Fancy a treasure hunt? About 1000 years ago, Tuscany was recovering from a period fraught with natural disasters and frequent pirate attacks, and as a consequence there was a period of intense church building. At that time, Elba came under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the great Marine Nation of Pisa and therefore the same architectural style that can be seen in Pisa's Cathedral was applied to building a series of smaller churches in what today we call the Romanesque style. All the churches built on Elba have similar dimensions and the same architectural features. For instance, the length of the nave is twice as long as wide with a semi-circular apse on the back wall. The orientation of the churches is strictly East-West and above the main entrance stood a small belfry. High on the East and West walls was a small window in the shape of a Greek cross (with arms of equal length). Each church was built by local stonemasons and used local stone. 1 - The best preserved one, which is still in use today is the Chiesa di Santo Stefano alle Trane, located on a small hilltop overlooking Schiopparello and Magazzini. This dates back to the second half of 1100. The belfry is no longer present and the facade presents the unique feature of three blind arches. Above the secondary doors some beautiful floral and animal decorations can be seen sculpted in the stonework. This would have been the church of a small nearby village called Latrani, which no longer exists. 2 - The Chiesa dei Santi Pietro e Paolo (now known as S. Niccolò) is in another panoramic location on the outskirts of San Piero on the belvedere. Partially incorporated in the 15th Century fortress, this church has been subsequently modified, plastered and painted. Part of the nave was left uncovered in a sort of internal patio and a series of central columns divide the nave into two halves. The two apses have been truncated and two alters can be seen on the far wall. On the north and south internal walls there are some beautiful frescoes of saints and the crucifixion attributed to a famous Catalan artist from the 16th Century. 3 - The Chiesa di San Giovanni in Campo was actually a Priory and overlooks the towns of San Piero and Sant'Ilario, as was common in Medieval times. This is the largest Romanesque church on Elba and is surprisingly well-conserved. This is the only existing belfry to be seen. On the south side, traces of another building can be seen, probably the remains of an hermitage for the large number of monks present. This church can be found on the road going up to Monte Perone from Sant'Ilario or San Piero, close to the Tower with the same name. 4 - The Chiesa di San Lorenzo in Marciana is situated on a plateau in the valley beneath Poggio and Marciana, which it served. The nave has a rather irregular shape and the belfry above the Greek cross window is only partially present. The stones used in this church were blocks of local granite that were cut much larger than all the other churches on Elba. 5 - The Chiesa di San Michele in Capoliveri, recently restored and used as a mortuary chapel, is located beneath the town of Capoliveri on the old road that connected Capoliveri to the port of Mola. Only the apse and part of the north wall are original, but even these small parts reveal that this was once the most beautiful of Romanesque churches on Elba. On the morning of 17 November 1376, to the enormous joy and surprise of the congregation, non other than Pope Gregory XI said mass here when a storm forced his ship to moor in Mola on his way back to Rome after his exile in Avignon, France. Others worth noting, though have been later transformed are Santa Maria della Neve in Lacona, which was later enlarged, and the Chiesa di Sant'Ilario, now the parish church in Sant'Ilario where only the facade is original. These beautiful monuments of the distant past hold an enormous amount of charm. The locations selected were often magical places that even today manage to enchant. Many marriages are still performed in these tiny churches and even if you're not so much inclined... they are well worth the treasure hunt to find them. [Post provided by Fiona Buttigieg – Visit Elba Social Media Team] Discover Elba on the occasion of the Bicentennial of Emperor Napoleon, which will take place in 2014, all year round.
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