It’s no secret that I’m a Corsicaphile. I’ve visited six times (not nearly enough!) and never cease to be inspired by its history, culture and landscapes. This is the first in a series of posts about inspiring places on the island. Some of them appear in my books; others don’t yet.
I’m starting with a monument that has appeared in both of my Corsica novels: the Paoline Tower in Nonza on Cap Corse, the finger-like projection at the north end of the island. It’s often been described as “the island of the island” and has its own distinctive feel. The village of Nonza is on the rugged west coast.
The Paoline Tower is situated at the highest point of the village, which it shares with a ruined castle, now an atmospheric restaurant in the summer. The tower was built in the mid-18th century and takes its name from Pasquale Paoli, the leader of Corsica’s short-lived republic. The island was owned by the city state of Genoa until they ceded it to the French in 1768 against repayment of their huge debt incurred for France’s military help. The Genoese never had a realistic chance of repaying the debt. Paoli led the Corsicans in their struggle for independence against Genoa and then France.
During the struggles, the Genoese hung onto the main coastal towns and operated a naval blockade. Other parts of the coast remained under the republic’s control. Paoli decided to build a watchtower at Nonza, which commanded a view over the strait up to the port of Saint-Florent. Unlike the round Genoese watchtowers, which dot the Corsican coast, the Paoline Tower is foursquare and built of grey-green stone.
My second Corsica novel, The Corsican Widow, is set during the mid/late 18th century. In it, Paoli comes to Zaronza (fictional name) to inspect places he can fortify. He meets my main character, Valeria, and her husband Santucci and asks the latter to supervise the building of the tower. This is entirely fictional. There’s no evidence that Paoli ever came to Nonza, although he did send his own architect to draw up the plans.
The Paoline Tower later played a role in resistance against the French, who besieged Nonza in 1768. A Corsican captain, Casella, held the tower single handed, even though he was wounded. He devised a way of firing several muskets at once and was so successful that the French offered a truce. They were convinced that he commanded a unit in the tower, although his men had already abandoned him. The French were so impressed that they gave him a safe passage back to Paoli’s headquarters.
The tower also appears in my first novel, The House at Zaronza, which begins in 1900. The main character, Maria, likes to escape from her parents when she can, and later from her husband, by going up to the tower, which is above her house. She sits on a flat stone by the door and watches the light changing on the mountains over the bay, while she thinks.
Today, the tower is a busy spot in season. Out of season, it reverts to a more tranquil state when you can imagine more easily that you have stepped back in time.
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Copyright © Vanessa Couchman 2018, all rights reserved.
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