First time visitors may find the clear turquoise beaches in Corsica not unlike those found in the Caribbean. A quick review of the island’s tumultuous past reveals how so many beaches in Corsica and other Mediterranean islands have managed to remain wild and undeveloped to this day.
From the 8th century on, Moors and pirates from North Africa terrorized the local population, plundering and even capturing some of the islanders as slaves. This constant threat instilled in Corsicans a deep fear of the sea, forcing them to seek refuge deep in the mountains.
Ancient villages were usually built at a safe distance from the ocean and rarely near the beach. (Many of the homes and buildings located near the ocean were built after WWII).Due to the island’s rugged coastline and mountainous terrain, unless an enemy ship stationed itself directly in front of a settlement, these villages were partially invisible from the sea.
The Sea Horn
Islanders who lived near the ocean blew on conch shells to quickly alert their neighbors of any potential threats. At the first sign of danger, a watchman would sound the alarm and while women and children locked themselves in the village church, the men would prepare for battle.
The sea horn (il corno marino) was used by Corsicans as a call to battle and a symbol of national pride and defiance against Genoa and Pisa. In later years, it was used to gather combatants from every village, during the time of Pascal Paoli, when Corsica wanted its independence from France.
This fact is illustrated by an incident that took place in 1729 while Corsica was still under Genoa’s control and some angry peasants protested against excessive taxes imposed by the Genoese. A group of Genoese soldiers were disarmed, undressed and sent walking to the city of Bastia while Corsican shepherds proudly sounded bells and blew their sea horns calling for a revolt.
The corno marino continued to be used even after the Genoese erected lookout towers at strategic spots around the island, in the 16th century, to protect it from enemy ships.
In recent centuries, long after the Moors stopped being a threat to the island, the majority of Corsicans continued maintaining a safe distance from the sea until the end of WWII. This proved to be a fortuitous factor that facilitated the liberation of Corsica on October 1943, 8 months prior to the invasion of Normandy.
Traditionally, Corsican families bequeathed land and property located in the interior of the island to their sons while parcels of land near the ocean, considered less desirable and of lesser value, were given to their daughters. (An interesting reversal took place around the 1960s as Corsica started to become a popular tourist destination, and many women suddenly found themselves owners of valuable oceanfront property in a modern world).
In a this article, we explore how Corsica’s secluded beaches helped shape the island’s history right down to the 20th century.
Footnote: Pascal Paoli was a revolutionary leader and founding father of the Corsican nation who fought for the island’s Independence from France during the 18th century.