Here is information about the mystique of Corsica, the Corsican flag, symbols and emblems of the island.

The Mystique of Corsica.

This page aims to share with you something of the mystique* of Corsica, its special values enfolded in images, culture, nature, rituals and artefact. A testa di moru, the moor's head, forms the national flag of Corsica and the other symbols of Corsica that are grouped below are Corsica Isula's own selection checked out with Corsicans. They all carry symbolic importance both for their role in daily life and also their spiritual characteristics. But then the physical and metaphysical are interwoven and inseparable in the minds of most Corsicans.

* a fascinating quality of mystery, glamour, or power associated with someone or something. An air of secrecy surrounding an activity or subject, making it impressive or baffling to the layperson.

A Testa di Moru (Moor's head).

A Granėtula (spiral).

L'Ochju di Santa Lucia (eye of St Lucie).

E Corne e l'Ochju (horns and the 'Eye').

A Muvra (mouflon).

U Cursinu (the Corsican dog).

U Culombu (conch).

A Beatėssima (Blessed Virgin).

L'Albucciu (asphodel).

U Pagliaghju/U Stazzu (the shepherd's hut).

A Stantara (statue menhir).

A Filetta (bracken).

A Paghjella (a form of polyphony).

U Malmignāttu (Black Widow spider).

I Signatori (exorcists).

U Paese (the village).

Ponti Genovesi (Genoese bridges).

Chjam' č Risponde (poetic jousts).

Orii (troglodyte houses).

Corsica Isula has chosen these particular images to symbolise Corsica. If you want to look for others on Google, 'symbols of Corsica' typed into the search box below will yield some 42 000 references!

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The Web Corsica Isula

Corsica can be represented by many symbols. The principal image is that of the Moor's Head, of course. This symbol and several others form pendants on chains around the necks of men and women. You may also see one depicting an outline of the island, like the one here, though it's modern, not traditional.

If you want to see another selection of Corsican symbols - then order a copy of Symboles de la Corse by Jean-René Laplayne - it's in French of course and the list is different to the one below, though we have many of the same symbols.

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A Testa di Moru.

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The Testa di Moru, the black Moor's head on a white background forms the national flag of Corsica. The Moor's head with a white bandeau was adopted by Pasquale Paoli in 1762 as the official emblem of independent Corsica. It was inherited from the kings of Aragon, who were invested with Corsica by the Pope in the Middle Ages. Four Moors heads became the arms of Sardinia after the Aragonese conquest and, with a cross of St George separating them, they remain the national flag of the neighbouring island. The Aragonese never conquered Corsica, but they claimed it as their own. It first appeared in Corsica in 1573 in an atlas showing the lands of Philip II.

The bandeau originally blindfolded the eyes of the Moor, while it is now raised to his forehead. There are those who see its removal as a symbol of freedom from slavery. There are others, who claim that it dates from the time of the Saracen invasions and the Corsicans' habit of decapitating the moors. King Theodore, who also made use of this symbol in 1736, strangely had the bandeau covering the eyes.

When Sir Gilbert Elliot was created Baron Minto, after his two years as Viceroy of Corsica [1794-96], he included the Moor's head on his personal coat of arms. If you want to buy a Corsican flag, go to Corsica Shop (and look under the heading 'various Corsican objects'!). For an interesting article on the flag's origins go to Accademia Corsa.

A Granėtula.

from a design by Toni Casalonga, originally for a Passion play in the Balagne

The spiral - granėtula in Corsican - is a symbol of great importance in Corsica. It represents the shape of the conch seashell. The Granėtula is also the spiral procession, which is led by i cunfraterni, the lay brotherhoods, on Good Friday in many towns and villages on the island. The snail-like labyrinthine procession is orchestrated by the Prieur [prior], whose measured steps are accompanied by the chanting of dirges in honour of the dead Christ. An effigy is normally carried on a bier and in the case of Calvi, the body is transported from the Cathedral in the citadel down to the low town and back again, with stops at strategic and traditional stops for the winding round and round into a tight knot and then unfurling again to resume the procession. If you want to read a bit more (in French), go to the Curagiu site.

There is a similar granėtula procession that takes place at the Santa di U Niolu led by the image of the Virgin, Santa Maria della Stella, at Casamaccioli in September.

There are many different ways to explain the symbolic ritual. It can be seen as time enclosing space, with no beginning and no end. There are others who would interpret it as a way going from darkness into the light. Nearing the Spring, it can be taken as symbolic of the passing of the seasons. It was adopted long ago as a piece of Christian ritual associated with the resurrection. Similarly there are those who take it as a way of expressing birth, death and rebirth. More simply the coiling and uncoiling procession can be read as yin and yang, or pairs such as intellect and will, or knowledge and love.

The spiral appears in many decorations on churches to packets of prunes! Corsican prunes go under the brand of Bellu Sole and are superb, by the way.

L'Ochju di Santa Lucia.

illustration by James Nicholls Š Hamlyn Publishing 1976

The Eye of Santa Lucia is the name given by fishermen to the operculum [the small plate that closes the opening of a mollusc's shell when the animal retracts] of a gastropod or sea snail called Astraea rugosa found in the Mediterranean waters of Corsica. The snail has seven or so whorls or spirals on its shell and the operculum is likewise in the form of an orangy-pink 3-D ear-like spiral on the outside and a flat browny-white spiral on the inside. It is a very beautiful oval shape of 1-2 centimetres in height. It is often bound in gold to form a pendant.

There are many stories about Saint Lucy. She is a Christianised Juno Lucina, the Mother of Light, who bestowed the gifts of light, enlightenment and eyesight, especially as the opener of newborn eyes. Lucy's legend was the same 'virgin martyr' told of many other mythical female saints. Her legendary chastity had her send a pagan suitor her eyes on a platter after his admiration of them. As late as 1890 in neighbouring Tuscany, witches still used her healing charm, a wreath of rue tied with a red ribbon, making the patient spit three times through the wreath, calling on St Lucy for protection against the evil eye. The Corsican Eye of St Lucy is still felt to be such a protection, especially for eyesight.

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E Corne and l'Ochju.

auto-photos by Alex Keyser

E corne, the horns, are a sign made by a clenched fist with the index and little fingers outstretched to make like a head with horns to defend yourself against the Evil Eye, inuchjatura or ghjettatura or simply the 'Eye' - l'ochju. Another similar protection is a clenched hand, but with the thumb between the index and second fingers. This symbol, often carved in red coral is frequently worn as a talisman, as also is a single coral tip. If you'd like to buy one, then visit www.coralsite.com/coral/index.htm and click on corse bonheur, or go to www.lamaisonducorail.com . There are very few coral fishers left in Corsica, but you can see the worked results of their hauls in many gift shops, though the raw material is worked in Italy. In 1770 there were 600 coral divers in Ajaccio, but nowadays there are only a handful of licensed divers.

Red coral has been harvested since antiquity. An excellent book has been produced, based on a history colloquy in Bonifacio in 2003 - Le Corail en Méditerranée.

The Evil Eye can be imparted without malice by accident, for example if one comments favourably on a baby, without adding God's blessing. Often simply referred to as 'the Eye', it can also be cast malevolently, when it will probably be necessary to seek the aid of una Signadore. A Signadore is a woman, who will have received her abilities on a Christmas Eve, generally from her mother, and who is able to reveal the patient's condition and deal with the Eye if it is manifested during her diagnosis. The symbolic ritual has been passed down through the geerations from time immemorial.

The Signadore's diagnosis is a simple, though she brings her deep integrity to the act. The generally efficacious rite involves the dropping of olive oil heated by a lamp onto a soup plate of cold water, the signing of the cross [or cutting the Eye] and the repetition of secret incantations [the pious ones would call them prayers]. The oil's pattern on the water is what reveals the patient's condition: physical, mental as well as his or her prospects and any evidence of the Eye. The Eye is present if the oil refuses to coalesce, even with the help of a coaxing finger. Signadori repeat the exercise three times with the intention of persuading the Eye to depart. The symbolism of the oil being dispersed is that the person is 'to pieces' and when coalesced that the person is 'up together'.

A Muvra.

A muvra, the Corsican mouflon, is ovis ammon musimon var. corsicana, a wild and reticent mountain sheep, whose origins lie in the Middle East and has been in Corsica since the Stone Age when they were domesticated, about seven thousand years BC. The moufflon was used for its meat and their coats. Their coats are shed naturally and consist of hair and kemp, which is coarser. It was used to make non-woven felt. Such felt was used to make the peloni, the traditional Corsican shepherds' capes.

The mouflon is presumed to have been widespread on the island in the middle ages, with middle eastern origins. The so-called Corsican mouflon generally includes Sardinian and Cypriot variants. However, the local population has been subject to hybridisation and thus has remained a specific subspecies.

There are many place names taken from the Corsican word muvra, for the race in general and the female, or u muvrone, the male and the young mouflon, i muvrini. Hence the name of the singing group, I Muvrini - the plural form. The 'corsiste' newspaper founded in 1920 was named after the animal - A Muvra - so that its intent could be easily appreciated. The mouflon is emblematic of Corsica, yet most Corsicans have never seen one and many human factors contribute to the risks the mouflon faces.

Sadly they are now reduced to an estimated 1000 animals, while there were about 4000 head in 1900. Hunting moufflon has been forbidden since 1955, but the increasing numbers of people and activity in the mountains put their survival at risk. The current rate of reproduction is insufficient to ensure the avoidance of the extinction of the species.

The threats include poaching - males for their horns and kids for meat; genetic impoverishment of the two separated herds; fire; wild boar hunting (the dogs/noise); extreme sports; catarrhal fever. Help is at hand with support from the EU Life Nature programme. The Parcu di Corsica is running a scheme to conserve (better surveillance; threat reduction; offer alternative food sources to the bearded vulture; public information) and to increase the population of Corsican mouflons (involving capture, breeding and then re-introducing specimens: 10-20 per year from 2006/7).

Mouflons live well away from people - nowadays mainly in the massifs of Bavella and Monte Cinto massif, including the higher parts of the Bonifatu forest. Apparently they can jump 2 metres, though I can't confirm this, for although I done a lot of walking in the mountains, I have never seen one. They are sheep after all and as César Mattei of the Parcu di Corsica tells me, they have been pushed by man into the mountains and have had to adapt; they are not naturally sure-footed like the deer. Their small numbers have had a negative effect upon the bearded vulture, for whom fallen mouflons are a significant food source!

They live on shoots of trees and shrubs, fruit such as chestnuts, berries, acorns and beechnuts, mushrooms, bracken and most of all, grass. The male grows to to about 2ft 6in at the shoulder and the female is slightly shorter. The male has wonderful horns, which are triangular at their base. They grow to an almost complete circle. These horns are often depicted in graphic form to symbolise the island. The special place of the moufflon in Corsican symbolism is based on its severe unconquerable wildness.

A Maison de la Moufflon has opened in the Asco gorge, an area where between five and six hundred beasts have been identified. It is in a wonderful woodland setting by the river and it opens between the end of June and mid-September (for details contact the Asco town hall - 04 95 47 82 07.

There is also an indiginous Corsican deer, which was reintroduced in 1985 - Cervus Elaphus Corsicanus.

For anyone who must, the animals can still be hunted in Missouri, USA at the High Adventure Ranch. On the other hand there's Rickey Hunt, a breeder of so-called 'European' mouflons in Texas. There are said to be some 100 000 'Corsican mouflons' distributed around the world.

If you'd like more detail on the Corsican Mouflon, then you can download the article on the subject (in a pdf), by clicking here.

Some reading if you want to know more about Mediterranean animals: Complete Mediterranean Wildlife by Paul Sterry.

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U Cursinu.

Torcu, one of Jean-Louis Guidoni's Cursinu dogs

The Cursinu is Corsica’s ‘national’ dog (officially recognised in 2003) that has been around since the sixteenth century and is very well adapted to Corsica’s rough terrain.  It’s a polyvalent creature, often used for hunting wild boar, but equally it’s an excellent sheep/goat dog and is super guard dog as well as being a loving companion. He is a fearless animal, who is sometimes apprehensive of strangers, but at the same time is very calm - relaxed in the house and very energetic outside.  The Cursinu is a healthy dog and frugal eater (strong, but not prone to heaviness) that needs a caring master who will exercise or work him, train him well and give strong commands.  The Cursinu has a short to medium coat and medium build and is generally brindled in colour with variations of the density of tan and black.  His eyes are hazel to dark chestnut and very expressive. If you'd like to know where to get one, download the Cursinu pdf.

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U Culombu.

photo by Alex Keyser

U Culombu, the conch shell known as le Triton in French and whose official name is Charonia rubicunda, is also known as U Cornu Marinu or Tromba di Mare, once its end has been cut off to form a trumpet. It was an essential part of a fisherman's or shepherd's equipment. It was used as a means of communication and was especially important to imparting a warning of impending invasion by the Saracens or other marauders.

Like many shellfish, the creature's shell is in the form of a spiral, like the Eye of St Lucy. Images of it figure on many decorative objects, which is hardly surprising from an anthropological point of view. The conch found around Corsica's shores, is typically 20-30 and up to 40 centimeters long and fits very comfortable in the hand.

Its surface is striated in a right-handed coil and its top cone is lapped over by the main body part of the shell. It is a beautiful object and among the very few possessions of a traditional Corsican, one can easily see what it was so treasured. It must have been as important a part of one's equipment as the traditional Corsican pocket knife.

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A Beatėssima.

a Madonna from a C16 fresco in the Oratory of St Antoine in Calvi photo by Alex Keyser

The Beatėssima, the Blessed Virgin Mary is the patroness of the island and the hymn to her, Dio Vi Salvi, Regina, is in effect the Corsican national anthem. If you would like to listen to it, click here.

Here are the first three verses:

May the Lord protect you, Queen

And universal mother

By whose favour we are received

Into paradise.

 

You are the joy and the delight

Of the inconsolable

Of the tormented

The unique hope.

 

Welcome us poor sinners

Into your Holy veil

And reveal your

Son to us.

Several statues of the Virgin, myth has it, have been washed up on the shores of Corsica and most have miraculous powers. Thus Mary, the mother of Jesus has inherited the sea attributes of Aphrodite, although this has no Biblical evidence. Aphrodite herself was descended from Astarte, the star goddess of the eastern Mediterranean. In the church at Casamaccioli there is a Santa Maria della Stella and it is she who is paraded at the festival of the nativity of the Virgin - A Santa di u Niolu - every September.

In the C18, rebel leaders placed the newborn state under the protection of the Immaculate Conception, thus the Virgin was acknowledged as Queen. Dorothy Carrington in 'Granite Island' that, 'Even the Virgin was never quite dissociated, in the Corsican mind, from war; yet her elevation was one of the great triumphs of the clergy. It consecrated a feminine archetype alien to a people who while insisting on the sexual purity of women also assigned to them the occult, death-dealing powers of voceratrice and mazzere. And so it is appropriate that she should be portrayed, in local legend, as a merciful stranger come from across the sea.'

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L'Albucciu.

There are at least 18 names for the asphodel in Corsican, from l'albucciu [Cap Corse] to u zirlu [Nebbio]. As is frequently the case in Corsican, the name changes according to the use, eg u taravellu is when it growing, tirlu or zirlu when it's dry, or luminellu or candellu when it was used for lighting.

However it is used to be such a significant plant that it was said of emigrated Corsicans, who had forgotten their origins, that they no longer knew the asphodel - un' cumnosce pių l'albucciu.

It is a very common plant in Corsica, being able to survive in most kinds of soil and it is very difficult to eradicate. Three varieties flourish at different levels: aspodelus fistolosus on the coast, micrcocarpus up to 500 metres and cerasifere gay from 800 to 1500m. It flowers in the spring, when it is very attractive to bees and becomes dry in the summer. The flowers are a delicate mauve.

The asphodel has many properties from the physical to the metaphysical. Its dry stalks were used as torches as well as for firelighting. The dry leaves were used for filling u saccone, the mattress, and stuffing saddles, since they don't rot and bulk up a mattress. The dry leaves also served as animal forage and still do, though beasts will not eat the plant when it's growing. The tubers can be eaten in various ways - ground into flour, cooked and seasoned with salt and olive oil, cut and mixed with figs - or used to make aqua vita. The shoots can be fried and the seeds grilled. It can also be a remedy against 'bad eating'.

Two dry asphodel stalks were used to make toy windmills, by nailing one atop the other, with cardboard sails at the ends. With it held in front, a child had a woderful windmill that has sails turning in two planes.

It is alleged to have many therapeutic uses. For example, the seeds, stalk or tubers mixed with wine will cure venomous bites and left on the pillow can be a protection. Tubers crushed with pulenda for the nerves and joints; the juice of tubers mixed with honey for body pains; for baldness, ash of the roots; the roots made into a drink for urinary or menstrual problems, though if mixed with wine - as an aphrodisiac...

In Corsica had several occult uses by mazzeri [shamen - and if you want to know more about them read the The Dream Hunters of Corsica by Dorothy Carrington]. It is seen above all as a connection between the living and the dead, the earth and the tomb and between season and season, as well as darkness and light, hot and cold. It is thanks to the asphodel that the mazzeri can show their strength. It is the great protector. People used to make cross from the asphodel to protect or encourage their crops. It was very important in midsummer at the festival of St John the Baptist [24 June].

If you'd like to see a good close-up shot of an asphodel [and other wild flowers], then click here.

If you want to know about Mediterranean wild flowers, here's the book for you: DKHandbook:Wildflowers of the Mediterranean by David Burnie.

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U Pagliaghju/U Stazzu.

this one is in the Nebbiu...              and this one is in the Balagne

A paliaghju (or paillier) is a place where a shepherd stored his hay and a stazzu (or bergerie) is where the shepherd kept sheep and often himself. Groups of such buildings are called piazzili and a section reserved for sheep and goats is called grėtulu.

When shepherds went up to the mountains in the summer, or down to the coastal plains in the winter, they would often live for months in bergeries, watching their flocks and making cheese. A few still do. There is one who makes a good living from walkers this way, since his bergerie is right near the path at the head of the Restonica valley leading up to the volcanic lakes of Melu and Capitellu.

They generically get called bergeries and they vary enormously in construction, with particularities locality by locality. These variations depended upon available materials or different husbandry practices. There are tens of thousands throughout the island and some have been readopted for habitation, but as a general rule they are fierced protected, even in states of ruin, since they represent Corsica's pastoral heritage and the transhumance.

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A Stantara.

a statue menhir at Filitosa

A Stantara, the statue menhir is a tall upright monumental prehistoric stone. Standing stones exist widely in the world and while many will debate their origins, what is sure that there relatively few places where such monuments are carved. Corsican statue menhirs are unique in their particular features. Unlike other carved menhirs such as the Mayan ones, those in Corsica seem all to be male. These human figures suggest that the neolithic culture in Corsica had become paternalistic in contrast to the veneration elsewhere of the Universal Mother.

Most of the stones in the south are from the Bronze Age, whereas until recently those in the north were considered to be of late Bronze or early Iron Age. Most of the statues have been found in the south, though there are examples in the north. Indeed, one has recently been unearthed not far from Calvi. The Marcuncellu stone, at Luzzipeu, has been dated as being neolithic ie pre-Bronze Age. The one pictured above is at Filitosa, one of the most important sites discovered to date.

There remains a question about what happened to the megalithic people of Corsica. Roger Grosjean believes that they were defeated in war by the Torreans from the eastern Mediterranean about 1500 BC. He believes that the stones carved with swords and daggers were probably done to portray Torreans killed in battle [if you want to see an example of one such at Cauria, then go to www.stonepages.com/cauria_2.html.

Even after the Greek and Roman invasions, Corsicans had continued to worship these stones. Dorothy Carrington suggests that 'there is evidence to show that the megalithic faith lived on in the deeper layers of the Corsican psyche, affecting customs, attitudes, values, almost to the present time. Funeral rites from the deep past, with wailing, verse-improvisation by i voceri [women mourners] and dancing, though frowned on by the Church, were performed until recent years...the dead were often collectively buried in the vaults of churches; the rarity of coffins cannot be attributed to excessive poverty but rather to a tradition dating back to megalithic times...' [Granite Island]

Like many other aspects of island culture, Corsicans are fiercely proud of this enigmatic aspect of their history.

Now, if you want a real treat, then go to Paola Arosio & Diego Meozzi's website called www.stonepages.com. Apart from anything else, they did a tour of Ancient Corsica in September 2000 and have produced movies and still pictures of many stones, including of course, Filitosa. Their site is devoted to European megaliths and they have material on the 359 sites that they have so far visted. Of course, their Ancient Corsica Tour does not have an inventory of all the Corsican megaliths, but it is one of the fullest catalogues that's easily available. In any event, the experts reckon that there are vast numbers yet to be discovered. The Stonepages site about ancient sites is a delight as an ultra-modern site, too.

If you get into the subject, read: The Archaeology of Medieval Prehistory by Emma Blake & A Bernard Knapp; Megalithic Europe, the 21st century traveller in Prehistoric Europe by Julian Cope; Europe in the Neolithic - the Creation of New Worlds by Alisdair Whittl; The Oxford Illustrated History of Prehistoric Europe by Barry W Cunliffe; Prehistoric Europe by Timothy Champion, Clive Gamble & Stephen Shennan; Tombs, Temples and Their Orientations: a new perspective on Mediterranean Prehistory by Michael Hoskin.

In French, Laurent-Jacques Casta has written, Corse Prehistorique.

There is more on archaeology on the Corsican Websites page.

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A Filetta.

A Filetta is bracken - pteridium aquilinum. It grows in una filacaghja, or una filettaghja both of which mean simply 'a place where bracken grows'. In effect its favourite place in Corsica is beneath chestnut trees, especially in the big forests like the Castagniccia. Its uses are many: cut in September, bunched and stored in the cellar, it is used to singe the hair from pigs after slaughtering, which traditionally was during the winter months. Pigs that have been reared in the forests and fed on chestnuts make some of the most excellent Corsican charcuterie. In October when the sows farrow, dried bracken is used as litter. It has always been the most reliable of diets for pigs, too. Even in a dry summer when the earth is too dry to be rootled by the pigs, breeders will dig up their roots that go by the name of felica.

Mountain shepherds use bracken as litter for theirsheep, as well as to filter milk and to conserve the freshness of their cheeses. Trout kept in bracken helps to preserve them. The old people used to plant bracken to protect the beans they cultivated and dried it works well as fertilizer. Some planted trees on a ned of burned bracken. A friend of mine tells me that green bracken leaves are a wonderful killer of fleas.

To the Corsican, bracken represents liviliness as it is such a perpetual plant and so much in evidence on the island. As with the asphodel, there are those who explain that a Corsican who has left the country and forgotten his roots has forgotten bracken - un' cumnosce pių a filetta. It is for this reason that the singing group A Filetta so named itself.

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A Paghjella.

The paghjella is often [wrongly] seen as synonymous with polyphony. It is a profane song form that is applied to seduction, satire, lamentation or other strong emotions. Generally without the kind of popularly expressed notion of rhythm, polyphony is often referred to as the song of a free people. It has, nonetheless, its own special 'periodical accent and duration of notes'. The secunda generally starts the song alone, before the entry of the bassu and the terza. Of course, as with most things Corsican, that said, there are many variants, typically by micro-region.

Within the paghjella form, the interpretation of each song is open to a fair amount of improvisation by different groups or individual singers, who may make extensive use of the ribucatta - a free form of ornametation with vibrato, which creates a slight time-lag with the other singers. The paghjella was often used to accompany work, at family or village gatherings and thus might interpolate esoteric verbal improvisation.

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U Malmignāttu.

The Corsican black widow [latrodectus mactans tredecimguttatus] is a not really a symbol of the island, but it carries with it several legends and hints of Corsican folklore. It is black, with a velvety back normally covered with thirteen red spots. Though nowadays it's a rarity that anyone is bitten, the venom produces convulsions and a lowering of temperature [though it can be fatal to children or fragile adults]. Some said that thoughts would be 'frozen' at the time of the bite. If you'd like to know more, then go to Corsic'Arachne, Norbert Verneau's excellent spider site. He took the picture above. He was a student at the University in Corte and now teaches there.

The female is quite big: 14-15mm on average and as much 17 when pregnant; the males are relatively diminutive - only 7-9mm on average! They produce a strong web on the ground and without any apparent pattern.

One of the traditional cures was to bake [infurnā] the victim! After the bread came out of the oven and it was still hot, cooking the patient would transform the poison. It is suggested that the bite of a spider was a symbol of penetration [especially if the victim was a woman] and thus the oven became symbolic of the womb and the insemination had to gestate before emerging.

Harvesters were particularly susceptible to this spider. In the plain of Mariana, harvesters who felt exposed would rub their hands and face with garlic before going to sleep, wheras in the region of Bastelica, before the sick person was baked, he was dosed with opium and camphor! The spider tended to be most dangerous at the time of the lion sun - sulleone [21 July - 21 August]. This, it is suggested not least because the harvester most feared fire at this time [crop burning/oven].

The malmignānattu has many local names in Corsica: the feminine version a malmignatta [indeed, there are some who saw the spider as a bi-sexual symbol], malmignānatula, malmargnānatu, malmčttolu, vermignattulu, velenōsu, rāgnu, zinevra, zinefrica, zirlefica... The expression chi malmignattu! suggested someone of bad character. Esse puntu di zinevra meant to be bitten by a zinevra - or mad! And mandā in zinevra means "go to the devil!"

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I Signatori

I signatori [the 't' is pronounced with a 'd'] are men and women - mostly women - who have received from their mother or often their grandmother, the gift of being an exorcist. To an Anglo-Saxon mind, that may appear a bit spooky, but these people are ordinary; it's just that they have received this special role by learning a special prayer/incantation and ritual from someone who in their turn had received it before them. Like many Corsica traditions it is only handed down orally. It is not considered a magic rite, but rather one inherited from ancestral times.

The gift can only be transmitted on Christmas Eve [in the north], or between Christmas and the new year [in the south] - in both cases, by the fireside. Indeed Christmastide is the busiest time for signatori, but the rites are practiced at other times for 'urgent' cases.

Some women see the process of doing the 'Eye' - l'ochju - as a sacred task, while the other sees it as non-religious. The purpose of the ritual is to determine whether the person, who has asked the signatora, has received the evil eye [intentionally or not] and if so to neutralise its effect. Thus they may heal the soul or the body, or simply put the person at ease. There is generally one signatora [woman] or signatoru [man] per village. The giver of the evil eye is said to annuchja and those to who it has been given, annughjatu.

The ritual involves preparing a bowl of water over which the prayer is said and the sign of a cross made, then warm olive oil is poured [generally from a lamp] on to the surface of the water. The signatora observes the behaviour of the oil to determine the situation of the 'patient', depending upon the coalescence or otherwise of the oil globules and may repeat the process more than once if the signs are not immediately clear. While the patient may experience relief, it is very tiring for the signatora. Some exorcists touch the head of the patient or ask him to touch the edge of the bowl. The water symbolises purity, the olive oil is sacred and the flame enlightens. There are those who exercise their gift at a distance making use of a piece of clothing or a lock of hair. A good book on the mystical traditions and shamen of Corsica is Le Mazzerisme - un chamanisme corse by Roccu Multedo. There are those who will 'do the eye' through the use of a hair, or even a photo, of the 'patient', if they are at a distance.

This page: Asphodel | Black Widow Spider | Blessed Virgin Mary | Bracken | Bridges | Conch Shell | Corsican dog | Exorcists | Eye of St Lucie | Horns & the Eye | Moor's Head | Mouflon | Paghjella | Shepherd's hut | Spiral | Statue Menhir | VillagePonte Genovesi | Chjam' č Risponde | Orii

U Paese.

The village by Michel Bataillard

When two Corsicans meet for the first time, the first question they ask is "Di chi paese site?" The village you hail from identifies you to other Corsicans. The village has a special significance to Corsicans. The idea as well as the reality means a great deal to Corsicans born as well as those of Corsican origin. One's identity is bound up with that of the village. If a Corsican says that his village is so-and-such-a-place, then his listeners can begin to feel safe to go further and ask about the family.

 

Even if one never goes to the village, pride in it remains. A e nozze e a i doli si cunosce i suoi - at weddings and funerals, you acknowledge your own, goes a Corsican saying. The sense of community long dissipated in many parts of industrialised Europe remains strong in Corsica.

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Ponti Genovesi.

   Ponte Vecchiu over the Fango near Tuarelli.

 

      Bridge over the Tartagine near Moltifao.

 

Almost wherever you go in Corsica, you will be able to see the characteristic Genoese bridges. Nowadays, they are often not the ones you cross, except by foot, since they are on the ancient routes, not the roads built in the late C19. Corsica's Genoese bridges were built between the C12 (though of course they were Pisan then!) and C18 and their 'golden age' was the C15 & C16. Typically constructed with a single span and often very high and pointed to resemble catherdral arches. there was a big gap in construction after 1347, the year of the Black death when the island's population was halved.

 

Bridge construction was generally accompanied by prayers to avoid Satan's appearance (since he was blamed for preventing building or the colapse of structures. They played a very important role in the trade in corn, chestnuts, olive oil and wine. Unlike many modern bridges that are washed away in floods, these stuctures have withstood centuries, since in the old days, they respected nature and knew all about the sudden rise in levels of Corsica's mountain rivers.

 

The first of the two bridges illustrated above is in the Falorsorma, a UNESCO protected valley that used to be intensly pastoral and vast numbers of sheep effected the transhumance up to the Niolo and river crossing points were critical. The other bridge is near what was an imortant crossroads allowing access between the Castagniccia (chestnuts) and the Balagne (olive oil) and near an old Roman road, still visible though its 1st/2nd century Roman Bridge has been all but washed away.

Chjam' č Risponde

The picture (Š Corse Matin) shows Jean-Louis Villanova participating in chjam' č risponde at Pigna.

 

The 'call and response' of chjam' č risponde provide a chanted poetic duel between participants who seek to successively outdo each other with improvised verse. They perform without music at festive times like Christmas, rural fairs, saints' days or marriages. They are stimulated by each others' prowess and the delight of the audience. The jousts are often set off by a challenge as simple as, "tell me, - which came first the chicken or the egg?" Stories are told of some where adversaries got more than excited and the literary rivalries finished with a pistol or dagger duel.

 

One story tells of a fair young maid, Firenza, who arrives in a village in the Valle di Rustinu and is invited with her family to share in the festival of the day. Into the evening, Firenza responds to a young poet with such brio that the swain offers marriage during the course of the chjam' č risponde and only a few days later the union was blessed.

...and here is the wedding party arriving for the marriage!

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Orii

The oriu at Canni, the oriu at Chera, both south of Sotta (Figari) and one near the Col de Salvi (Balagne).

 

An oriu is the name for a 'building' that use naturally hollowed out stones or rock formations as the basis for constructing either habitations like the one at Canni or storage like the one for grain and hay at Chera. Orii are not that well known by present-day Corsicans, since they are often hard to find and hidden by maquis. Their origins are considered to be shelters built by shepherds of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries who left the plains in transhumance and went to the mountains in summer and needed temporary homes.

This is the inside of the oriu at Canni.

 

There is little in the literature about these natural troglodytic habitations and I am not convinced that their origins are as recent as suggested (C17/18). It is my belief that their origins are prehistoric and originally may have been simpler - in the form of what are called tafoni. A tafone simply means a hole! There seems to evidence that the megalithic people used them as shelter.

 

Also, many are not really in the mountains. Dorothy Carrington (Granite Island) has written about them and in her inimitable way insisted that they only exist in the south. Though she is treated with extreme deference, she can be as wrong as anyone. The two in the photographs above are only a few miles from the sea and I found one hidden in the woods a couple of kilometres behind my old house in Calvi in the North. There's another only 20 kilometres from there at the Col de Salvi (above right), or the one at Speloncato (right) in the Balagne. The one you see in the guide books is the one at Canni, but there there are hundreds, if not thousands in the island.

 

On the other hand, Carrington refers to a couple of orii that had been inhabited in living memory - at the time of her writing the book (published in 1971). She also describes the Chera oriu as 'the oriu of the Culioli' - the guardian spirit of the village. It was venerated in the songs of Ghjuva-Andria Culioli (his grandson, Jacques has just issued his latest CD, Eternisula) and is haunted by a phantom goat with iron hooves that can be heard clattering over the rock by night.

 

Here is another example in the south (I Calanchi at Sollacaro) that is described only as 'a shelter built into eroded rock formation' in the book Corses des Origines put out by the French Ministry of Culture. This book also describes how the habitat of the ancient Neolithic people was principally in the natural cavities fromed by nature in the rocks. As well as the words oriu and tafone, in Corsican there is another word used to describe the 'grotto' - sāpara. Perhaps such places were simply identified and never came to have a universal name.

 

Do not be confused by structures that are simply built of stone, such as bergeries or cheese maturing houses, such as this one in the Agriates (south of St Florent).

 

This page: Asphodel | Black Widow Spider | Blessed Virgin Mary | Bracken | Bridges | Conch Shell | Corsican dog | Exorcists | Eye of St Lucie | Horns & the Eye | Moor's Head | Mouflon | Paghjella | Shepherd's hut | Spiral | Statue Menhir | VillagePonte Genovesi | Chjam' č Risponde | Orii

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