Portoferraio: The Napoleonic Route

Tracing a Napoleonic route limited to the city of Portoferraio would be too simplistic. The whole of Elba bears witness to the frenetic activity of the great Corsican's government in the ten months of his Elban "empire": rationalisation of quarrying and mining in the mineral area to the design of an ironworks, organisation of new hospitals or the uprating of old ones, care and selection of the vines, introducing crops little known on the island like the olive and the potato and improving the road system.

It is, however, at Portoferraio that the most concrete and clearest signs of Napoleon's stay on the island are best preserved and attract large numbers of visitors.

Starting on the outskirts, the most famous attraction is Villa di S. Martino, adapted for the Emperor as a summer residence and situated six kilometres from the centre in a cool, agreeable spot set among vineyards and woods.
It is on two floors and decorated with affrescos painted by Pietro Ravelli and commissioned by the Sovereign. Rooms include: Napoleon's bed chamber, the Council or "Dove" room, General Bertrand's apartment and the Egyptian Room.

In 1851 Prince Anatolio Demidoff, distant relation of Napoleon, bought the villa and had a neoclassically inspired building built in front and below to function as a museum-shrine. Today the prestigious site plays host to exhibitions and other cultural events.

Returning to the centre of the city and climbing from the large car park at the foot of the Medici ramparts, Via Sebastiano Lambardi and Via del Carmine end in Piazzetta Gramsci after passing through the fornix of Porta a terra. Here the recently restored Teatro dei Vigilanti (formerly Teatro dei Fortunati) can be visited. This Italian-style theatre with three orders of boxes was built by Napoleon using and converting the volume of a deconsecrated church dedicated to the Madonna del Carmine that started out as a private chapel of the hospital with the same name built by the family of the Marquis Sorbello in 1617.

Continuing along Via Victor Hugo and crossing the sixteenth century fornix, you arrive at the Palazzina dei Mulini whose Italian name recalls the windmills originally standing on the spot. This was the official residence of Napoleon and his court.
The rooms include: the study, the reception room, the pages' room with a caricature of the Emperor, the Wardrobe room (with the Napoleonic flag of Elba: white and red with three golden bees), the bed chamber, the library with many hundreds of volumes and the precious collection of the Moniteur Universel from 1790 - 1813, the gallery, the officer's salon and, on the first floor, the quarters of Paolina Borghese, Napoleon's sister.
The recently restored entertainment salon stands at the side of the villa. The garden with statues and fountains stands below imposing the Forte Stella.

From the villa you descend towards the Darsena through the Medici fortification walls and the continue along via Ferrandini where a stone commemorates the fact that Donna Letizia, mother of the Emperor, lived there for a while.

Half-way along this steep road, a side road Via della Misericordia leads to a church of the same name. The museum in an annex houses the bronze death mask of Napoleon taken by on St. Helena by Dr. Antonmarchi who performed the autopsy on the body of the great exile.

Continuing downwards, the splendid Renascence pink stone steps finish the centre of the city, running alongside the Palazzo Municipale (XVIth century) where Napoleon resided for a few days from March 3, 1814.


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