Travel Notes blog
The Genoese watchtowers of Corsica
by Max Lane
3 min read

The Genoese watchtowers of Corsica

The Genoese watchtowers of Corsica
Explore Corsica's coastline and discover the island's Genoese watchtowers. Once they guarded against pirate raids, today they stand witness to Corsica's tumultuous history.

Puglia has its trulli and masserie, Noto its sandy baroque flamboyance, and Tinos its windmills and dovecotes. And Corsica?

An exploration of the island’s coastline will reveal the answer: rising high above dramatic chalky cliffs, imposing granite headlands, golden sandy beaches, and immense aromatic sweeps of maquis is a network of watchtowers, most of which were built between about 1520 and 1620, when the island was under the control of the Genoese. In total there were about 90 towers, and although not all were built by the Ligurian maritime republic, they are collectively known as les Tours Génoises. 67 survive today, in varying states of repair, and each one has a story to tell about Corsica’s past.

The towers were primarily built as a defence against the raids of Barbary pirates, who were supported in their exploits by the Ottoman Empire’s naval forces based in Algiers. Functioning as an early warning system, the fortified towers communicated sightings of hostile flotillas to each other and the surrounding villages using fires, smoke and the sounding of a conch. It is estimated that news of an imminent attack could travel all the way around Corsica’s 1,000km-long coastline in a few hours. In time, the towers also became useful navigational landmarks for sailors.

The tours Génoises were built of stone in the form of tapering cylinders, about 12m high and with a diameter of approximately 10m at the base and 7m at the top. They were usually laid out over two floors: the first floor (where the entrance was usually located) was given over to living quarters for the garrison (up to about six men, called torregiani), while the roof level, surrounded by machicolations, was where the sentries would keep watch. A small number of the towers were square, such as the Torra di Pinareddu near Porto-Vecchio, but of similar dimensions and layout.

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Some of the best examples of Corsica’s towers can be found along the island’s south coast: Torra di Caldarello (next to our villa A Torra, near Pianottoli), Torra d’Olmeto, Torra di Roccapina, Torra di Campumoru, Torra di Capanella, Torra di Capu Neru, and, at the northern extremity of the Gulf of Valinco, Torra di Capo di Moro.

There are two great ways of exploring these fascinating vestiges of Corsica’s past: on foot, following the well-maintained coastal paths through the aromatic maquis; or by boat, cruising close to shore and rewarding yourself with a swim in the crystalline waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea every time you spot a tour Génoise rising atop a hill.