Visit Elba | Napoleon at Elba: 5 things that few people know about the Emperor’s exile on the island

Between myths and ambitious projects, 5 interesting facts that few people know about Napoleon’s stay at the Elba Island


The staff of Elba Island are working to put together a rich schedule of events to celebrate its most illustrious guest starting May 2021

Elba Island has been at the top of Italians’ preferences for vacation destinations, despite current difficulties, the island is now looking forward to the next 12 months with a major event that will enliven the island.

2021, will be an important year for Elba Island due to the bicentenary of Napoleon Bonaparte, an iconic moment that will involve and attract visitors who have already chosen the wild island of Elba as their holiday destination.

For the bicentenary of Napoleon’s death, the aim is 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.

“We are currently in touch with major international associations such as The European Federation of Napoleonic Cities and Route Napoleon, together we are organizing this important anniversary in order to involve all the island’s municipalities and leading national organizations 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,” said Niccolò Censi, Coordinator of the Island of Elba’s Tourism Association.

5 curiosities that few people know about the emperor on Elba Island

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 nowadats. While we wait to celebrate the bicentenary of his death, let’s discover five curiosities that few people know about Elba and Napoleon that characterized the general’s stay on the island, amidst clashes, visionary projects and romantic legends.

A home in every city for the emperor’s sleepless nights

Napoleon slept four hours per night, and it was more than enough. He has 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. There are villas and rooms that trace Napoleon’s steps all over Elba Island; 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. It seems that Napoleon spent many of his nights in these gardens, strolling around and contemplating a new revenge. 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 to the famous Villa dei Mulini and Villa San Martino in Portoferraio, it is not common knowledge that 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.

The perfect farm: The San Martino wine project

Bonaparte is historically credited with having established the first Elban wine DOC, recognizing the value of the Aleatico wine thanks to the recovery of the Emperor’s Privilege, a document that can be considered a groundbreaking DOC. Napoleon’s passion for wine was transpired during his stay on the Island of Elba, it got 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 that recalled the granite of the homonymous peak, calculating precisely from the 1815 harvest (which he was unable to see) how many barrels he would have obtained.

Secret documents and fake identities: Madame Mère’s passport

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 August 2nd, 1814, under the false name of Madame De Pont, at almost 65, Madame Mère climbed onto the deck of the English brick Grasshoper anchored in Livorno to reach Elba, travelling to see her son and ready to support him even during his fall.

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.

His sister Pauline organized the Carnival ball here the day before Napoleon’s flight on February 26th, 1814, to disguise the forthcoming turn of events to allow her brother to bid farewell to the Portoferraio society.

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 twelve-pound battery of cannons to raze the stronghold of Capoliveri to the ground. The question was: “What to do but try to negotiate?” Everybody was looking at the perfect candidate and ultimately agreed to appoint Vantina, the beautiful daughter of master Vantini, with the task to represent and 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, he decided to withdraw his soldiers, sparing Capoliveri and its inhabitants.

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