Corsica (kôr´sĬkə), Fr. Corse, island (1990 pop. 251,000), 3,352 sq mi (8,682 sq km), a region of metropolitan France, SE of France and N of Sardinia, in the Mediterranean Sea. Ajaccio, the capital, and Bastia are the chief towns and ports. The island is largely mountainous, culminating in Monte Cinto (8,891 ft/2,710 m). Corsica is divided into two administrative departments. French is the official language, but most Corsicans also speak a dialect akin to Italian.
Much of the island is wild, covered by dense shrubs called maquis, whose flowers produce a fragrance that carries far out to sea and has earned for Corsica the name "the scented isle." The maquis also long provided hideouts for bandits, and banditry was not suppressed until the 1930s. Blood feuds between clans also persisted into modern times.
Fruit, cork, cigarettes, wine, and cheese are the main exports. Much wheat is produced, and sheep are raised. Tourism is important, with good air and sea transport from continental France.
After having belonged to the Romans (3d cent. BC–5th cent. AD), the Vandals, the Byzantines, and the Lombards, the island was granted (late 8th cent.) by the Franks to the papacy. It was threatened by the Arabs from c.800 to 1100. In 1077, Pope Gregory VII ceded Corsica to Pisa. Pisa and Genoa, later Genoa and Aragón, battled for control. In the mid-15th cent. actual administration of the island was taken up by the Bank of San Giorgio in Genoa. Genoese rule was harsh and unpopular, and unrest was typified by the 1730s episode of "King" Theodore I (see Neuhof, Theodor, Baron von).
In 1755, Pasquale Paoli headed a rebellion against Genoa, but its success resulted only in the cession (1768) of Corsica to France. One consequence of the transfer was the French citizenship of Napoleon I, who was born in 1769 at Ajaccio. With British support Paoli expelled the French in 1793, and in 1794 Corsica voted its union with the British crown. The French (under Napoleon) recovered it, however, in 1796, and French possession was guaranteed at the Congress of Vienna (1815). French rule brought education and relative order, but economic life remained agrarian and primitive.
In World War II, Corsica was occupied by Italian and German troops. Late in 1943 the population revolted, and, joined by a Free French task force, drove Axis forces out. A postwar population exodus caused the French government to announce a program of economic development. In 1958 a right-wing coup, similar to that in Algeria, contributed to the return to power in France of Charles de Gaulle.
Since the French took control in 1768, Corsica has seen separatist movements, with repeated incidents of violence, notably the Feb., 1998, assassination of the French prefect. Beginning in the 1990s the roles of true nationalists and of criminal gangs appeared to blur, and in the early 21st organized crime was a larger problem than separatism. In 2001, France's parliament voted to give the island's regional parliament power to amend some national legislation and regulations and to permit the Corsican language to be taught in schools, but the amending of national laws by regional parliaments was declared unconstitutional. In 2003, after constitutional amendments permitting greater local autonomy were approved, a referendum on autonomy was held, but Corsican voters narrowly defeated it.