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

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