Europe

Corsica profile - Overview

A rugged, unspoilt region of France known as the scented isle, Corsica has a distinctive character moulded by centuries of invasion and occupation.

The Mediterranean island has also experienced a violent independence struggle that has raged since the 1970s.

Corsica is largely mountainous; high cliffs and rocky inlets characterise much of its coast. The interior boasts deep forests, glacial lakes, gorges, maquis-covered slopes and snow-capped granite peaks. Wilderness areas attract walkers and nature-lovers.

Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of the French, was born in Ajaccio, the capital of Corsica's southern departement. The Maison Bonaparte in the town is now a museum. The island's architectural features include Genoese fortresses, watchtowers and baroque churches.

Local culture finds expression in folk music and handicrafts. The Tuscan-influenced Corsican language is taught in the island's schools.

The island is studded with standing stones and other monuments, evidence of human occupation in neolithic times. The Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans all left their mark. Vandals, Goths and Moors were among the later invaders.

The Genoese from Italy ruled Corsica from the 1400s-1700s, and occasionally came to blows with the local aristocracy, nationalists and the French. A nationalist rebellion led to the foundation of a Corsican republic in 1755. But independence was short-lived; the Genoese ceded the island to France, whose troops invaded in 1769.

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Image caption Calvi, the main tourist destination on Corsica, has a rich and chequered history

Corsica is one of France's least-developed regions and receives large subsidies from Paris. Tourism is an important part of the island's economy, but large stretches of the seaboard remain undeveloped. Much of the population is concentrated in the main towns of Bastia and Ajaccio.

Separatist groups seeking greater autonomy for the island carried out bombing campaigns from the mid-1970s, often targeting police stations and administrative buildings. In 1998 France's top official on the island was assassinated.

Despite this high-profile killing, by the turn of the century the separatists militants had failed to make much headway in their campaign against the French state. In-fighting was consuming the various independence factions and public support for the armed struggle was declining.

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Image caption Following decades of violence, nationalist aspirations now tend to find more peaceful expression

In 2003, a French government proposal to give the island greater autonomy was narrowly rejected by Corsicans in a referendum.

By the following decade, the nationalist fervour of the 1970s had subsided to the extent that it did not come as a complete surprise when in June 2014 the main separatist faction, the FLNC - National Front for the Liberation of Corsica - declared a permanent and unconditional ceasefire.

The FLNC's move appears to have been prompted by a decision by the regional assembly to give Corsican-born people priority in buying property on the island.

Nationalist aspirations now tend to be channelled into peaceful political activity, and a majority of Corsicans appear to be in favour of greater autonomy rather than outright independence from France.

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