The Arch of San Michele or dei Vantini is located along the road that from the junction for S. Giovanni leads to Bucine, on the outskirts of Portoferraio. The wonderful seventeenth-century arch that in ancient times delimited the private property of the Vantini family whose members were nobles and administrators of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and to it belonged prominent ecclesiastical characters. Going past the arch, marked by time, you come to a large, well-preserved building showing architectural traces of the late 17th or 18th century nearby, a small ruined chapel dedicated to St. Michael.
The Vantini Family Four centuries of history of the Island of Elba
by Alessandro Pastorelli
Traveling by car along the Bucine road (Portoferraio), my attention was attracted by an imposing architectural artefact, known to me since I was a child but of which I did not know its function much less its history; a large and imposing portal in stone mixed with bricks, whose arched passageway with a lowered arch is emphasized by the two lateral pilasters ending in pinna-coli, and placed in the center a sort of entablature with niche. The love for art and the history of our island spurred me on to search for historical information regarding the artefact that had so attracted my attention. The seventeenth-century style arch was nothing more than the access to the properties of the historic Vantini family which included, in addition to the land, the manor house and a small church titled to San Michele, now unfortunately permanently lost. But who were the Vantini?
Vincenzo Vantini, first mayor of the republican era in Portoferraio (1801-1802) summarizes the fate of a leading family in the history of the Island of Elba. The Vantini were present since the origins of Cosmopoli (today’s Portoferraio), in the second half of the sixteenth century, for having accepted among the first, the invitation of Duke Cosimo I de’Medici. There are many documents preserved in the historical archive of Portoferraio in which there are traces of life of this but one of all, dated 1552 tells of their settlement in Cosmopoli. From this document we deduce that Giovanni, coming from Pistoia, was the first of the Vantini who settled in Cosmopoli; father of Zelone. There is a city to be built, there are uncultivated land to be cleared; we need arms, ideas, and above all a spirit of colonization. The Vantini were among the first to settle on the island, together with the Carpani and the Castelletti from Milan. The Vantini were practical people, with a keen sense of business as evidenced by the choice of baking bread, biscuits and biscuits; they were on an island, where ranks of workers and soldiers assigned to fortifications flocked, a port where supply ships dock, a virgin territory on which a city was being founded. Bread was the first necessity. I Vantini flank the mill with the oven. Business was growing and the cash was impingua, hence the choice to produce wheat instead of buying it. The Vantini threw themselves into the purchase of land, partly for cereals and partly for vineyards. The fame of Elba wine spread among the myriad of sailors and goes beyond the borders of Elba. From generation to generation, the land owned by the Vantini extended from S. Giovanni to the slopes of Volterraio, as far as Capoliveri, including the area of Magazzini, Le Trane, S. Stefano. The economic power of the Vantini in 1636 had reached such a level that the Grand Duke Ferdinand II had to intervene in order to put an end to their purchase of land. The economic power of the Vantini, in just over half a century from their settlement on the island, was now prosperous and consolidated. Only access to the nobility was missing; and Paolo Vantini took charge of this in 1674.
Paolo Vantini was born in Portoferraio in 1641 and married the young Francesca from the noble and rich family of “Della Fioraia” of Arezzo. The election of a commènda was the expedient used at that time for the transition from a condition of wealth to a noble status. Paolo with the foundation of a commènda in favor of the Sacred Order of the Knights of Santo Stefano. In 1660 the general council of Arezzo decreed the admission of the Vantini to the highest honor of the judiciary, that is, to the gonfalonierate. An important family that has contributed to the development of the Island of Elba with ingenuity and effort and that has left us small architectures that speak to us and tell us about our past and that we are obliged to keep in order to let our children know our origins.