Corsica’s amazing megalithic sites show that humans have been here since the dawn of history. Although prehistoric peoples erected stone monuments along Europe’s entire Mediterranean and Atlantic coastline, only Corsica can boast menhirs (standing stones) like those at Filitosa, which bear individual human likenesses. Archaeologists believe the mysterious ‘Sea Peoples’ who once menaced the Pharaohs sailed west to Corsica during the Bronze Age, and re-shaped already-ancient monuments in their own image.
The island later passed into the hands of the Romans, before being ruled from the 11th to 13th centuries by the Italian city-state of Pisa. The Pisans were supplanted in turn in 1284 by their arch-rivals from Genoa, who constructed a massive network of coastal citadels and watchtowers to deter seaborne raiders.
In 1755, following 25 years of sporadic warfare, Corsicans declared their independence from the Genoese, and made the inland town of Corte their capital. Led by Pascal Paoli (1725–1807), they adopted the most democratic constitution in Europe. However, independence proved short-lived. In 1768, the Genoese ceded Corsica to Louis XV, whose troops crushed Paoli’s army in 1769, the very year Napoléon was born in Ajaccio. Corsica has remained part of France ever since, except for a brief spell under English domination in 1794–96.
The movement for Corsican autonomy emerged during the 1960s, in response to what activists described as France’s ‘colonialist’ policy. In 1976, as talk turned to demands for full independence, the Front de Libération Nationale de la Corse (FLNC) announced itself by planting bombs in several cities. Further attacks were targeted both at French officials and at non-Corsicans who bought second homes here. The FLNC soon fragmented into multiple splinter groups, and subsequently renounced violence altogether, although armed and violent sub-groups still survive.
Meanwhile, in a referendum in 2003, a proposal to grant the island greater autonomy was defeated after a nail-biting campaign. Since then, activists have concentrated on winning support for Corsican autonomy rather than outright independence. In 2014, the Corsican assembly adopted the Statut de Résident, requiring at least five years’ residency for anyone buying property on the island. Since 56.5 percent of Corsicans voted for nationalist parties in regional elections in December 2017, the French government has been under renewed pressure to grant further autonomy.