Corsica is a small island situated in the Mediterranean sea, with an approximate population of about 240,000 people. Governed by France, the island has an area of 8,680km2. The island is well known for its mountainous forests and spectacular scenery, and for this reason a major part of the island's economy is based upon tourism, with its hiking trails, beaches, scenery and downhill skiing all adding to its attraction. In a hot climate the island can be an ideal place to spend a relaxing week.
The island's history has involved most of the countries around the Mediterranean area, but it remains quite unlike any of them. Much of Corsica's heritage is preserved because nothing much has changed over the centuries, due to the fact that it is cut off from any major piece of land, and traditions are highly important to the Corsican populace, even today.
From the moment the great empires of the world started exploring the planet, there has been a constant fight for Corsica and its beauty. Both the Italians and the French have laid claim to the country at one time or another. The country is now listed as an independent province under French rule.
Corsica is split into two sections or provinces, these are called Haute-Corse and Corse-du-Sud - Haute-Corse being the northernmost department. In 1811 Ajaccio was made the capital of Corsica. This started rivalry between Corsica's two main towns which is still going on now. Some Corsicans wanted a town called Bastia to be made capital. It was not until 1975 that agreement was reached, when the island was divided into two departments. Ajaccio is in Corse-de-Sud, and is the capital city there, and Bastia is in Haute-Corse, and in turn is the capital city in Haute-Corse. Although Bastia is actually physically nearer to France, Ajaccio has an airport, and Bastia doesn't, although ferries leave from Bastia.
Geography and Climate
Due to the fact that Corsica is an island, it is affected a lot by strong winds blowing from every direction. The 'Mistral' wind can be very strong, and blows south-east into the island. The 'Tramontane' is a cold wind which blows from the north, 'Libeccio' and 'Grecale' bring rain in winter, and the 'Sirocco' is a dusty wind coming in from Africa. Naturally the island has a Mediterranean climate. Summers are long, usually lasting from mid-May to early October. The climate is affected both by the mountainous nature of the landscape and by the thickly forested areas. As a result of this, the annual rainfall actually exceeds that of Ireland1.
Corsica has a mountain range down the middle, containing two very high mountains, Mt D'Oro and Mt Cinto. Les Agriates lakes were dammed recently for agricultural purposes and power generation. Corsica's mild climate is very good for raising crops. Farmers produce fruit and vegetables, especially olives, grapes, grains, and tobacco. The mountain range down the middle of Corsica can be used for agricultural purposes. Sheep, which provide wool for clothes, graze on the sides. Cork, pine, oak, and chestnut trees grow on the steep sides of the mountains. Miners mine granite and marble in the mountains. Some iron, lead, and copper are also mined. The coast provides people with sardines and coral.
Travelling around Corsica can often be a challenge, even for the most gifted of drivers. Travel within Corsica is by road or rail, though there are air taxis, and biking is always an option, but can be extremely tiring. The rail network is pretty basic, with connections between the three main towns, Bastia, Ajaccio and Calvi. The roads, with the exception of the main north-south road on the east coast, can be scary to those not used to mountain driving, and journeys are estimated in measures of time rather than distance.
Food and Drink
Corsican cooking is typically Mediterranean. There are fish and seafood including mussels (moules), sea urchins (oursins), crabs (crabes) and oysters (huîtres). However, the Corsican diet is rich and varied, which is to be expected. Many of the food products are available when in season. Food production has stayed small scale, thus the produce has its own special taste and texture resulting from the lush forests and humid conditions in which it has been produced. The most important food source is the chestnut, which is ground into flour, and also roasted in many dishes.
Corsica can also offer plenty of wine, which is very good nowadays, although in the 1960s and 1970s taste suffered as the result of wine scandals, where cheap wines were introduced. Now wines are often made by small farmers growing traditional types of grapes. Not surprisingly, there a number of fortified wines as well as spirits. Cap Corse is an aperitif with a secret recipe of herbs, and any wine makers produce wines from various fruits, such as vin de clementine, vin d'orange and vin de cerise.
Corsica is also well known for its cured meats. The main products are lonzu, a kind of pork loin; coppa, with a stronger taste that is a result of keeping a large amount of fat on the meat; and prizuttu, similar to parma ham, which is eaten very thinly sliced on bread. Corsican cheese, mostly goats' cheese, is also popular.
Although the official language of Corsica is French, a large number of Corsicans speak Corsican - Corsu. It has no current legal status as a language and even differs greatly from village to village. It is a purely oral language that has only recently been transferred to written word. Although it is growing and there is a petition to have it recognised as an actual language, it is currently only used by the natives.
Festivals and Customs
Corsica is a country where cultural festivals and country fairs are commonplace. The festivals are mostly organised by the elder villagers and many have attained international notoriety. However, these festivals are still of a manageable scale. The biggest of these is, of course, Napoleon's birthday. Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Ajaccio in 1765. His birthday is celebrated every year on 15 August with fireworks and parades and lots of people visit Napoleon's birthplace to pay homage.
The most popular form of traditional music on Corsica is the vocal band, and there are dozens of polyphony bands around the island. Another popular form is a capella, where vocalists sing unaccompanied by other instruments. Corsica does, however, have a broad selection of traditional instruments - some of which are relatives of other instruments; others being totally unique.