The history of Elba

There are various theories and legends on the birth and ancient times the Island of Elba; we can only say that various finds testify to life already on Elba in the Stone Age. AETHALIA (fire), was the most famous name by which the Island of Elba was known in the ancient world: the Greeks of the 5th century BC called it thus because of the fires that rose from the ovens used to smelt iron. It was the ample presence of this mineral that characterized the future events of the Island of Elba: everyone sought to conquer her to benefit from her riches. The first inhabitants of the island were the Ilvatians, a Ligurian people for whom the Romans subsequently named the island: ILVA. Afterwards came the Etruscans who also exploited the iron minerals. When the supply of wood was exhausted, they moved to the vicinity of Populonia. From that period unfortunately we know very little, as there remains little trace of these hard-working people. They say, however, that the Etruscans declined with the destruction of Carthage, their allies, in the Cuman waters. In the second half of 480 BC, attracted by the minerals, the Romans conquered Elba, with various relics remaining of their presence: the most important are the grotto villa at Portoferraio and that of Cape Castello at Cavo, which show their love for beautiful and luxurious things.

The last years of Roman rule remain wrapped in obscurity: however, the Island of Elba lost her economic importance when Rome came into possession of other rich mineral deposits. Following the fall of Rome there came the first barbarian invasions and the first monks: S. Cerbone, the best known, established himself in the sixth century in the woods between Poggio and Marciana, where the hermitage still exists. For almost three centuries the island was the subject of sacking and pillaging of every kind by pirates. The Lumbards later arrived on Elba during the time the Saracens were still infesting the seas and occupying some islands, until the Maritime Republics did a sort of disinfection of the waters. In the start of the year one thousand the Pisan republic was charged by the Pope with the defense of Elba from the Saracens, and estabished themselves on the island. From that period came the numerous watch towers present on Elba. The island was also a goal of the Genoese who, after several attempts to invade, managed to route the Pisans in the famous battle of Meloria in 1284. For many years Elba was the theatre of their battles until, in 1398, Pisa sold it to Galeazzo Visconti, from whom it passed to the Appiani Lords, princes of Piombino, who stayed for two centuries.The years that followed were characterized by continuous barbarian attacks, the most famous pirate of which was “BARBAROSSA” who was head of the Turkish fleet that destroyed the towns of Grassera near Rio and Ferraja (Portoferraio).

In 1546 Carlo V, King of Spain, took Elba from the Appiani, and a part of the island (the territory of Portoferraio) was sold to Cosimo the first de’Medici, duke of Tuscany, who started work on the impressive fortifications of Portoferraio in 1548 and who called it Cosmopli. The city was so well fortified that no one managed to sack it, not even the Saracen pirate Dragout when he attacked Elba in 1553. In 1577, following the Treaty of London, the rest of the Island of Elba returned to the Appiani.In the following centuries Elba, because of her strategic geographical position, became the object and field of contest between numerous European powers. In 1603 Philip II of Spain possessed Porto Longone (Porto Azzurro) and built the two fortresses that we see today: Fort Focardo and Fort S. Giacomo. Elba was therefore divided between the Spanish, the Appiani and the Grandduke of Tuscany. The inhabitants of Elba endured the events of the continuous struggles between the conquerors until, in 1802, Portoferraio was liberated by the English and the whole island was annexed to France. With the French, the Elban economy flowered, streets were built and maritime traffic increased. With the Treaty of Fontainebleau, the Island of Elba, together with the Principality of Piombino, was assigned to Napoleone, who was her guest from 3 May, 1814 to 26 February, 1815. At the congress of Vienna, Elba was retained by the Grandduke of Tuscany; then it was reunited in 1860 with the kingdom of Italy. The period up until the end of the century was known as the years of great misery. But with the construction of the modern iron and steel industry, Elba experienced a notable economic development and population explosion until the Second World War, when the Island of Elba was bombarded and occupied by the Germans in 1943. In this period the Elbans came to know the violence, hunger and degradation that war brings. The principle activity that supported the island was destroyed and there remained nothing but for the population to emigrate, a movement that ceased in the first years of the 50’s, when Elba was discovered by tourism. Thus was initiated the period of renovating and making the most of Elba, which after many trials has become one of the most desirable tourist destinations.

Fort Focardo – Capoliveri

Roman Villa of the Grotte – Portoferraio

Sassi Ritti San Piero

The ship (granite sculpture)

Watermill of Moncione San Piero

Arch of San Michele or Vantini (Bucine Portoferraio)