Elba and Napoleon’s 300 days

Elba is a rather small but beautiful emerald-wooded island with beaches varying from pebbles to fine golden sand, but always with clear blue-turquoise waters. We stayed at the Biodola Beach at a fine hotel with great facilities such as 2 snack bars, an ATM outside the parking lot, a smooth-running AC and exquisite cuisine with four courses to choose from and a salad bar. Parasol pines and giant agave plants dot the landscape.

Napoleon, upon being pressed to give up his power came to this small island of Elba in 1814. Within days of his arrival he invited all higher officers and set about reorganizing the marines and rebuilding the town of Portoferraio (lit. port of iron). He had sewer canals dug to keep the water off the streets, he had the little military house dei Mulini (lit. of the mills) rebuilt for himself, he suggested improvements for the entire population of Elba, restless as he was.

One edifice Napoleon did not have to rebuild was the Forte Falcone at the north end of Portoferraio, near the Villa dei Mulini.

Every once in a while Napoleon would seek refuge in a mountain recluse Madonna del Monte where he spent two days with his Polish lover Maria Walewska Laczynska in September, and prayed and talked to his mother who at times joined him there.

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Canova’s statue

Later, Napoleon fell in love with a villa in the valley San Martino that commands a fine view all the way to Portoferraio. He asked his sister Paolina if she could lend him the money. She obligingly sold some jewels and it is said she was the model for Canova’s statue in this wonderful palace. He had it renovated, decorated with his initial and heraldic signs of the Elban bee, and installed a bath that could be accessed by a trap door to the floor below. Next to the bath are a further room and the kitchen.

The husband of his niece Davidoff enlarged the two-storied villa by a large gallery of paintings on the ground level.

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Napoleon’s Villa San Martino

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note the heraldic eagle and the Elban bees

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the hatch that leads from the bedroom to the bath on the ground floor

The so-called Egyptian room is decorated following Napoleon’s campaign there and the publication of two tomes on Egypt. In the middle of the room is a small tub in black and white tiling like the rest of the room. Hieroglyphs are painted on the walls and one table has Egyptian symbols.

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“The Egyptian room”

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view from the Egyptian room to the love-knot room

Another room is known as the room with the “love knot”, a ribbon held up by two doves on the ceiling to symbolize Napoleon’s love for his wife, Maria Luisa, who did not join him on Elba.

D

uring one’s visit, you will also see a turn-of-the-century greenhouse with its panes and heating fully intact, built for the owner of this lovely mansion many years later. Some of the ceiling windows are reminiscent of Gaudí’s constructions.

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turn-of-the-century greenhouse behind the villa

One thing is for sure: the view through the valley to Portoferraio is superb, you will not want to miss it.

In the end, after long preparations to supply a ship, Napoleon decided to leave the island and its inhabitants in February 1815, albeit protesting he loved them very much. The aftermath, the disastrous Battle of Waterloo and Napoleon’s exile to St. Helen in the middle of the Atlantic, are well-known.

Author: Djinn

"To those of us with real understanding, dancing is the only true art form" (Charles Schulz)

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