The Fragrance of the Maquis of the Mediterranean

Maquis (French) or macchia (Italian: macchia Mediterranea) is a shrubland biome in the Mediterranean region, typically consisting of densely growing evergreen shrubs such as holm oak, tree heath, strawberry tree, sage, juniper, buckthorn, spurge olive and myrtle. It is found throughout the Mediterranean Basin, including most of coastal Italy, southern France, Lebanon, Sardinia, Corsica, and elsewhere.
It is similar to the English heath in many aspects, but with taller shrubs, typically 2–4 m high as opposed to 0.2–1 m for heath. Similar habitat types exist in North America, South Africa and Australia, and are known as chaparral, fynbos and kwongan, respectively, although the kinds of shrubs involved in these other habitats are different.
Although maquis is by definition natural, its appearance in many places is due to destruction of forest cover, mainly by frequent burning that prevents young trees from maturing. It tends otherwise to grow in arid, rocky areas where only drought-resistant plants are likely to prosper.
The word comes from the plural of Italian macchia (English "thicket"). The extremely dense nature of maquis made it ideal cover for bandits and guerrillas, who used it to shelter from the authorities. It is from this meaning that the Second World War French resistance movement, the Maquis, derived its name. In Italian darsi alla macchia means "becoming a fugitive".
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Let us hope that the time is not far distant when the "Islette" will again be clothed in the fragrant beauty ot the Maquis! A few native plants have held their ground on the further end of the point, and at present there grow yonder. Cistus and Oleaster; Myrtle and Lentiscus spread out like cushions; while the silvery grev foliage of Helichrysum and the bright yellow blossoms of the Bird's foot Trefoil adorn the ground. But the paths on this rugged strip of rocky land are the one permanent advantage of this over cultivation. These extend to its further end and make it possible to reach the wild cliffs which disappear beneath the waves. Here you can climb from rock to rock, until at last your feet touch the blue water. There one can lie down, gazing into the crystal depths, and spy out the curious plant forms which the sea contains, and listen to the music of the waves which lose themselves amongst the labyrinthine passages of the rocks.
Rambles on the Riviera
By Eduard Strasburger

Boswell, who visited the island only four years before the birth of N., gives in his Account of Corsica descriptions of its natural features. "The interior parts of the island are, in general, mountainous, though interspersed with fruitful valleys, but have a peculiar grand appearance and inspire one with the genius of the place, with that undaunted and inflexible spirit which will not bow to oppression." The wild and uncultivated districts are overgrown with tangled underwoods, a riotous growth of arbutus, myrtle, thorn, broom, laurel, and various other fragrant shrubs caljed the maquis, the fragrance of which floats out to sea, and by this sailors would know when they were near Corsica if no other sign were to offer itself. This fragrance N. recalled at dismal St. Helena, and said that by it alone, even with blinded eyes, he would know his birthplace.
A dictionary of Napoleon and his times
By Hubert N. B. Richardson

It follows from this physical fact that in driving up or down the western side of the island one has to cross a pass of between 2,000 and 4,000 feet between each river basin. These basins, south of Ajaccio, are broad fertile valleys rising from the sea in slopes covered below with maquis, the Corsican bush, above with vines olives chestnuts and beechwood. Every one has heard of the ' maquis,' the scent of which, carried miles out to sea by the land breeze, warns sailors of their approach to Corsica. Imagine a common sprinkled with myriads of purple and white cistus blossoms, shining starlike in the pure sunshine, tall heaths, tough arbutus, frequent bushes of myrtle, box and other evergreen fragrant shrubs, which combine to diffuse through the light dry atmosphere a rich warm pungent scent. As the road winds up the spurs, chestnut groves and vineyards supplant the ' maquis,' dog-rosea hang down from the hedges to rival the acres of cistus, the asphodels, already withered on the coast, are still in bloom, beside beech-copses where foxgloves, tall purple orchids, and masses of common fern might, but for their classical presence, make us forget for a moment the Mediterranean.
The Alpine Journal, Volume 10
By Alpine Club (London, England)

The slopes of the lower hills are mostly covered with different varieties of evergreen shrubs with thick fleshy leaves. This type of shrub is sometimes collectively known by the Corsican name Maquis, and the plants here are known as those of the Maquis region. Myrtle {Myrtis communis), Arbutus in three kinds (Andrachne, Intermedia, and Unedo), Rhamnus (Rhamnus gracca), and Lentisc (Pistachia lentiscus) are frequently found growing together to a height of three or four feet, with little bells or bright berries shining among the heavy green foliage.
Ovid gives a fragrant list of the plants that grew on Hymettus: "The Arbutus, the Rosemary, the Laurel, the dark Myrtle, the leafy Box, the frail Tamarisk, the slender Cytisus, and the graceful Pine."
Below the hill region come low sterile slopes of limestone or mica. From the distance they look quite barren and are locally known as Xerovouna, or "desert hills." On approaching them we find that they are covered with small bushy plants of a type entirely different from those of the Maquis region. Instead of green fleshy foliage, these have small grey-green leaves usually covered with tiny hairs. These hairs protect the leaf from the rapid evaporation, which would otherwise scorch the tender surface. They enable the plant to absorb each drop of moisture slowly and to hold its own in a shadeless region. To the Greeks this type of plant is known by the collective name Phrygana, literally "fuel," for which the nearest English equivalent is "brushwood," but the English conveys something much less delightful than that which the Athenian thinks of when he speaks of Phrygana. These low-growing shrubs have a spicy fragrance comparable only to the sweetness of a Scotch moor, yet whereas the Scotch moor is fragrant of one plant only these Greek moors have a very symphony of scents. Heath (Erica arborea), Thyme (Thymus capitatus), Lavender (Lavandula stoechas), Broom (Genista acanthoclada), and Cistus (Cistus creticus and salvia/otitis), each in turn remind you sweetly of their presence while your feet crush their leaves.
Days in Attica
By Ellen Sophia Hodgkin Bosanquet

Now, all this adds immensely to the picturesqueness and grandeur of Corsican scenery, for the mountains rise in jagged outline, their peaks and pinnacles fret the sky, whilst their precipices are awful in their suddenness and depth. Add to this extraordinary rocky grandeur forests of superb Corsican pines and a dense and fragrant jungle of maquis, whilst snowy peaks glitter in a sky of cloudless blue reflected in the lovely bays forming the Corsican coast, and one understands the reason why every writer who has visited Corsica bursts into ecstasy as he describes its scenery.
Scottish geographical magazine, Volume 10
By Royal Scottish Geographical Society

The paddle-wheels struck the water, disturbing its torpor, and a long track of foam, like the froth of champagne, remained in the wake of the boat, reaching as far as the eye could see. Jeanne drank in with delight the odor of the salt mist that seemed to go to the very tips of'her fingers. Everywhere the sea. But ahead of them was something gray, not clearly defined in the early dawn; a sort of massing of strange-looking clouds, pointed, jagged, seemed to rest on the waters.
Presently it became clearer, its outline more distinct on the brightening sky; a large chain of mountains, peaked and weird, appeared: it was Corsica, covered with a light veil of mist. The sun rose behind it, outlining the jagged crests like black shadows. Then all the summits were bathed in light, while the rest of the island remained covered with mist.
The captain, a little sunbrowned man, dried up, stunted, toughened, and shriveled by the harsh salt winds, appeared on the bridge; and in a voice hoarse after twenty years of command, and worn from shouting amid the storms, said to Jeanne:
"Do you detect it, that odor?"
She certainly noticed a strong and peculiar odor of plants, a wild, aromatic odor.
"It is Corsica that sends out that fragrance, Madame," said the captain; "it is her peculiar odor of a pretty woman. After being away for twenty years, I should recognize it five miles out at sea. I belong to it. He, down there, at Saint Helena, he speaks of it always, it seems, as the odor of his native country. He belongs to my family.''
And the captain, taking off his hat, saluted Corsica, saluted down yonder, across the ocean, the great captive Emperor who belonged to his family.
Jeanne was so affected that she almost wept.
Then, pointing toward the horizon, the captain said: "Les Sanguinaires."
Julien was standing beside his wife, with his arm round her waist, and they looked into the distance to see to what he was alluding. At length they perceived some pyramidal rocks, which the vessel rounded presently to enter a vast, peaceful gulf surrounded by lofty summits, the base of which was covered with what looked liked moss.
Pointing to this verdant growth, the captain said: "Le maquis."
.. Complete Works of Guy de Maupassant
By Guy de Maupassant

A pleasant aromatic odour in the air was sufficiently strong to stimulate one's sleepy senses to realise the truth of the traveller's tale that the aroma of the Corsican maquis could be detected many miles out at sea. A distant flashing light also confirmed the fact that we were approaching our Eldorado.
The Alpine Journal, Volume 24
By Alpine Club (London, England)

Beyond this, almost from beneath our feet, stretched far away the wide sweep of Mediterranean, sparkling with countless flashes, and bearing on its laughing bosom the islands of Capraya, Elba, and Monte Cristo. Monte Cristo was but a blue cone above the waters; and Capraya, though larger, was cloudy and mysterious; but Elba lay before us majestically grand in the dappled sunlight, precipitous walls of barren rock and smiling hillside standing out in a fine contrast.
On the other side of the road, and rising steeply up, were rocky hills, well clothed with the sweet-smelling macchie; whilst, between every rocky rift, showed glimpses of wilder mountains, the inland chain of Corsica, raising their grey heads from misty veils of morning.
Macchie, in Corsica, is a word that means much. It is, literally, scrub or under
growth; but it is, practically, one of the most perfect garments ever woven by nature. It may be thick or thin, but is generally composed of a dense mass of shrubs, from two to four feet high, massed over and carpeted under by the richest and most luxuriant flowers.
The pink and the white cystus, the common weed of Corsica, which covers miles of country with its red or snow-white bushes on their sturdy growth, is the usual foundation of the macchie; but mingled with it are a score of other low growing plants, of various and often aromatic scents.
Here, by the Bastia road, where the hills sloped gently up from the road, the macchie grew closely; but where the grey and green and red rocks rose more steeply, the plants could only hang in the crevices overhead—here a cystus, and there a purple thistle, with the little crimson cyclamen peeping out of every cranny, and the bright lizards darting across the sunny stones.
Very beautiful was this first view of the Corsican rocks, and of the wide sea panorama of historic islands, each telling in silent grandeur its own history of adventure, heroism, or the stern freaks of fortune. The very name of Monte Cristo seemed to launch one into dim dreams of wild peril and desperate attempt; whilst the dark cliffs of Elba frowned in a stem harmony to their tale of the despotic emperor, whose heart for a time beat in impotent resistance against its prison walls.
What a satire it seemed, to place that proud, all-conquering Corsican on an island from whose heights he could plainly see the rugged mountains of his native land—almost smell the sweet odours of the macchie covered hills, wafted across his childhood's sea, from her to him!
A lady's tour in Corsica, Volume 1
By Gertrude Forde