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16th century Genoese wrecks discovered off north coast of Corsica


Archaeologists with CEAN (Centre d'études en archéologie nautique) have identified the remains of two wrecks discovered in the Gulf of Saint-Florent on the island of Corsica during an archaeological survey programme initiated in 2005.

16th century Genoese wrecks discovered off north coast of Corsica
The photomosaic of the various areas of excavation [Credit: Christoph Gerick]
Between 2010 and 2015, they undertook the excavation of one of the two wrecks located not far from the Mortella tower. This operation involved the National Museum of Natural History, the CNRS, the Universities of the Sorbonne (Paris IV) and Corsica.

"In the 16th century," says underwater archaeologist Arnaud Cazenave de la Roche, "Mediterranean shipbuilding was renowned throughout Europe and master carpenters, especially those from the Italian states, were sought after for the quality of their work and the high degree of their technical expertise. Today, this know-how is largely unknown because, in addition to the scarcity of writings, archaeological evidence is relatively scarce. The only 16th century wrecks of Mediterranean origin whose architectural remains have been studied are the wrecks of Villefranche sur Mer and Calvi. This observation makes the Mediterranean shipbuilding of the Renaissance period a research priority for the last 30 years."

During its long history, Corsica has been the centre stage of rivalry between the great European powers. The sinking of the ships was part of a complex political situation revealing the divisions among Italian cities and the tension between France and Spain.

16th century Genoese wrecks discovered off north coast of Corsica
Remains of two cannons [Credit: Christoph Gerick]
Archaeologists determined that the wrecks of the Mortella were not Spanish galleons as they had initially thought but ships of Genoese origin. The wreck studied could be that of the Ferrara or the Boscaina, a ship built in the Rapallo shipyard in 1517, a date determined from a dendrochronological study carried out by Swiss scientist Fabien Langenegger.

Arnaud Cazenave de la Roche explains the historical events that led to the ship's sinking: "When Genoa was blockaded by the fleet of the League of Cognac which united the French fleets with those of the Pope, Andrea Doria and Venice, the ship was dispatched to Sicily in 1527, accompanied by another vessel, with the aim of loading wheat to supply the starving population of Genoa. The two ships were trapped in the bay of Saint-Florent in Corsica by French galleys. Unable to escape, the ships were unloaded and deliberately set on fire by their crews to prevent them from falling into enemy hands."

"The design of the ship not only reflects the distinctive features of medieval ship-building, but also has certain technical innovations that foreshadow the modern era. These commercial vessels were most often armed with artillery guns intended to defend themselves against the privateers who infested the Mediterranean. One of the important findings of the mission was the uncovering of the base of the main mast, a wooden structure that has rarely been studied during this period. The material discovered is scarce: ceramics, glass, anchors, ropes, and artillery pieces."

16th century Genoese wrecks discovered off north coast of Corsica
Lifting of a cannonball to the surface [Credit: Christoph Gerick]
"The study was limited by technical and financial difficulties. The constraints imposed by decompression and safety issues and the very short working times dictated by the hyperbaric environment (50 minutes per diver per day) prevented the removal of the wreck. The archaeological analysis was also hampered by the fire that ravaged the vessel before it sank and by the general lack of structural remains", concluded the archaeologist.

Source: Corse-Matin [July 11, 2018]

TANN

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