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Corsican Culture

Corsica’s unique cultural heritage sets it apart from the rest of the Mediterranean region. Exploring the island is like going back in time: the island’s architectural heritage ranges from the megalithic menhirs with their mysterious human faces at Filitosa to prehistoric towers built by the Torrean civilisation – and from archaeological finds dating back to the Roman and Greek occupations to medieval and baroque chapels, Genoese watchtowers and citadels. Corsica’s rich cultural heritage is also preserved in the numerous museums in its various towns.
Corsica’s lively culture also includes numerous customs and traditions that in some cases date back for centuries. For example, once a year around 300 villages celebrate their respective patron saints.
Music festivals and fairs along with dance and sporting events ensure that there is entertainment throughout the year. These also provide ample opportunity to enjoy the fruits of the wine production and oyster farming as well as the local sausage and cheese specialities. This lifestyle and craft tradition nearly completely vanished along with the Corsican language. However, a new movement to preserve Corsican identity and foster the cultural reawakening – the “Riacquistu” – is defending with new vigour the traditions of its society and is revitalising what would have otherwise faded into oblivion.
One example includes Corsica’s singing tradition. Although the ancient lullabies, harvest and love songs, respectively called “Nanne”, “Tribierre” and “Serinati”, have all but died out, the “Paghjella” has enjoyed an unexpected comeback since the first stirrings of the “Riacquistu” in the 1970s: this multi-voice male singing tradition has been rediscovered by singers and music groups and now also enjoys considerable popularity beyond the shores of Corsica. The polyphonic Paghjella combines three vocal registers: the middle register begins the song and carries the mains melody, the lower, second register that follows provides the accompaniment and the third and highest register sings the coloratura.
Another cultural asset under threat is the Corsican language. In linguistic terms, Corsican – or Corsu – is an Italo-Romance dialect, which in the north of Corsica is similar to the Tuscan dialect and in the south is similar to the Northern Sardinian dialect. When Corsica was annexed by the French, the Italian and Tuscan literary languages were banned on the island and all inhabitants had to learn French. As a result, during the second half of the 19th century the Corsicans began to increasingly identify themselves through their vernacular dialects.
Writing in Corsican and the production of Corsican literature boomed. The French government then later specifically banned Corsican from schools and public life. It was not until 1973 that summer schools were founded in which children were given the opportunity to learn Corsican.
Although it has been conferred equal status as an administrative language since 1989, Corsicans are still waiting for it to be officially accepted as the second language. Until this has been achieved, Corsica is doing everything it can to preserve and cultivate its language along with the rest of its culture.