German Version French Version English Version

Corsica´s History


Original settlements

With the discovery of the “Lady of Bonifacio”, archaeologists were able to confirm that the island was already inhabited during the pre-Neolithic period. Corsica’s most famous attraction is the skeletal remains of a woman who died in around 6570 BC. Remains of stone buildings in Filitosa and Terrina indicate that, until a few hundred years before the birth of Christ, the island was inhabited by megalithic cultures and finally by the Torrean people, who presumably used force to impose their hegemony.

Roman rule and the Early Middle Ages

The first people to build large-scale settlements on Corsica were the Phocaeans from Ionia, who founded the town of Alalia in circa 560 BC. Later, parts of Corsica were for a long time ruled over by the Greeks and Romans and then, following the fall of the Roman Empire, Vandals and Goths fought over the island during the Early Middle Ages. The island was then conquered by Charlemagne (Charles the Great) and was partly ruled over by the Holy Roman Emperor and partly belonged to the Saracen Empire.

Terra di Comune and the Pisa overlordship

During the 11th century, a form of republic composed of autonomous communes was founded called the “Terra di Comune”. This system survived until the French Revolution. In response to an old promise made by Charlemagne, the Papacy eventually laid claim to Corsica and placed the island under the administration of Pisa. During the subsequent period the island flourished under the influence of the prosperous merchant state.

Corsica under Genoese rule

With the exception of a few uprisings and attempts by other countries to interfere in the country’s political affairs, Corsica belonged to Genoa between the 14th and 18th centuries. In 1736, the German adventurer Baron Theodor von Neuhoff was declared King of Corsica – the only king to have ever ruled on the island. However, because he was unable to fulfil his promises to garner European support in the conflict with Genoa, his supporters soon deserted him. In 1769 Genoa sold the island to France, which since then – with the exception of two relative short occupations by the British – has remained part of French territory.

Start of French rule

Pasquale Paoli, who during this period established a democratic constitution, is still revered today as the Father of the Nation. He was a Corsican general and showed considerable political acumen during the struggle against the Genoese and as a ruler over the island. His secretary, the Corsican noble Carlo Bonaparte, was the father of the later French Emperor and military commander Napoleon Bonaparte. However, because he continued to rebel against the ruling government and its regime of terror after Corsica was ceded to France to become a Département, he was declared an outlaw in 1793.

The 20th century

During the 20th century, increasingly more French people from mainland France settled on the island, including French citizens driven from or fleeing the Algerian War, which at times turned the Corsicans into a minority on their own island. At the same time, the Corsican language was banished from schools and public life in order to promote the unification of France and to bring regional differences into line. The Corsicans regarded this as a threat to their identity, which gave the independence movement new impetus. Some separatist groups pressed their claims by carrying out assassinations or bomb attacks.

Corsica today

In the year 2000, French Premier Lionel Jospin declared his willingness to grant Corsica more autonomy and measures to protect the language if, in return, the violence was brought to an end. The Gaullist opposition in the National Assembly feared, however, that such an agreement could lead to similar demands in Brittany, Alsace and Provence, which would threaten the unity of France. In a survey conducted in 2003, almost 51 per cent of Corsicans voted against Jospin’s proposal; although the survey is not politically binding, the project has been put on hold until today.