The Island of Elba

It is difficult to find another tiny island with as rich and tormented a history as Elba.

The earliest references to the island date back to remote times in which history and legends were inextricably intertwined.

In times closer to our days we know that Elba’s destiny has always depended on two factors: its strategic position and its wealth of minerals. And for these reasons it was often conquered by the various powers which dominated the Mediterranean.

For the Etruscans it was an inexhaustible source of wealth and Elba’s iron greatly contributed to the prosperity of this mysterious civilization.

The Romans appreciated Elba for its iron but also for its curative mud. Their interest is evident in one of the two wealthy patrician villas which have been found on the island not far from the thermal area. During the Middle Ages the island was dominated by Pisa and the Pisans left many important and fascinating defensive constructions on the island which are proof how important possession of this little island was in ancient times.

Then came the Appiani lords and Cosimo de’ Medici who built his Cosmopoli (today the little town of Portoferraio) on the ruins of the ancient Roman Fabrica, adding massive defensive walls which saved the inhabitants from incursions by maurading pirates.

The Spanish settled in Porto Azzurro and got down to defending their territory with a striking building: the San Giacomo Fort which later became a prison and still today dominates the little town.

Elba also came into the sights of the English, the Germans and the French who squabbled over it using diplomacy but also arms to gain possession of the island.

Moving on to times closer to today the period which made the island famous, projecting it to notoriety around the world, was Napoleon’s brief exile here. He stayed on the island for ten months before embarking on the 100 Days adventure.

Bonaparte left a significant mark on this tiny kingdom. In fact Napoleon was sovereign of Elba and not a simple prisoner as he had been on Sant’Elena.

On Elba there are endless mementoes and memories of its tormented past: archaeological sites, military structures, Napoleon’s residences and, around the coastline, wrecks of the many ships that carried Elba’s wines to cities around the Mediterranean. It is therefore a treasure trove of fascination for scholars and archaeologists alike as well as for all those who like to discover and delight in reliving the past.