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Corsica – Part 3


During the Pisan period, prosperity aplenty.

By Joe Cannavo

The fall of the Roman Empire in the West marked the beginning of centuries of outside occupations of Corsica starting in 568 when the Lombards began to invade Italy from the north. They advanced southwards, and in 725 they took over Corsica, but their desire was to unite an Italy that had become little more than a geographical location, having lost its identity as a political entity with the fall of Rome in 476 A.D. This idea did not meet with the approval of the papacy, and in 754 the pope turned to France for assistance.

Pippin the Short of France engaged in a successful campaign against the Lombards, and in 756 handed over some of the territory he had gained to the pope. Known as Pippin’s Gift, it later formed the basis for the creation of the Papal States. Corsica was part of this gift, but was one of the territories whose administration the Pope left to others. So the Corsicans were at the mercy of whatever governor happened to be in charge.

For the next 200 years Corsica was repeatedly invaded by the Saracens. With the retreat of the Saracens a unified government was apparently established in the 10th century under a Count of Corsica, but ended in the 11th century, when power fell into the hands of the local nobility. Some communities had elected chieftains, who often succeeded in making their authority hereditary. They took over Bonifacio in 1187 and Calvi in 1268. In the meantime, Sinucello della Rocca, profiting from the discord between the rival republics, made himself Master of Corsica, created and implemented a primitive constitution at a national assembly at Mariana in 1264. He was captured by the Genoese after the defeat of Pisa and died in prison in 1306.

The 10th century saw a sharp rise of power by this nobility. Important seigniorial families, often immigrants of Tuscan or Liguria origin, created fiefdoms on the island and ruled them with an iron hand. Some historians argue that Corsica’s present day close-knit clan system dates right back to this period.

In 1077, at the request of a group of Tuscan feudal lords, the pope appointed the Bishop of Pisa to oversee his Corsican interests, ushering the Pisan era in Corsica, which lasted until 1284.

The then-powerful Italian city-state of Pisa, continually at odds with Genoa continued its long time rivalry, and put commerce ahead of all other values and its bishop effectively served as a front man for Pisan merchants.

Corsica nevertheless also benefited from Pisan overlordship. The period was one of prosperity, development and peace. Beautiful Pisan-style churches were built in the Balagne, on and around the northeastern coast. Four prime examples are the Nebbio Cathedral in St-Florent, la Chiesa di San Michele di Murato, Aregno’s la Chiesa della Trinità, Church and The Cathedral of the Canonica.

Next issue: The end of Pisa’s control.

Corsican proverb
Corsican: Giuventu ! Giuventu! Una volta e po nun piu!
Italian: Gioventù! Gioventù! Una volta e poi non più.
English: (literal) Youth! Youth! Once and never again!
English equivalent: You’re only young once.

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