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Corsica (kôrˈsĭkə), Fr. Corse, island, 3,352 sq mi (8,682 sq km), a region of metropolitan France, SE of France and N of Sardinia, in the Mediterranean Sea. Ajaccio, the capital, and Bastia are the chief towns and ports. The island is largely mountainous, culminating in Monte Cinto (8,891 ft/2,710 m). Corsica is divided into two administrative departments. French is the official language, but most Corsicans also speak a dialect akin to Italian.

Much of the island is wild, covered by dense shrubs called maquis, whose flowers produce a fragrance that carries far out to sea and has earned for Corsica the name “the scented isle.” The maquis also long provided hideouts for bandits, and banditry was not suppressed until the 1930s. Blood feuds between clans also persisted into modern times.

Fruit, cork, cigarettes, wine, and cheese are the main exports. Much wheat is produced, and sheep are raised. Tourism is important, with good air and sea transport from continental France.


After having belonged to the Romans (3d cent. B.C.–5th cent. A.D.), the Vandals, the Byzantines, and the Lombards, the island was granted (late 8th cent.) by the Franks to the papacy. It was threatened by the Arabs from c.800 to 1100. In 1077, Pope Gregory VII ceded Corsica to Pisa. Pisa and Genoa, later Genoa and Aragón, battled for control. In the mid-15th cent. actual administration of the island was taken up by the Bank of San Giorgio in Genoa. Genoese rule was harsh and unpopular, and unrest was typified by the 1730s episode of “King” Theodore I (see Neuhof, Theodor, Baron von).

In 1755, Pasquale Paoli headed a rebellion against Genoa, but its success resulted only in the cession (1768) of Corsica to France. One consequence of the transfer was the French citizenship of Napoleon I, who was born in 1769 at Ajaccio. With British support Paoli expelled the French in 1793, and in 1794 Corsica voted its union with the British crown. The French (under Napoleon) recovered it, however, in 1796, and French possession was guaranteed at the Congress of Vienna (1815). French rule brought education and relative order, but economic life remained agrarian and primitive.

In World War II, Corsica was occupied by Italian and German troops. Late in 1943 the population revolted, and, joined by a Free French task force, drove Axis forces out. A postwar population exodus caused the French government to announce a program of economic development. In 1958 a right-wing coup, similar to that in Algeria, contributed to the return to power in France of Charles de Gaulle.

Since the French took control in 1768, Corsica has seen separatist movements, with recurring incidents of violence, notably the Feb., 1998, assassination of the French prefect. Beginning in the 1990s the roles of true nationalists and of criminal gangs appeared to blur, and in the early 21st organized crime was a larger problem than separatism. From 1972 Corsica was a French administrative region with a regional council; in 1982, after the region gained the status of a territorial collectivity, the council was replaced by a regional assembly with executive powers. In 2001, France's parliament voted to give the assembly the power to amend some national legislation and regulations and to permit the Corsican language to be taught in schools, but the amending of national laws by regional bodies was declared unconstitutional. In 2003, after constitutional amendments permitting greater local autonomy were approved, a referendum on autonomy was held, but Corsican voters narrowly defeated it.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Corse), an island in the northern Mediterranean Sea. A department of France. Area, 8,700 sq km; population, 219,000 (1973), mainly Corsicans.

The island is an oval stretching from north to south. Length, 183 km; width, up to 85 km. The western shore is rocky and steep, cut by many gulfs (including Ajaccio and Porto) and bays. The eastern shore is flat, low, and only slightly broken. Corsica is formed mostly of granite in the west and argillaceous schist in the east. Most of the island is occupied by a meridional ridge up to 2,710 m high (Mount Cin’.), dissected deeply and intensively by river valleys. The highest peaks have alpine topography. In the east Corsica also has a narrow (up to 10 km) belt of maritime lowlands, which are very swampy in places.

The island’s Mediterranean climate has an average January temperature of 12°–13°C and an average July temperature of 24°–26°C; annual precipitation ranges from 600 mm on the plains to 1,000–1,200 mm in the mountains. Most of the precipitation occurs in the winter, sometimes as snow in the mountains. The short rivers (Tavignano, Golo, Gravone), with many rapids, grow shallow or dry up completely in the summer.

Up to altitudes of 600–700 m shrub formations (maquis) predominate, and there are forest regions of cork oak and holm oak and some species of pine. Up to 1,100–1,200 m there are forests of chestnut and oak; up to 1,900 m they consist of beech, alder, and pine; subalpine and alpine vegetation is found at higher altitudes. There is subtropical agriculture in the valleys and along the coast. Viticulture is the main agricultural activity, but there are also orchards (orange and other types), vegetable gardens, and olive plantations. The terraced slopes are covered with fields of wheat, barley, and corn. Sheep, horses, and don-keys are raised. Tourism is another source of income. Corsica’s main city and port is Ajaccio.


In antiquity Corsica was settled by Iberian and Ligurian tribes. In the third to second centuries B.C. it was captured by the Romans, and from the sixth to eighth centuries A.D. it be-longed to Byzantium. In 1347 the Genoese established them-selves on the island. In 1729 the Corsicans began an uprising against the Genoese rulers and carried on their struggle for independence until 1769, when they were defeated. According to the provisions of the Compiegne Convention (1764) and the Treaty of Versailles (1768), Genoa yielded Corsica to France. In 1793–95 the Corsicans tried to achieve the separation of Corsica from France by accepting English protectorate status. In 1796, Corsica was finally united with France.

After the fascist German troops invaded France (1940) during World War II (1939–45), the antifascist Resistance Movement began in Corsica in 1941. In November 1942, Corsica was occupied by fascist Italian and German forces. On Sept. 8–9, 1943, an antifascist liberation uprising broke out, and on September 13–17 the armed forces of the Free French landed on the island. On October 4 the liberation of Corsica was completed. During the 1958 political crisis the French Ultra temporarily seized power in Corsica on May 24, which contributed to the fall of the Fourth Republic. Napoleon Bonaparte was born on Corsica (in the city of Ajaccio).


Hureau, J. La Corse aujourd’hui. [Paris-Grenoble, 1970].
Arrighi, P. Histoire de la Corse. Paris, 1966.
Oregon, J. Nouvelle Histoire de la Corse. Paris, 1967.

M. M. NARINSKII [13–639–1; updated]

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


an island in the Mediterranean, west of N Italy: forms, with 43 islets, a region of France; mountainous; settled by Greeks in about 560 bc; sold by Genoa to France in 1768. Capital: Ajaccio. Pop.: 265 999 (2003 est.). Area: 8682 sq. km (3367 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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