "Dame of Bonifacio" a skeleton that has been found in a cave called l'abri d'Araguina-Sennola in Bonifacio (6610 B.C.). She lived in the Neolithicum, the period in which people began to use stone tools and made pottery.

These have been dated back to the Mesolithic period or Middle Stone Age, 8.000 years ago. Some more recent discoveries, however, could possibly go back a further two or three millennia.

Some of the buildings and monoliths from the second and third millennia B.C. are indicative of more advanced civilisations. But the people that built them disappeared in about 800 B.C.

Man's first settlement in Corsica dates from the VIIth millennium BC.
The proximity to Taravo's fertile plain, the presence of an easily developed butte and numerous rock shelters make this site ideal for a very long period of occupation.
( see also www.filitosa.fr )

Dame de Bonifacio

The "Lady of Bonifacio" (la "Dame de Bonifacio" ) - The Great Ancestress - has not the age of "Lucy", but she still dates from the PreNeolithic
and has just over 8 000 years.
She was discovered in 1972 by François de Lanfranchi, professorr at the University of Corte, in a shelter of Araguina-Sennola, a cave at the bottom of a gully in Bonifacio.
Now, the "Lady" rests in the Prehistoric Museum of Levie and everybody considers her affectionately and respectfully as the great ancestress. Many archaeologists and scientists have studied her and have been able to reconstruct her life ...
Thanks to the measurements given by carbon 14 it is known that she lived around the year 6000 BC, and that she died at the age of 35 years.
She ate fish, but also small mammals, hunted in the vicinity of the cave.
She must have hurt herself in her youth and could not live independently. Her testimony is really exciting and full of information of the conditions of everyday life in that period. It already reveals two essential aspects of island tradition: text by Jean-Marie Homet - Milan Presse


Roman vase, museum Aleria
The first settlers on Corsica were Greeks from Phocaea on the coast of Asia Minor. In 565 B.C. they founded the colony of Alalia (now Aléria) on the east coast of the island, which they called Kalliste or 'the most beautiful one'. In 540 B.C., in a decisive battle at Alalia, the Greeks were beaten by an alliance of the Carthaginians and Etruscans, which limited their expansion in the western Mediterranean. The Carthaginians took over the colony and called the island by the old Greek name Kyrnos, which means 'full of forests'. But in spite of this and the later military domination by Carthage (278-259 B.C.), the Greeks still continued to exercise power in the colony, controlling the trade in wood, resin and honey.

Soon after the beginning of the first Punic War (264-241 B.C.), the Romans took Alalia (259 B.C.) and began their conquest of Corsica. But the interior was not pacified till 162 B.C. In 420 Aléria was set on fire, totally destroyed by the Vandals in 456.
In 552 Corsica became an Eastern Roman province when it was taken over by the Emperor Justinian in his bid to rebuild the Roman Empire.
In 568 the Lombards began to invade Italy from the north. They advanced southwards, and in 725 they took over Corsica, however, their desire to unite Italy did not meet with the approval of the Papacy, and in 754 the Pope turned to France for assistance.
Pippin the Short of France engaged in a successful campaign against the Lombards, and in 756 handed over some of the territory he had gained to the Pope. Known as Pippin's Gift, it later formed the basis for the the development of the Papal States. Corsica was part of this gift, but was one of the territories whose administration the Pope left to others. So the Corsicans were at the mercy of whatever governor happened to be in charge.

The following 200 years Corsica was repeatedly invaded by the Saracens. With the retreat of the Saracens a unified government was apparently established in the 10th century under a Count of Corsica, but collapsed in the 11th century, when power fell into the hands of local nobles. Some communities had elected chieftains, who often succeeded in making their authority hereditary. They took over Bonifacio in 1187 and Calvi in 1268. In the meantime Sinucello della Rocca, profiting by the discord between the rival republics made himself Master of Corsica, promulgated a primitive constitution at a national assembly at Mariana in 1264. He was captured by the Genoese after the defeat of Pisa and died in prison in 1306.

The Pisans : 1077-1284

The 10th century saw the rise to power of the nobility. Important seignorial families, often immigrants of Tuscan or Ligurian origin, created fiefdoms on the island and ruled them with a rod of iron. Some historians argue that Corsica’s close-knit clan system dates right back to this period.
In 1077, at the request of a group of Tuscan feudal lords, the Pope appointed the bishop of Pisa to oversee his Corsican interests.
The then-powerful Italian city of Pisa, continually at odds with its rival, Genoa, put commerce ahead of all other values and its bishop effectively served as a front man for Pisan merchants.
Corsica nevertheless also benefited from Pisan overlordship, and this period was one of peace, prosperity and development. Handsome Pisan-style churches were erected in the Balagne, the Nebbio and on and around the northeastern coast. Four prime examples are the Cathédrale du Nebbio in St-Florent, the Église de San Michele de Murato, Aregno’s Église de la Trinité , and the Cathédrale de la Canonica.
Pisa’s good fortune in Corsica aroused the jealousy of Genoa, her perpetual rival, and Genoese ambitions took a turn for the better when in 1133 Pope Innocent II divided the island between these two Italian republics. From then, Genoa set about gaining ground piecemeal, picking off villages and advancing little by little. First Genoa undermined its rival’s supremacy by fortifying the town of Bonifacio ( p196 ) in the south. Genoese forces then ventured north, where they turned Calvi ( p126 ) into a stronghold. By the 13th century, despite opposition from some island lords who remained loyal to Pisa, Genoa was top dog. Pisa’s defeat in 1284 in the sea battle of Meloria, a small island near Livorno, marked the end of her domination of Corsica. In 1296 Pope Boniface VIII calls the King of Aragon to dispute the possession of Corsica to Genoa.

I Ghjuvannali (1352 )

Les Ghjuvannali sont les "cathares" corse. C'est une confrérie de franciscains dissidents, qui pris naissance à Carbini en Alta Rocca au milieu du XIVe siècle et qui fut annéantie aprés une cinquantaine d'années.
The Ghjuvannali are the Corsican "Cathars".
This is a brotherhood of dissident Franciscans, who originated at Carbini in Alta Rocca in the middle of the 14th century. They were excommunicated and annihilated after 50 years. READ MORE...LIRE LA SUITE

Genoa 1284-1768 and Aragon

As soon as the Pisans had withdrawn, another rival power appeared. For in 1297 the Pope had handed over Corsica and Sardinia to the kingdom of Aragon. In the struggle for supremacy, the Corsican nobility supported Aragon, while the people now supported Genoa. In 1420, the King of Aragon laid siege to Bonifacio for five months, in an bid to impose the rule of Spain on Corsica. His attempt failed thanks to the tenacity of Bonifacio's garrison and the local population who all joined in the defence of the citadel.
Legend has it that the Escalier du Roi d'Aragon (King Aragon Steps) in Bonifacio's cliff face were carved by the Aragonese in a single night in 1420 as a surprise attack. The steps however existed before then, probably used by locals to carry water to the citadel from a well that was discovered by monks.
Bastia was founded by the Genoese in 1380.
In 1453 the bank of Saint George took over the administration of Corsica.They showed no mercy in putting down local rebellions. The existing town of Ajaccio was founded in 1492.

Sampiero Corso (1498-1567)

This Corsican hero was born in 1498 in Bastelica; he was a tall man with a black beard and very intelligent. He was an officer in the French army, attempted to improve the lot of his homeland by bringing it under French sovereignty. The result was 3 years of war, followed by 3 years of French rule, 5 years of Genoese rule and a further 3 years of war. At the end of this the Genoese remained the sole rulers. Many Corsicans left the island; some of them went to Rome to serve the Pope, where they became the famous Corsican Guard.

The struggle for independance

The war began in 1729, when the Corsicans rebelled against the oppressive rule of the Genoese, whose power was now waning. In 1735 a constitution was drawn up and declared themselves independent under the leadership of Andrea Ceccaldi, Luigi Giafferi and Ghjacinto Paoli.
On 12 march 1736 a ship under the English flag arrived in Aléria. They carried canons, munition, rifles and grain. With it a German adventurer called Baron Theodor von Neuhoff came ashore and promised to rescue them from Genoese tyranny. They made him king for a few months, but soon came to realise that what he had promised was no more than bluff. He also showed no understanding of Corsican customs, immediately declaring the vendetta to be punishable by death. It was soon obvious that the promised reinforcements from abroad were mere fantasy, and he was forced to flee the island under cover of darkness.
Since 1745 the Corsicans had a new leader: Gianpietro Gaffori from Corte. His storming of the citadel in Corte has become a legend. In his distress, the military Genoese commander had Gaffori's young son kidnapped and held him over the fortress wall in order to stop the Corsican attack. Gaffori's wife begged her husband to continue the siege regardless. Gaffori then went on to take the citadel and by miracle his son survived. In 1746 the Assembly proclaimed Corsica's independance once more. Gaffori was elected the sole leader of the country. He succeeded in winning back almost the entire island; the Genoese Governor finally had to instigate a conspiricy to get rid of him; Gaffori was murdered in 1753.

King of Corsica
Theodor von Neuhoff was born in Cologne as the son of a Westphalian nobleman. Educated at the court of France, he served first in the French Army and then in that of Sweden. Baron de Goertz, minister to King Charles XII of Sweden, realizing Neuhoff's capacity for intrigue, sent him to England and Spain to negotiate with Cardinal Alberoni. He remained in Spain, where he was made colonel and married one of the queen's ladies-in-waiting. Soon afterwards he repaired to France and became mixed up in the Mississippi Company boom; then he led a wandering existence visiting Portugal, the Netherlands, and Italy.
At Genoa, Neuhoff made the acquaintance of some Corsican rebels and exiles, and persuaded them that he could free their country from Genoese tyranny if they made him king of the island. With the help of the Bey of Tunis, he landed in Corsica in March 1736 with military aid. The islanders, whose campaign had not been successful, elected and crowned him king. He assumed the title of King Theodore I, issued edicts, instituted an order of knighthood, and waged war on the Genoese, at first with some success. But in-fighting among the rebels soon led to their defeat. The Genoese put a price on his head and published an account of his colourful past, and he left Corsica in November 1736, ostensibly to seek foreign assistance. After sounding out the possibility of protection from Spain and Naples, he set off to Holland where he was arrested for debt in Amsterdam.
On regaining his freedom, Theodore sent his nephew to Corsica with a supply of arms; he himself returned to Corsica in 1738, 1739, and 1743, but the combined Genoese and French forces continued to occupy the island. In 1749 he arrived in England to seek support, but eventually fell into debt and was confined in a debtors' prison in London until 1755. He regained his freedom by declaring himself bankrupt, making over his kingdom of Corsica to his creditors, and subsisted on the charity of Horace Walpole and some other friends until his death in London in 1756.
Source of the text about Theodor von Neuhoff en.wikipedia.org

Pasquale Paoli  "Babbu di a Patria" (1725-1807)

Corsica independant (1755-1769)
In 1755 Pasquale Paoli (son of Ghjacintu ) was proclaimed General of the Corsican Nation.
He was the greatest of a long line of Corsican heroes during their long struggle for freedom. He made Corte his capital and declared this newly independant state a constitutional democracy.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, on whose theories the constitution was based, offered his admiring support.
Paoli built a new port at Ile Rousse because Calvi and Bastia were still under Genoese domination.
In 1765 he founded a university in Corte, which lasted only 25 years.
He also founded the first Corsican printing presses, the first operative mint, a gazette. He opened mines, started an arms factory and promoted the cultivation of potatoes.
Statue of Pasquale Paoli in Corte
Statue of Paoli in Corti
Battle of Borgo
In October 1768, Pascal Paoli tried to recapture U Borgu (Borgo), where a French force of 700 men under De Ludre was entrenched awaiting reinforcements. During this time. Pascal Paoli ordered his entire force to march on Borgo, whilst Clément Paoli kept a watch on Pascal's rear to prevent Grand-maison from descending from Oletta, where he had taken refuge. The main roads between Bastia and Borgo were also kept under surveillance by the Corsicans. The Marquis De Chauvelin learned of the fate awaiting his countrymen and sent Grand-maison towards Borgo. De Marbeuf and Chauvelin left Bastia with 3,000 men to join the force in Borgo. De Ludre and his 700 men entrenched themselves in Borgo awaiting the assault. Paoli inspired his troops by telling them "Patriots, recall the Corsican Vespers, when on this very spot you destroyed the French. The honour of the fatherland and public liberty today need all your valour. Europe is watching you.".

Battle commenced on the morning of 8 October 1768 and lasted ten hours. Grand-maison tried in vain to defeat Clément Paoli and his men. Marbeuf and Chauvelin thought it best to retreat and De Ludre surrendered. 600 were dead, 1000 wounded and 600 taken prisoner, whilst 3 bronze cannon, 6 other cannon, a mortar, 1,700 fusils and other munitions were captured by the Corsicans. Louis XV of France was surprised by the defeat and even thought of making no further armed attempts to incorporate Corsica into France, but the Duc De Choiseul made every effort to continue the war and repair the damage the defeat had done to his reputation.

O Corsu ùn ti scurdà di a to storia!
In 1768 the terrible news came that Genoa had effectively sold Corsica to the French.
Pasquale Paoli pursued all possible diplomatic channels in his efforts to retain Corsica's hard-won independence, but to no avail.
Battaglia di Ponte Novu l'8 di maghju di u 1769
The French brought in their troops,who defeated Paoli's army at Ponte Nuovo on the 8th of May 1769.
The Corsicans had been forced down to the bottom of the valley, and had not been able to attack from above as was their wont. Paoli himself fled to England.

Voltaire wrote after the Battle of Ponte Novu:
"The main weapon of the Corsicans was their courage. This courage was so great that in one of those battles, at a river called Golo, they made a rampart of their dead to have time to reload behind them before making a necessary retreat; their wounded were mingled among the dead in order to strengthen the rampart. Such actions one only sees among free peoples."

On 15 August that year, Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Ajaccio, the son of a Corsican notary. About twenty years later Pasquale Paoli was pardoned by Louis XVI, and returned to his native island. In 1790 he was made governor of Corsica, but soon came into conflict with the French revolutionary authorities. He immediately convened his old Corsican parliament, which declared the island independent for a second time, requesting the British to provide military support. Admiral Hood came along and took both Calvi and Bastia. Horatio Nelson, the great British admiral, lost his eye in this campaign as a result of a shot from a Corsican gun.

Corsica spent a period of two years under the rule of a British viceroy. One migth have expected this to be Paoli, but King George II decided to send sir Gilbert Elliot. The king requested Pasquale Paoli to return to England, which he did for the last time in October 1795. He died in London at the age of 82 in 1807.
In 1889, 82 years later, his ashes were brought home by his fellow Corsicans to Morosaglia. Today, the house in which he had been born serves as a memorial to the Corsicans' patriotic struggle.

Under pressure both from the Corsicans and from the French army in Italy, Britain renounced its claim to the island. Ironically, the French army was under the command of a Corsican general called Napoleon Bonaparte, who in 1793 had held on to Bonifacio for France.
By this time the Corsicans had resigned themselves to French rule, realising that they were unable to retain their independance and having decided that the French were the lesser of the two evils.

From 1815 the Corsicans remained loyal subjects of France. Conditions improved very gradually, but not enough to prevent an increasing emigration, especially at the end of the century.

Monument aux morts 1914-1918 Zonza
Monument aux Morts
1914-18 Zonza

World War I

During World War I more than half of the soldiers did not return from the War. They counted at least 20.000 dead. It was not only the losses and mourning that counted, but women couldn't find husbands anymore and there were no more men to cultivate the neglected land.
Corsica responded to the call to arms more intensely than any other allied region. Out of a population estimated by a diplomat of the times to have been about 300,000, some 50,000 Corsican men were under arms: a ratio greater than one of every six Corsican citizens.
The civilian population was correspondingly pro-allied. Prisoners of war were sent to Corsica. There they occupied every available space from rooms in monasteries to cells in citadels. Stone sheds were converted for their use. When all else failed, wooden barracks were constructed on the mountainsides. The prisoners were put to work in agriculture and forestry.
Corsica was also turned into a hospital for the wounded. Most of the allies sent medical units or volunteers. The island was so useful as a base that the sea lanes leading to it were under constant surveillance and attack by U-boats.
Corsican infantry fought loyally and with valor. Estimates of casualties vary but most are over 50%. As a result, the survivors became established in the upper echelons of the French military and police. However, the loss of manpower contributed to a recession and mass exodus from Corsica in favor of southern France in the post-war period. Again Corsicans left their island to try to find work elsewhere. Often it was on the continent, in Marseille.

1914-1918, hommage aux 30 000 corses tués.

World War II

In 1940 Corsica was anti-German and anti-Italian. In 1942 the Corsicans came under occupation again. It was only a short time from 1942-43, but it was enough to rekindle the old spirit of freedom. They resisted the Germans and Italians and from the maquis they fought a heavy guerilla.
In october '43 when Corsica was liberated, De Gaulle visited Ajaccio. He praised the Corsicans for their brave struggle: "Corsica has the honour and the luck to be the first free part of France".

Liberation de Bastia
Un document exceptionnel, les images d'époque de la libération de la ville de Bastia, images rares de la place Saint-Nicolas, du port, des rues...

The recent years

The late fifties saw an alarming increase in the number of people leaving the island. Corsica experienced a real "diaspora". Lack of educational and professional opportunities forced the Corsicans again to leave their beloved island. This mass exodus has meant that worker shortages have added to the economical problems of Corsica.
On the island there was a wave of protest against the proposed construction of an underground atomic testing station and at the plan to sink atomic waste in the see between the French mainland and Corsica. Further adding to the tension was the stationing of French Foreign Legionnaires; these troops were viewed as an army of occupation.

Bombs against speculators

Moreover, there was growing resistance to the sale of the Corsican coast to financial consortia from the French mainland, which went on to line their pockets with the vast proportion of the islands' income from tourism. As far as the new holiday villages were concerned, virtually evertything was imported from the mainland, from the building materials to the food supplies: even the staff was almost exclusively non-Corsican. And thus Edmond Simeoni was speaking for many when he said: "The loveliest areas of Corsica were handed over to the real estate speculators and industrial tourist agents, who now destroy the local hotel business, commandeer the beaches and mutilate the countryside without producing any real profit for the inhabitants."
In radical circles it was claimed that "if the speculators carry on with their construction projects, they will find that they have built upon sand, for we shall blow it all sky-high."


It began with decent people, dreaming of a free Corsica, a Corsica that would remain pure and where one could live as a Corsican and speak Corsican. Where land was not to be sold to the usurers; Corsica must not become a second Mallora.In fact, the island owes it to the pioneers of the FRC (Front Régionaliste Corse) that it has stayed so beautiful. But then the situation gets more grim.

The Aléria incident, the birth of the FLNC

August 1975, Aléria: in 1975, fifty militants of the ARC (Corsican Regional Action), led by Dr.Edmond Simeoni, occupied a wine warehouse in Aléria belonging to a returned Algerian settler suspected of being involved in the financial scandal.
The occupation was carried out without violence but the French state, alarmed by growing opposition to its policies in Corsica, decided to make an example. The warehouse was surrounded by a massive force of gendarmes with heavy machine guns and helicopters. However, like many Corsicans the occupiers were armed and two gendarmes were killed in the ensuing shoot-out. Subsequently another gendarme died in a night of rioting on the island. The events at Aléria became the symbol of a new phase of Corsican resistance to the French state, which only grew stronger in the face of repression and the stubborn refusal of the French state to recognise Corsican national rights.
In 1976 the FLNC (Front de Libération Nationale de la Corse) is launched.
Corsica gets to know the meaning of the "blue nights":
111 attacks in 1978, 463 in 1983 and thousands were to follow. On the other hand, the nationalistic movement gets the University of Corte reopend in 1981!

The movement really degenerates after the collaps of the FLNC in the early nineties. Personal conflicts, failed alliancies and political interests are dividing the movement. (the nationalist movement has 17% of the votes in the reginal elections of 1988).
A Cuncolta naziunalista and MPA (Movimientu per l'Autodeterminazione) with their armed branches, Canal 'historique' and Canal 'habituel' are involved in a gangwar. Meanwhile the French government is negotiating with the movement, but can't handle the situation.
In 1996 the notorious meeting, in the middle of the night in the maquis of Tralonca, takes place. Canal Historique with 600 of their men, armed to the teeth, gives a press conference.
In july of that same year a carbombe explodes in the very centre of Bastia; twelve people wounded and one deadly injured.

Since the talks of Matignon (initiative of Lionel Jospin) there is real hope that things will change. Many islanders support the "Process Matignon".
Protests are also heard in particular against article 12 of the "Loi Littoral", but the majority of the Corsican people hopes that the "Process Matignon" will give Corsica political autonomy and the recognition of a "Corsican People", their cultural heritage and language; all for which they have fought for many, many centuries.

"Nos langues, nos cultures, un droit, une lois"

1998: Murder of the prefect Claude Erignac.
1999: Affaire of the 'paillotte'. Start of the process of Matignon on Corsica.
2000: The assembly of Corsica approves, by 44 voices(votes) on 51, the devolvement in Corsica of a 'supervised' legislative power.
2002: Resumption of the discussions by the government Raffarin.
2003: Creation of Fronte per has lingua Corsa on 2003
Proces against the presumed murderers of prefect Erignac (June 2003)
Arrest of Yvan Colonna (July 2003)
Referendum to create one region with a measure of autonomy (July 6th, 2003; Corsica voted NON)

17 May 2013, an historical vote...After two days of debate, the Assemblée de Corse with 36 votes in favor, 0 votes against and 11 abstentions approved the proposal for the official status of the Corsican language alongside French.

Avec 36 voix pour, 11 non-participations et 4 absents, le statut de coofficialité de la langue corse a été adopté, vendredi soir (le 17 mai 2013) , à 21 heures, à l’Assemblée de Corse lors d’un vote uninominal à main levée. Il aura fallu deux jours de discussions serrées, un clash nationaliste et une reprise en main par l’Exécutif pour réussir à dégager une majorité autour d’un texte remanié, mais finalement assez proche de l’original en dépit de la pléthore d’amendements qui menaçaient de le dénaturer. Les Nationalistes, qui ont accepté d’importantes concessions sans céder sur l’essentiel du contenu, affichent leur satisfaction.

Assemblée de Corse : Le statut de coofficialité de la langue corse adopté !



14 Décembre 2018   
La Corse est en deuil; docteur Edmond Simeoni, père fondateur du nationalisme corse, l'homme de paix, est décédé.
Pacifiste, humaniste et militant inépuisable de la cause corse, il est partisan d’une autonomie pour l’île.


For the actual situation on Corsica see: "Actuality"

Dorothy Carrington: "Granite Island"
"A Visitor's Guide to Corsica" edition MPC Ltd
"Corsica" Nelles Guide,
"Comprendre la Corse" Jean-Louis Andreani
"Corsica" Insight Guides APA Publications Ltd

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