Place of historical interest
The history of Elba is very ancient, dating all the way back to the mid and superior Palaeolithic, as can be seen in the archaeological findings housed in the Archaeological Museum of Marciana, together with materials from the Eneolithic sepulchre of S. Giuseppe and from the sub-Apennines villages of the Marciana mountain.
According to mythological tales, Jason stopped at Capo Bianco on his adventurous quest for the Golden Fleece, as told by Virgil in the Aeneid.
For the Etruscans, Elba was an endless source of wealth: as early as in the 8th century BCE these people were exploiting mines and exporting iron throughout the Mediterranean basin, obtaining extraordinary wealth in return. Furnaces were built that worked and glowed night and day to melt minerals, and, as narrated by Aristotle, the island was named Aethalia (spark) by Greek navigators because of its glaring kilns. Today visitors can still admire the remains of furnaces and of countless “high-rise villages”, located in inimitable scenarios.
The Romans inherited the iron and steel industry following the decline of the Etruscans, but they also appreciated granite quarries and discovered the healing muds of the Terme di San Giovanni, the beauties of the landscape, and the excellent wines.
In the Middle Ages, the Maritime Republic of Pisa exploited Elba’s iron mines and granite quarries.
Much evidence remains from the Pisan period: refined Romanesque churches, such as the church and tower of San Giovanni, but in particular the powerful Fortezza di Marciana and the Castello del Volterraio.
In 1548 Cosimo I dei Medici ordered the building of the fortified city of Portoferraio, a gem of military urban planning. It was named Cosmopoli, “the birthplace of civilisation and culture, an example of balance and rationality”.
Right after that the Spanish settled in Porto Azurro, where they built the majestic Forte San Giacomo, which currently houses a correction facility, as well as several chapels and the interesting Santuario di Monserrato, nestled in a gloomy mountain.
In the 18th century, Elba became part of the kingdom of Napoleon Bonaparte, who by ten months into his government had left significant marks: he built roads, reorganised the mining economy, and increased wine production and exports.
We still have a memory of Napoleon in the two residences he left, which today are national museums: Villa di San Martino and Villa dei Mulini.
Villa di San Martino, located in San Martino, in Portoferraio.
It can be visited every day except on Mondays, exclusively upon reservation, in the following hours:
Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays: 9:00-13:30
Wednesdays and Fridays: 14:00-18:30
Villa dei Mulini, in the historical centre of Portoferraio, at Piazzale Napoleone.
It is open every day except on Tuesdays, exclusively upon reservation, in the following hours:
Mondays and Thursdays: 14:00-18:30
Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays: 9:00-13:30