200 years of Napoleon on Elba

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26 February 2021
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Napoleon on his exile to the Island of Elba Napoleon on his exile to the Island of Elba
The staff of Elba Island are working to put together a rich schedule of events to celebrate its most illustrious guest starting May 2021.
200 years of Napoleon on Elba Images

This year sees the bicentenary of Napoleon Bonaparte’s banishment to the island of Elba. To commemorate his incarceration, the staff who work on the island are aiming to create a Napoleonic week that will turn into an annual ritual. The staff will set up a full immersion adventure of history, culture, and education, with events spread throughout the island aimed at adults, young people, and children.

Niccolò Censi, Coordinator of the Island of Elba's Tourism Association said, “We are currently in touch with major international associations such as The European Federation of Napoleonic Cities and Route Napoleon, and together we are organising this important anniversary in order to involve all the island's municipalities and leading national organisations to create, from May onwards (and then throughout the 2021 summer season), an agenda with unique events to highlight Elba's great heritage, often unknown.”

 

Napoleon Bonaparte landed on Elba Island on May 4th in 1814, in Portoferraio, where it is still possible to see the exact location where the first French emperor landed. From that moment until February 27th, 1815, the life of the Elban community was turned upside down by the Napoleon's presence, his traces are still everywhere. Here are five facts about Napoleon’s stay on Elba Island.

 

1. Houses everywhere.

Napoleon slept four hours per night, and it was more than enough. He had great passions in philosophy and science, gardening, and engineering. To maintain his scholarly and intellectual habits, the French general managed to set up a residence in almost every town on his route as a place of comfort and quiet. After the first night on the island, the banished emperor had chosen Palazzina dei Mulini (The Mills Building) as his first residence. The residence was used as a defensive system by the Medici dynasty, it is located between Forte Falcone and Forte della Stella. Palazzina dei Muluni is named after the historical presence of windmills on the site. He also had Villa San Martino, located in the middle of the island's hinterland, adjusted as a summer residence. The house was supposed to be a love nest to share with his wife Maria Luisa, but she never joined him in the end.

In addition, Bonaparte also had rooms set up within the walls of Forte San Giacomo in Porto Azzurro, while in Rio, ( a small town located in the Island) there is an ancient villa that used to be a government palace where Napoleon spent his time.

 

2. The San Martino wine project

Bonaparte is historically credited with having established the first Elban wine. Napoleon's passion for wine translated into an ambitious project to create a wine-growing estate and a hunting reserve around San Martino, where he had various vineyards planted near the beautiful residence. There were two labels - the red Côte de Rio, inspired by the red colour of the mountains full of minerals, and the white Monte Giove.

 

3. Secret documents and fake identities

Hidden in Portoferraio, among the documents kept in the historical archives of the Island of Elba, there is the passport used by Maria Letizia Ramolino, Napoleon Bonaparte's mother, an Italian aristocrat from Corsica, known as Madame Mère. On 2 August, 1814, under the false name of Madame De Pont, at almost 65, Madame Mère climbed onto the deck of the English ship Grasshopper anchored in Livorno to reach Elba, travelling to see her son and ready to support him even during his fall.

 

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4. The Adventures of the Theatre of Vigilants

Built in Portoferraio thanks to Napoleon, who had the old, deconsecrated church of the Carmine transformed, the Teatro dei Vigilanti is still functioning today and hosts a rich program of performances every year. The theatre's construction, however, was not easy for Napoleon, who did not receive any tax payments despite the establishment of the Principality, nor the life annuity promised by France. To find the money required for the theatre's construction, he put the 65 stages up for sale to the city's aristocrats, causing a competition among all those who wanted to demonstrate their social importance.

 

5. The legend of Vantina

Napoleon's stay on the Island of Elba inspired many folktales that have been passed down through the alleys of the island's villages for generations. The legend of the Vantina, told by the elderly in the squares of Capoliveri, is one of them. Due to the excessive taxes imposed by the exiled emperor, a sudden uprising occurred in Capoliveri, leading Napoleon to gather his troops and a 12-pound battery of cannons to raze the stronghold of Capoliveri to the ground. The residents nominated Vantina, the beautiful daughter of master Vantini, to negotiate to save the entire community. It is said that one look was enough to win the heart of Napoleon who, convinced by Vantina's humble and kind manners, decided to withdraw his soldiers, sparing Capoliveri and its inhabitants.

 

 

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