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Corsica has 1,000km of coastline and more than 200 beaches, and is very mountainous, with Monte Cinto as the highest peak at 2706m and at least 50 other summits of more than 2000m.
The island is separated from Sardinia by the Strait of Bonifacio.
Main towns: (Corsican names)
Ajaccio (Aiacciu) – also known by its Latin name of Ajax
Other towns and villages:
Saint-Florent (San Fiurenzu)
L'Île-Rousse (Isula Rossa)
Santa Reparata di Balagna (Santa Riparata di Balagna)
St-Martin en Lotte (San Martinu di Lota)
Calenzana ( Calinzana )
The island has a Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and mild, rainy winters. The natural vegetation is Mediterranean forests, woodlands, and shrubs. The coastal lowlands are part of the Tyrrhenian-Adriatic sclerophyllous and mixed forests ecoregion, in which forests and woodlands of evergreen sclerophyll oaks predominate, chiefly Holm Oak (Quercus ilex) and Cork Oak (Quercus suber). The mountains are cooler and wetter, and home to the Corsican montane broadleaf and mixed forests ecoregion, which supports diverse forests of oak, pine, and broadleaf deciduous trees, with vegetation more typical of northern Europe on the slopes of the highest peaks.
Much of the coastal lowlands has been cleared for agriculture, grazing, and logging which has reduced the mountain forests considerably.
The island has a natural park (Parc Naturel Régional de Corse), which protects thousands of rare animal and plant species. The park was created in 1972 and includes the Golfe de Porto, the Réserve Naturelle de Scandola (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and some of the highest mountains on the island. This park is protected and cannot be reached on foot, but sumptuous sails are available in order to discover unique landscapes. Two endangered subspecies of hoofed mammals, the mouflon (Ovis aries musimon) and Corsican red deer (Cervus elaphus corsicanus) inhabit the island; the Corsican red deer is endemic.
The island was under Carthaginian influence and domination until 237 BC, when it was taken over by the Roman Republic. It remained under Roman domination until its conquest by the Vandals in AD 430, and later by the Byzantine Empire in 522. With the collapse of Byzantine control, the island came under various influences, including Arabs and Lombards, before it finally fell to Genoa in 1284 following the Battle of Meloria against Pisa. Despite take-overs by Aragon between 1296-1434 and France between 1553-1559, the island would remain under the Genoese until sold to France in 1768.
The Corsican republic
An important figure in Corsican history is Pasquale Paoli (1725-1807), the Corsican general and leader who struggled for Corsican independence, first against Genoa, then against France. Though never completely ridding the island from the Genoese, the Corsican Republic (the fighters referred to it as a kingdom but as the sovereign was the Virgin Mary herself, it was a republic in all but name) was the first democratic republic established under Enlightenment principles, being established in 1755. The Corsican Constitution was drafted around that time, which was also a first for Corsica. It was in Pasquale Paoli's time in 1760 that the Moor's head ("Testa Maura") became Corsica's emblem, harking back to the period from 850 to 1034 when Corsica was controlled by Moors.
Genoa sold its claim on Corsica to France in 1768. French forces invaded to assert ownership, eventually defeating the republican forces in 1769. Paoli went into exile in London.
Corsica is also the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was born in Ajaccio in 1769, into minor Corsican nobility. Corsica was under French control at the time, and Corsican nobles were offered the ability to gain French titles if they could prove their genealogy sufficiently. In an attempt to do so, Napoleon's parents traveled to court in France, and, like many other Corsican nobles, sent their son to school there.
The capital of the territorial collectivity of Corsica is Ajaccio (Corsican: Aiacciu). The territorial collectivity is divided in two departments: Corse-du-Sud and Haute-Corse. These two departments were created on September 15, 1975 by splitting the hitherto united department of Corse.
Recent attempts to gain greater autonomy for the territorial collectivity of Corsica have failed. A local referendum held in 2003, aimed at disbanding the departments and leaving only the territorial collectivity with extended powers, was voted down by a narrow margin.
There is an elective Corsican Assembly.
Tourism plays a major role in the Corsican economy. The island's pleasant climate, beautiful mountains and breathtaking coastlines make it a popular destination among the French and other Western Europeans. However, the island has not had the same level of intensive development as other parts of the Mediterranean and is thus relatively unspoiled. Tourism is particularly concentrated in the area around Porto Vecchio and Bonifacio in the south of the island and Calvi in the northwest.
Corsica is currently governed almost as any other region of France, as explained in the introduction. There are several movements on the island calling for some degree of Corsican autonomy from France, or even full independence. Generally speaking, autonomist proposals focus on the promotion of the Corsican language, more power for local governments, and some exemptions from national taxes in addition to those already applying to Corsica.
The French government is opposed to full independence, as they think it would threaten France's unity, but has at times shown support for some level of autonomy. There is support on the island for proposals of greater autonomy, but polls show that a large majority of Corsicans are opposed to full independence (Ardagh, 1999).
Some groups who support Corsican independence have carried out a violent campaign since the 1970s that includes bombings and a few assassination attempts, usually targeting pieds-noirs and other non-Corsicans, or buildings and officials representing the French government. The peaceful occupation of a pied-noir vineyard in Aléria in 1975 marked a turning point when the French government responded with overwhelming force, generating sympathy for the independence groups among the Corsican population. However, events such as the murder of prefect Claude Érignac on February 6, 1998 (for which Yvan Colonna was arrested five years later) have only served to convince many in Corsica, as well as in the French government and the general French public, that Corsican nationalists cannot be trusted with more autonomy. The increasing number of racist attacks on immigrants have reinforced this opinion.
Some of the independence groups are known to practice extortion and other intimidatory tactics, not dissimilar from mafia activity in Sicily and southern Italy. Non-Corsican homeowners may be threatened with the destruction of their home, able to be avoided only through paying a ransom. Journalists writing articles critical of the armed groups have sometimes been threatened. Prosecutions are made difficult by a pervasive "law of silence". It is sometimes suggested that such behavior stems from longstanding clan traditions in Corsican society.
In 2000, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin agreed to grant increased autonomy to Corsica in exchange for an end to violence. The proposed autonomy for Corsica would have included greater protection for the Corsican language (Corsu), the island's traditional language (which is a direct derivative of Latin), whose practice and teaching, like other regional or minority languages in France, had in the past been discouraged. According to the UNESCO classification, the Corsican language is currently in danger of becoming extinct. However, the plans for increased autonomy were opposed by the Gaullist opposition in the French National Assembly, who feared that they would lead to calls for autonomy from other regions (such as Brittany or Alsace), eventually threatening France's unity as a country.
In a referendum on July 6, 2003, a narrow majority of Corsican voters opposed a project from the government of Jean-Pierre Raffarin and Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy that would have suppressed the two departments of the island and granted greater autonomy to the territorial collectivity of Corsica.
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