The flag of Corsica is one of the most identifiable and unusual in Europe. Against a pure white background a black face is depicted in a side profile – the dark outline makes a arresting contrast against the white. The image is even more striking as the black face is either blindfolded with a white ribbon wrapped around its eyes or features a white bandana on his forehead.
Typically, European vexillological tradition is dominated by crosses (including the Scandinavian, Saltire and more conventional St. George’s cross), stripes (both horizontal and vertical, tricolour and bicolour). As a result, those countries whose flags have a less conventional designs tend to stand out. Corsica’s design certainly stands out, but the black head design is also shared by its southern Mediterranean island neighbour, Sardinia .
Why do these two Mediterrianean islands feature this unusual design? In the Corsican dialect, the symbol is called ‘La Testa di Moru’ – the Moor’s head. It originates in the Kingdom of Aragon and was certainly used in Sardinia after the Aragonese conquest in 1297. In Sardinia, four moorish heads are separated by a cross of St George in the ‘Is Cuatru Morus’ – the Four Moors flag.
But is the symbol even older than this? In both Spanish and Sardinian tradition dating back to the eleventh century CE. In the Spanish version of the story the symbol appears during celebrations following the victory in the Battle of Alcoraz by King Peter I of Aragon and Navarre against the Arabs in 1096. The Sardinian version dates it even earlier, to 1017 when Pope Benedict II gave a banner featuring the design to a Pisan contingent fighting to help the Sardinians repel attacks from the Saracens led by Mujahid al-Amiri.
Originally, the four faces were turned right with bandages on their foreheads. Sometime during the 19th century, the faces flipped to face left, and the bandages slipped over their eyes. Only in 1999 did the four moors return to face to the right with uncovered eyes.
Corsica was also claimed by Aragon, but was never taken. The heraldic design did, however, make the leap from Sardinia to Sicily. It soon became a potent symbol of Corsican national identity. It was borne by the supporters of King Theodore, the short-lived ‘summer king’ of Corsica who temporarily freed the island from Genoese domination.
It finally became the official flag of the island in 1762 when Pasquale Paoli adopted it as the symbol of an independent Corsica. He ordered that the blindfold be lifted from the Moor’s eyes and placed as a bandana on his forehead to symbolise the liberation of the island and the coming of freedom.
Other Flags and Emblems in Europe
Sankt Peter am Kammersberg
The typically crowned Freising Moor is depicted, as Sankt Peter am Kammersberg was a borough of the Freising district until 1803
Coburg, the ancestral home of the British royal family Saxe Coburg-Gotha, otherwise known as Windsor. The town is known for its picturesque castles and museums, but its most popular resident is the Coburg Moor which appears on the town’s edifices, coat of arms, and flag (as shown below). As previously mentioned, the town’s history tells that this was the catholic church’s patron saint from Thebes (Luxor), St. Maurice. Therefore, according to both the town’s history and the Catholic church, for which he is a patron saint, Maurice was an Egyptian
The home town of Pope Benedict is adorned with a crowned-head Moor which may be seen at the Freising castle and on the town’s official coat of arms and flag.
The pope uses the same representation of the Moor on his official papal coat of arms. As the pope put it in his autobiography, the “caput aethiopicum” has been used by Freising bishops for over 1,000 years. More importantly, he admits that he does “not know its meaning.” Nonetheless, we are aware that legend tells of Abraham of Freising’s encounter with a bear and how his Black servant defeated this bear. Abraham promised to reward his servant, and did so by depicting his head on the town’s coat of arms
Riga’s most famous building, the House of the Blackheads, prominently features an armored St. Maurice (supposedly) below a representation of his head. According to town history, the building was originally constructed in the 1300s by the Brotherhood of the Blackheads who adopted St. Maurice as their patron saint
The crowned Moor represented on this 1000-year old town’s coat of arms and flag is directly related to the aforementioned Freising moor. The town is located in territory granted to Bishop Abraham of Freising in 973 AD.