The Island of Elba has been the theater of many great historical events: most
Mediterranean civilizations have left important traces of their passing. Nature
and millenary art and culture are enclosed inside 224 sq kilometers and give to
this land a unique atmosphere with extraordinary scenarios: the result of the
encounter of so many different peoples.
According to myth it was at
Port Argon, today called Capo Bianco, that Jason rested during his adventurous
search for the Golden Fleece. While Virgil in his Aeneid reveals that from the
same port, 300 Elba inhabitants sailed in to help the "Pious Aeneas" in the hard
battle against the Rutuli.
For the Etruscans, the Island
of Elba was an inexhaustible source of richness: from the 8th century BC onwards
they exploited the mines and exported iron in all the Mediterranean basin,
gaining great richness.
The furnaces were built and day and
night minerals were fused among dazzling flashes. In fact, Aristotle narrates
that the Greek sailors named the island Aethalia (spark). On the island
there are various necropolises, some remains of fusing ovens and many high
villages in unique settings, dating from the Etruscan period.
From the decline of the Etruscan civilization, the Romans
inherited the iron industry but also exploited the granite bodies and discovered
the curative mud at the San Giovanni Thermal Baths, the beautiful natural
environment and the excellent wine.
Pliny the Elder called it “The Island of
the good wine”. That is how the great sea traffic started with ships carrying
amphoras full of wine: many are still preserved in the Archeologic Museum of
Portoferraio and Marciana and together with other surprising finds rescued from
the sea, they tell the history of ancient navigation. Magnificent patrician
villas, such as Linguella, Grotte and Capo Castello, were built in the most
scenic gulfs, and were in those days, as still today, holiday places.
During the Middle Ages it was the
Maritime Republic of Pisa that exploited the iron and granite mines of
the Island of Elba: most of the columns that embellish Piazza dei Miracoli have
been shaped by the skillful stonecutters of San Piero.
There are many
monuments from the Pisan period: the fine Romanesque churches, the Tower of San
Giovanni in Campo built on an enormous mass of granite, and above all, the
powerful “Fortress” of Marciana and the Castle of Volterraio, a lookout over
mountains and seas.
In 1548 came the turn of the
Medici: Cosimo I built the fortified town of Portoferraio, a unique
example of military town planning. It blended so perfectly with the sea and the
land that the new city was called Cosmopoli, “cradle of civilization and
culture, example of balance and rationality”.
Afterwards came the Spanish
who settled in Porto Azzurro and built the imposing San Giacomo Fort, today a
prison, as well as various chapels and the charming Sanctuary of Monserrato, set
at the top of a sombre mountain.
During the 18th century, Elba was disputed by
the Austrians, the Germans, the English and the
French, through frantic diplomatic treaties and fierce battles. Finally
it was Napoleon Bonaparte who gained full ownership and sovereignty of
the island. During his ten months of government he made important changes: he
built roads, reorganized the mining economy and increased the production and
export of wine.
From an ancient deconsecrated church
he made a charming theater that after an expert restoration that brought it back
to its ancient splendour, today is the seat of important cultural
When he returned to France, for the
decisive hundred days, Napoleon left two residences that have become National
Museums visited by thousands of tourists every year...