Saturday, August 26, 2006


Corsica's Greeks

I thought it was time I wrote something about Corsica's Greeks. Earlier this summer we took a trip to the sleepy little town of Cargese in the west of the island. It's a peaceful litle place and a popular holiday destination, but it has a strange and fascinating history.

In the centre of the town two churches face each other across a patch of land devoted to growing vegetables and fruit. One church is a Catholic church similar to many other churches in these parts; the other - a few tens of metres away - is a large and prosperous church of the Greek Byzantine rite. This is why it's there...

In the late 17th Century, much of Greece, including Crete, was under the rule of the Ottoman empire, and a group of Greeks from Laconia, felt threatened by their new neighbours. So after a number of years of negotiation, they succeeded in persuading the Genoese Government to let them come and live further west. How they ended up in Corsica nobody knows for sure, but they were given some land at Paomia near Corsica's west coast. It seems to have been a horrendous crossing - of the 800 who were packed into the ship, 120 died during the journey. One of the conditions of their sanctuary was that they had to acknowledge the supremacy of the Pope over the Patriach of Constantinople.

The Greeks transformed the land they were given; they became very prosperous and all went well for 50 years. But in 1729, when the Corsicans rose up in arms against the ruling Genoese, the Greeks opted not to join in because they felt such a debt of gratitude to their government, and this caused tensions betwen the Greeks and their Corsican neighbours. They fled to Ajaccio and lived there for 43 years.

When the French acquired Corsica from the Genoese, the political landscape changed again and the Greeks acquired another plot of land for their community - this time at Cargese. One revolution later, after more fighting and another (shorter) period in the Capital, the Greeks are still here. And thankfully, they get on very well indeed with their neighbours these days. More about the Greeks at

Friday, August 04, 2006


How French is Corsica?

I had a note from a young man in the USA yesterday asking if Corsica was French or what? As the answer would affect the content of his High School project on the island, I rushed an answer to him as quick as I could.

The straight answer to his question is "Yes, it's part of France", but in reality the question deserves a fuller answer. The island comprises two French d├ępartements - Haute Corse and Corse du Sud, so politically Corsica remains French. The French language is spoken throughout the island, so linguistically it's French as well. There is however a strong Corsican language spoken by many people and taught in schools, and this language is far closer to the languages spoken in pre-Unification Italy than that of mainland France. So close in fact, that Italians and Corsicans can understand each other pretty well.

Historically, the answer becomes even more complex. For centuries, most of Corsica was ruled by the Genoese and only became French as a result of some political and financial juggling in the 18th Century. So it's hardly surprising that the people of Corsica see themselves as somewhat remote from France, and I suspect that the main reasons why Corsican's voted 51%:49% against a measure of independence in a referendum last year were pragmatic ones.

A young Corsican lad I know has found himself a girl pen-friend at the other end of the island, and they have chosen to correspond with each other in the Corsican language. It's things like this that make you wonder... just how French is Corsica?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Two ways of discovering the Parc de Saleccia

The Parc de Saleccia - a few kilometres northwest of L'Ile Rousse on the road to Bastia - can be approached on two distinct levels.

As a day out surrounded by beautiful trees and shrubs it easily gets an eight out of ten from this regular garden visitor. I'd rather go there than London's Kew Gardens for instance - there are great facilities for kids in Saleccia, a nice snack-bar/drinks area and assistants who speak good English.

But you can look at Saleccia on another level entirely. If you are intrigued by essential oils, and want to know more about the plants that supply them, then you'll find most of the answers you are seeking there. If you want to discover more about olive trees - wild and cultivated - you'll be able to trace much of this tree's exotic and complex story in this small estate. You can also use your visit to Saleccia to find out about the maquis and the plants that make them up - the aromatic myrtle, the arboussier and rosemary. It's a bit like a living lexicon of Corsican vegetation.

Saleccia could do with a few more explanatory notices in languages other than French. And I wish someone would tidy up the beach just opposite: don't bother trying to go for a swim there afterwards - believe me, I've tried. But as a place to visit on one of the days you decide to give your favourite beach a miss, it takes a lot of beating for just a handful of euros.

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