In 2014 Elba celebrated the Bicentenary of Napoleon Bonaparte Emperor of Elba. The festival went rather unnoticed from my point of view. What struck me however was the rather dilapidated state of the Villa dei Mulini in Portoferraio. What should’ve been a visiting card of the celebrations turned out to be a badly kept building and untrimmed gardens. Ok, so they were working on it, but it should’ve been ready for the bicentenary.
In this post I follow in the footsteps of Napoleon. A man that still intrigues many today. To put it mildly. There exists a genuine Napoleon cult. How do you explain a Napoleon apron? Elba gets it right when it comes to (kitschy) merchandising.
Time to take the grand Napoleon tour and visit Napoleon’s summer house, his official residence, the Madonna del Monte Sanctuary, Napoleon’s ‘chair’ and a water source carrying his name.
Villa dei Mulini, the official residence of Napoleon
Today the Palazzina dei Mulini in Portoferraio, once the official residence of Napoleon, is a National Museum.
Built in 1724 by the Grand Duke Gian Gastone de’Medici, the original building wasn’t what it’s like today. Napoleon had some alterations done by the Livorno architect Paolo Bargigli to suit his own needs better: the central part that connected the two original buildings was made higher so he could have a ball room.
The main rooms of the Emperor’s apartment are connected by a corridor: the first room you enter is the main room, followed by the library and the bedroom. Going past the stairs that lead to the ball room – originally designed for Maria Luisa but only used by his sister Paolina – you get to his studio and the room for his pages.
The original furniture that Napoleon had brought over from his residence in Piombino by his sister Elisa Baciochi no longer exists. Meticulous work has been done on the two residences with the addition of beautiful 19th century Imperial style furniture. This has brought the true Imperial atmosphere back to life. The library, on the other hand, still has the most important Napoleonic material: the books that the Emperor brought with him from Fontainebleau and those his uncle, Cardinal Fesch, gave to him.
In the garden, situated between the building and the sea, there are two beautiful statues: one of Minerva dating back to ancient Greece. The other is a copy of the Galatea of the Canova (they say Paolina Borghese posed for it), while the original is in the Demidoff Gallery in San Martino.
Rear-view of the Villa
Cannon in the gardens with view to the lighthouse
The seaside garden
Statue of the Galatea of the Canova
Villa di San Martino, Napoleon’s summer residence
The Villa di San Martino, Napoleon’s summer residence, is situated in the middle of the countryside, about 5 km from Portoferraio.The magnificent neoclassic architecture of the building is the work of Count Anatolio Demidoff. Demidoff was the husband of Napoleon’s niece Matilde di Monfort, who in 1851 decided to build a place worthy of Imperial pomps where he could keep his collection of Napoleonic antiques.
The Demidoff Gallery is at the foot of the original building. Here you can admire the statue of the original Galatea by Canova, where Paolina Borghese seemed to have posed for. It originally meant to enhance the beauty of the gardens in the Palazzina dei Mulini.
The original Napoleonic residence is above the Demidoff Gallery. The moderate architecture of the outside of the building is in contrasts with that of the inside designed by architect Bargigli. The frescos were done by Vincenzo Antonio Revelli from Turin.
On the second floor is the Egyptian room, where an octagonal bath has papyrus plants. The walls are a trompe l’oeil representing the Egyptian country side. The lovers’ knot room, meant to be a dining room, has a fresco on the ceiling of two doves in flight holding the lovers’ knot symbolizes the love between Napoleon and Maria Luisa.
Fonte di Napoleone
People come here to fill their jerrycans with water. Because Napoleon drank water from this source almost daily during his exile, it got the name of Fonte di Napoleone (Source of Napoleon).
The water from Fonte di Napoleone is served in several restaurants around the island.
Madonna del Monte Sanctuary
During his exile in 1814, the Madonna del Monte Sanctuary is were Napoleon met up with his well-beloved Countess Maria Walewski. Nobody could see them there and it was a getaway from the heat of Portoferraio.
Il Cavallo di Napoleone
Close to the Madonna del Monte Sanctuary there are some granite rocks of which one is called the ‘chair of Napoleon’. Napoleon supposedly sat here, looking out over his island of birth, Corsica, and made plans for his return to the mainland.
Fresco in the streets of the mountain village Marciana.
Waterloo 2015 – 200e Verjaardag van de Slag bij Waterloo – Bicentenary – St Helena