Two Very Different Interpretations of Corsica’s Filitosa Menhirs
Corsica, situated in the Mediterranean Sea, is a fascinating island with beautiful beaches, a place where you can hear the natives speak Corsu, and of course, it is well known for being the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte. There is also a great deal of history and Filitosa is an archaeological site with the highest number of megalithic statuaries on the island. Whilst Filitosa is best-known for its standing stones, the site also contains archaeological remains from other eras, including the Neolithic and Roman periods.
The Discovery of the Marvellous Menhirs
Filitosa is located not far from Sollacaro, in the southern part of Corsica. The site is a relatively recent archaeological discovery, only being identified in 1946. Charles-Antoine Cesari, who owned the land, discovered five menhirs (monolithic standing stones) in an area called Petra zuccata. The menhirs were lying on the ground covered by scrub and vegetation. At a nearby mound called Turrichju, Cesari discovered other bizarre remains. It was, however, only three years later that the site was visited by an official, Pierre Lamotte, then the Director of the Departmental Archives of Corsica. Lamotte had been informed by Cesari of his discoveries and made a trip to Filitosa. No further investigation of the site was made in the years following Lamotte’s visit.
Historic Monument of Filitosa, Corsica (Pascal Ledard / Adobe Stock)
The first archaeological work at Filitosa, directed by Roger Grosjean, was carried out in 1954. Grosjean continued the work until his death at the age of 55 in 1975. By that time, many impressive discoveries had been made at the site and Filitosa’s reputation had spread. In 1980, Filitosa was declared a ‘monument historique’. Several structures, including a bar and a craft center, were built to appeal to tourists. The site continued to be developed over the decades and a new archaeological museum was built in 2016.
The Mysterious Origins of the Megaliths
The archaeological evidence suggests that the site of Filitosa was occupied by humans as early as the 6th millennium BC, the Early Neolithic period. The people who lived in Filitosa at this time left behind artifacts such as stone tools and pottery. The menhirs the site is most famous for, however, were not built at that time. In fact, these standing stones were only erected during the Bronze Age, in around 1500 BC. Whilst megaliths can be divided into several different types, the ones at Filitosa are all menhirs.
The menhirs are granite and measure between 2.1 m (7 ft) and 2.4 m (8 ft) in height. They can generally be divided into two groups - the plain menhirs which were roughly fashioned into rectangles without further embellishments, and the menhirs with human features carved onto them. One of the best examples of the latter is Menhir V, which bears not only has a human face, but also a long sword and dagger. Additionally, anatomical detail and clothing can be seen on the back of this menhir.
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Menhir with face in Filitosa on the island of Corsica (Eberhard / Adobe Stock)
Unfortunately, little else is known about these menhirs at Filitosa and the identity of the people who created them is still a mystery. We also don’t know their purpose. Archaeologists have speculated that the menhirs were phallic symbols, and that they were used to ritually ensure the fertility of the land. Grosjean, on the other hand, had a different idea. Whilst these archaeologist believed the menhirs served a ritual purpose, he thought it had nothing to do with fertility, but that the objects were carved in the likeness of a group of people called the Torreans so as to magically ward off these aggressive invaders.
If Grosjean’s interpretation is correct, then the menhirs failed to perform the function for which they were made. The Torreans eventually conquered Filitosa, destroyed a number of menhirs, and used the debris to build two towers at the site which served as their temples. These towers, with broken bits of menhirs, can still be seen at the site today.
Visiting the Menhirs at Filitosa
A fee is charged to enter the archaeological site, which is open between April and October. It should be noted that the menhirs are no longer in situ, since they have been arranged in a manner that makes it more convenient for tourists to view them. According to Lonely Planet’s website, “Access is tightly controlled, so nothing is visible if you come out of season”. The website also estimates that an hour would be sufficient for visitors to explore the entire site, inclusive of the new museum.
Top image: Corsica. The Statue of Filitosa Source: YvonneNederland
By: Wu Mingren
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Available at: https://www.visit-corsica.com/en/Corsica-discovery/Live-a-corsican-experience/Heritage/The-prehistoric-site-of-Filitosa-a-journey-to-the-heart-of-8-000-years-of-Corsican-history
Corsica Travel Guide, 2020. Filitosa, site of menhirs and dolmens in Corsica. [Online]
Available at: https://www.corsicatravelguide.com/scenerycorsica/filitosa.php
Filitosa, 2020. Filitosa. [Online]
Available at: https://filitosa.fr/
Lonely Planet, 2020. Filitosa. [Online]
Available at: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/france/corsica/southern-corsica/attractions/filitosa/a/poi-sig/452671/1323225
Michelin Travel, 2020. Filitosa. [Online]
Available at: https://travelguide.michelin.com/europe/france/corsica/southern-corsica/sollacaro/filitosa
SamR, 2020. Filitosa. [Online]
Available at: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/filitosa