Why the Niolu region has interested and amazed more than one

At the west of Corte, the Niolu route begins. A mountainous region and ‘home of Corsican freedom’, according to Guy Maupassant – who also compares it to ‘an inaccessible citadel from where invaders could never ever drive out the mountain dwellers’. This area is covered with transhumance paths and shepherds, and has remained a land of legends with strong oral traditions, songs and poetic texts – whose main themes are the ‘vendette’ and the bandits.

In 1840, Prosper Mérimée (who was at that moment on a mission for historical monuments), collected several songs. Vocera di Niolu (a funeral lamentation from the Niolu) is one of these songs. The author of this song is a certain Maria Felice, nicknamed through posterity ‘the fiancée of the Niolu’.
Her story is as follows. When her brother (a young priest) was murdered, she asked her fiancé to avenge him. But, being a shepherd, he could not accomplish this act as he had to lead the goats into the Fango Valley. Upon his return, the girl had died from grief. In Castellacce, a hamlet belonging to the municipality of Calacuccia, her house can still be seen today.

The fantastic (but also sinister) appearance of the rocky Niolu landscape, has often been emphasised by writers, with impressive stories of bandits and ‘vendette’, along with the imposing granite rocks that can be observed.
In 1787, abbot Gaudin wrote: “It seems that we have arrived at the very edge of nature, it is here that it truly offers itself in all its horror, but also in all its majesty”. When he wrote these lines, the road that we now know had not been pierced through (it was chipped away with pickaxes in 1889).

Now, in order to reach the Niolu, one had to follow a long and narrow path called the ‘Scala de Santa Regina’ (the stairs of the Holy Queen) – “this very steep path passed through real stairs, cut in the rock” the abbot continued to add.

Let’s read his description:
“Imagine houses from a hundred to two hundred floors, that had to be climbed and descended .. with a path sometimes so tight and narrow, that a mule can hardly find its place, and where it is still necessary to unload. Within a few steps, his body and yours are half suspended from the precipices, and from which the eyes do not dare to probe the depths. Even after the road had been finished, access to the Niolu remained a narrow lane, and where in some places two cars struggle to pass each other. The vertical lines of the granite cliffs are appreciated, as are the old parapets carved in the rock and the arcade bridges supporting the road above the void”.

Source: La Corse des écrivains, by Thierry Ottaviani
Edition: Alexandrines
Image: Niolu Bastia Tempi d’Oghje ©

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