Essentially just a mountainous volcanic upthrust of rock in the western Mediterranean, the island of Corsica can effectively be considered as comprising two distinct geographic and cultural regions. The northern and northeastern region, the En-Deca, consists of fertile plains and light mountains and maintains the closest contact with Tuscany and the Italian mainland. The castagniccia, the vast chestnut forest that dominates the northern reaches of the island is the source of much of the chestnut flour that supports the rest of the population. This northern part is close to the Tuscan mainland and is controlled by the republic of Pisa.
In contrast, the southwestern region, the Au-Dela, is a rougher world dominated by the pastoral culture of shepherds and transhumance of goat flocks. The various local hedge traditions are more prominent here in the south, particularly in the Sartenais, the area around the mazzeru dominated village of Chera. This western and southern region is influenced predominantly by Genoa through footholds established by the various noble families and from the recently captured Genoan port of Bonifacio at its southern tip.
A Typical Corsican Mountain Village
Although found invariably within a dozen miles of the ocean, these villages lie at least three hundred feet above the coast, leaving the fetid coast with a somewhat desolate air. Ranging from a few dozen to at most a few hundred inhabitants, each village leans back against the framing granitic mountains. Located in the south, the village of Chera, known for its abundant mazzeru (see below), is considered the most Corsican of villages by most. Behind each village lies a mountain pass, the traditional site of the yearly mandrache or night battle on the evening of the 31st July between the mazzeri of the village and those of its neighbour. Although the area has only a weak Magic aura of 1 during the day, the strength rises to 4 on the evening of a mandrache.
This small town situated slightly inland at the base of the northern peninsular of Cap Corse near the site of modern Bastia is controlled by Pisa. It’s port, Porto Cardo, is known for its wine exports and surrounded by small fishing villages inhabited by Tuscan explants. Both the island of Elba and the Tuscan coast lie within 2 days travel by galley and can be easily seen across the waves on a clear day.
Established by the dictator Sulla as a colony near the ruins of a former Etruscan colony, this city grew under Augustus to become the provincial capital of Corsica in the time of the early Republic until its abandonment in the sixth century due to recurrent plagues of malaria. The “Syracusium” or Etang d’Diana is a large inlet of the Tyrrhenian Sea that once sheltered the Roman fleets and remains an excellent natural harbour. The ruins of the old forum were once the site of a village and a broken cathedral that was the former seat of the Pisan bishop of Aleria.
An Etruscan necropolis of about 200 tombs lies just to the south of the Roman rooms, lying within the boundaries of a weak Magic aura of 3. A handful of the Etruscan ghosts were proficient augurs and haruspices in life and might be readily summoned to access their expertise in prophecy.
Insert: Malaria and the Coastal Marshes
In contrast to the rocky inland settlements, the coasts of Corsica are sparsely settled, aside from the few ports and towns established by the Pisans and Genovese invaders. The stagnant lagoons and waterlogged pools of the eastern shores around Aleria form a swampy reservoir, cursing the region with a reputation for “marsh sickness” (malaria). Since Roman times the disease from the lagoons has forced the abandonment of many previous coastal settlements.
Marsh sickness is detailed in Tales of Mythic Europe, page 162 according to the disease rules presented in Art & Academe, but if you do not have this supplement on hand use the disease rules in ArM5 page 180 and treat the infection as a Medium Wound.
Living or staying in the swampy areas for a season or more confers a -2 living conditions modifier for the entire year. Further information on “Traveling and Working in the Wetlands” can also be found in Tales of Mythic Europe, page 162.
Rising like a huge stone ship of white chalk from the waters and separated from the rest of Corsica by a thick belt of maquis scrubland, this unique town provides an excellent port in an inlet behind its limestone massif, sheltering ships readily from the fiercest weather of the Tyrrhenian. Houses perch precariously on the cliffs over the open sea, particularly in the southeastern section where there is no town wall.
Established by Count Bonifacio II of Tuscany in 828 as a base to shelter from Saracen pirates, it has grown from a small fort to the largest town on the island. From 1195 until 1217 the town was completely controlled by the Genoese who massacred the original inhabitants and then ruled it as a mini republic through elected magistrates known as ananziani. The Papacy has officially reclaimed the town in the last few years with the help of Pisa but the predominantly Ligurian population still considers their allegiance lies with Genoa.
The recently built church of Église Sainte-Marie-Majeure contains the remains of St Bonifacio and a large fragment of the True Cross. The latter relic is the size of a man’s hand and was gifted by St Helena after she was saved from being shipwrecked in the straits. It contains 3 Faith points and can heal a Medium Wound instantly by touch. The small church has a Dominion aura which rises to 4 when both relics are present.
A stone watchtower rising over 90 feet into the air known as the Torrione was built on the site of the original castle by the Genoese in 1195. To the south of this and to the west of the town proper on the high promontory is the Bosco, a light wood that is home to a community of religious hermits. The town cemetery lies at the tip of the peninsular just beyond a small convent dedicated to St Francis.
To the east along the limestone cliffs lies Capo Pertusato, the highest point on the southern coast, a promontory with two smaller associated sea stacks surmounting a giant cave carved by the waves that contains a Magic aura of strength 3. Several smaller mundane “dragon grottoes” with weaker auras can be readily reached by small boat from the main port.
A few miles to the east, just past the cape of Point de Sperone, the wall of white chalk shifts suddenly to pink granite, marking the entrance to a small Magic regio leading to the lands of the Laestrygonian giants (see here). The nearby small archipelago of granite outcroppings comprising the Iles Lavezzi and Ile Cavallo is a favourite haunt of reclusive group of deformed mermen and is avoided by fisherfolk and the merchant galleys whenever possible.
Insert: The Vendetta
A traditional vendetta is a protracted lethal blood-feud between two Corsican families, in contrast to the somewhat more playful grudge matches with the same name waged by rival Verditius magi. Any perceived loss of personal honour, social slight, misunderstanding, or seeming insult can trigger a vendetta. This can be as simple as a verbal insult, petty theft or act of dishonour such as the attacar, the forceful unveiling of a young unmarried woman by snatching their head-scarf and thus their modesty, to as serious a matter as an inadvertent injury from a playful fight all the way to as heinous an act as a deliberate murder.
The family starting the vendetta in response to a perceived slight openly initiates a malicious move against the family of those that perpetrated the insult, declaring themselves responsible in a public manner and daring their declared opponents to respond. Typically this move is the open murder of a male member of the opposing family, but a similarly shocking crime is acceptable. Refusing to respond to a declaration of vendetta is considered a sign of weakness by Corsican society and results in a bad Reputation of Dishonourable 4 throughout Corsica, a process known as ribeccu – this reputation can only be lost by taking up the vendetta. Failing to continue the vendetta in response to a subsequent retaliatory attack results in acquisition of the same negative reputation. Although a Corsican tradition, the resultant negative reputation can be acquired by both native and non-native characters, thus visiting covenfolk or companions can become unwittingly caught up in the local blood feuds and pressured to act in accordance with Corsican tradition or suffer the consequences.
Any character caught up in a vendetta gain the Feud Major Story Flaw, although as Grogs cannot possess Major Virtues or Flaws, a variant of the Close Family Ties Minor Story Flaw may be more appropriate for minor characters. The relevant Flaw can only be removed once the vendetta has been ended, usually by the death of all members of one feuding family, the banishment of the murderer to the maquis as an outcast brigand and only rarely by settlement of the initial insult and all subsequent grievances through the intercession of the parish priest – an often impossible task as the original slight in long running feuds has often been forgotten by the families involved and the priest is just as likely to belong to one of the feuding families!
Due to the different cultural roles of men and women in medieval Corsica the vendetta is primarily a male affair – although women can be involved in the initial insult or dishonour and support their male relatives despite the homicidal consequences, the majority of murders are by males and nearly all the murder victims are men. In Mythic Europe this may vary to allow a wider range of stories, depending on discussions within your Troupe.