Corsica is a French island in the Mediterranean Sea. It is located west of Italy, southeast of the French mainland, and north of the Italian island of Sardinia. Mountains comprise two-thirds of the island, forming a single chain. Before French domination, Corsica was under the ownership of the Republic of Genoa.
Corsica is one of the 27 régions of France, although it is designated as a territorial collectivity (collectivité territoriale) by law. As a territorial collectivity, it enjoys some greater powers than other French régions. Corsica is referred to as a "région" in common speech, and is almost always listed among the other régions of France. Corsica is split into two departments, Haute-Corse and Corse-du-Sud, with its regional capital in Ajaccio, the prefecture of Corse-du-Sud. Bastia, the prefecture of Haute-Corse, is the second-largest settlement in Corsica.
Although the island is separated from the by the Ligurian Sea and is closer to Italy than to the French mainland, politically Corsica is part of Metropolitan France. After rule from the Republic of Genoa starting in 1282, Corsica was briefly an independent Corsican Republic from 1755 until its conquest by France in 1769. Corsica's culture contains elements of both the French and Italian, and its constitution while a Republic was written in Italian. The native Corsican language is recognised as a regional language by the French government.
The French emperor Napoléon Bonaparte was born in 1769 in the Corsican capital of Ajaccio. His ancestral home, Casa Buonaparte, is today used as a museum. The northern town of Calvi claims to be the birthplace of the explorer Christopher Columbus.
The origin of the name Corsica is subject to much debate and remains a mystery. To the Ancient Greeks was known as Kalliste, Cyrnos, Cernealis, Corsis or Cirné.
After a brief occupation by the Carthaginians, colonization by the ancient Greeks, and an only slightly longer occupation by the Etruscans, it was incorporated by the Roman Republic and became with Sardinia a province of the Roman Empire.
In the 5th century, the Roman Empire collapsed and the island was invaded by the Vandals, the Visigoths, the Saracens, and the Lombards. Pepin the Short, king of the Franks and Charlemagne's father, expelled the invaders and granted Corsica to Pope Stephen II through the exarchate of Ravenna (756), which was the starting point of the temporal power of the papacy.
The Genoese took possession of the island in 1347, and governed it until 1729 – interrupted only by a brief occupation by forces of a Franco-Ottoman alliance in the Invasion of Corsica (1553). The Barbary pirates from North Africa frequently attacked Corsica, resulting in many Genoese towers being erected.
In 1729 the Corsican Revolution for independence began. After 26 years of struggle against the Republic of Genoa, the independent Corsican Republic was formed in 1755 under the leadership of Pasquale Paoli and remained sovereign until 1769 when it was conquered by France. The first Corsican Constitution was written in Italian (the language of culture in Corsica until the end of the 19th century) by Paoli. He proclaimed that Italian was the official language of Corsica.
The Corsican Republic was unable to eject the Genoese from the major coastal bodies. Following French losses in the Seven Years War, Corsica was purchased by France from the Republic of Genoa in 1764. After an announcement and brief war in 1768–69 Corsican resistance was largely ended at the Battle of Ponte Novu. Despite triggering the Corsican Crisis in Britain, whose government gave secret aid, no foreign military support came for the Corsicans. Corsica was incorporated into France in 1770, marking the end of Corsican sovereignty. However, nationalist feelings still ran high.
Following the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, Pasquale Paoli was able to return to Corsica from exile in Britain. In 1794 he invited British forces under Lord Hood to intervene to free Corsica from French rule. Anglo-Corsican forces drove the French from the island and established an Anglo-Corsican Kingdom. Following Spain's entry into the war the British decided to withdraw from Corsica in 1796. Corsica then returned to French rule.
In 1814, near the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the island was briefly occupied again by British troops. The Treaty of Bastia gave the British crown sovereignty over the island, but it was later repudiated by Lord Castelreagh who insisted that the island should be returned to a restored French monarchy.
In Corsica, vendetta was a social code that required Corsicans to kill anyone who wronged the family honour. Between 1821 and 1852, no fewer than 4,300 murders were perpetrated in Corsica.
After the collapse of France to the German Wehrmacht in 1940, it came under the rule of the Vichy French regime, which was collaborating with the Nazis. Prior to its use as an aircraft base to attack German-occupied Italy, it was liberated by Italian and Free French Forces shortly after the Italian armistice in 1943.
During World War II, the island was nicknamed "USS Corsica", as the United States military established 17 airfields on Corsica for American tactical bomber groups attacking targets in Italy. One of the pilots stationed there was Joseph Heller, who would use his wartime experience in the creation of his novel Catch-22.
During the May 1958 crisis, French paratroopers from the Algerian corps landed on Corsica on May 24, taking the French island in a bloodless action called "Operation Corse."