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Portoferraio fortress, Elba Island
Photo ©Danny Colangelo

Visiting Napoleon’s villas in Elba Island

Visitors can see where Napoleon stayed during his exile of the Island of Elba

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Napoleon Bonaparte, after his defeat at Leipzig, was forced to move to the island of Elba where he lived in exile for nine months, from May 4, 1814 to February 26, 1815. He left an important sign in the history of the Tuscan island, suddenly put at the center of European political events: he studied local resources, reorganized agriculture, transport and trade, and even designed Elba’s flag: white with gold bees on a red stripe.

Though the short period spent there, The French emperor sought to modernize the island, in fact he made roads build, proposed administrative rules and favored the development of the industrial sector.

Today you can visit the two residences where Napoleon lived: the Villa dei Mulini in Portoferraio and Villa San Martino in the country, near Procchio.

Villa dei Mulini

Villa dei Mulini in Portoferraio, in piazzale Napoleone, between Forte Falcone and Forte Stella, is in a perfect position for controlling both the seaside and the town. It was built about a century before his arrival, in proximity of some windmills that took advantage of the strong sea breezes. This simple residence is the result of the union of two grand-duca houses and includes the Salone dei Ricevimenti or Reception Hall (fig. 23), created by raising the ceiling, the Salone degli Ufficiali or Officers’ Hall, a private study, the bedroom, and the Sala dei Valletti or Valets’ Room.
Naturally, the rooms have been decorated and furnished in Empire style and showcase the weapons, the paintings, the Emperor's library. The gardens offer a wonderful view over the bay.

Villa San Martino

For the summer season, Napoleon chose a house in the countryside, the Villa di San Martino, at only 5 kilometers from Portoferraio. He made the interiors decorated by various artists such as Pietro Ravelli, who frescoed some emblematic rooms: the Sala Egizia or Egyptian Room, which refers to one of the general’s military campaigns, and has on the ceiling, the symbol of the power of fate, the Zodiac; the Sala delle Colombe or Room of the Doves, with two doves depicted in flight holding a ribbon in their beaks with a knot which becomes tighter as they move apart: a sign of loyalty to his wife Marie Louise of Austria; and Paolina’s bathroom, also known as the Room of Truth, because of the allegory of Truth painted on the ceiling. 

A Doric style gallery was added to the villa in the mid 19th century, with a central pronaos, built for the Emperor’s cousin, Prince Demidoff, to hold Napoleon’s relics. There is also a statue of Galatea, attributed to Canova, depicting Napoleon’s sister, Paolina; legend has it that Paolina enjoyed sunbathing on a small rocky island in the Gulf of Procchio, which has since been named after her. Another Napoleonic museum can be found in the Church of the Misericordia in Portoferraio, which also houses some castings of the Emperor’s hand and face. 

Other sites
Teatro dei Vigilanti
Teatro dei Vigilanti - Credit: infoelba.it

If you want to see something more about him, there are two Napoleonic theatres: one in Villa dei Mulini and another  known as the Teatro dei Vigilanti, built in the deconsecrated church of the Carmine in Portoferraio.

Other Napoleonic sites on the island include the hermitage in the woods near the sanctuary of Madonna del Monte and, nearby, a curious rock known as "Napoleon’s Chair", from where the Emperor is said to have admired the view of his homeland, Corsica.

Info: visitelba

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