The picturesque harbour village of Portoferraio, capital of Elba
Call me easy to please, but personally I would be more than content if the powers that be decided to give me a Mediterranean island, especially one as beautiful as Elba. But then again, I’ve never tasted the addictive pleasure of power and I’ve never been the ruler of most of Europe. In 1814 Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated by a coalition of four great powers and then, as the historians say, he was banished to the island of Elba. In fact he was allowed to keep his title, given a small army and a tiny navy and was moved, together with a few hundred of his best pals and his mother and his sister, to Elba to become the ruler of this beautiful island, which was raised to the level of an independent state. Under the circumstances, I'd call him very lucky. True, he now the ruled a state of a mere 11,000 inhabitants, a far cry from being the boss of millions, but to a large extent he got off fairly easy. After all, his wars had killed millions, making him arguably entitled to the prize Greatest Widow Maker of the 19th Century. The Bourbon royals, newly returned to France after over 25 years exile, would loved to have seen him strung up, or at least banished to a lonely, far away island in the mid-Atlantic. So, to say that Napoleon was banished, and leave it like that, paints a false picture. Instead, in May 1814, the Emperor of Elba arrived amidst pomp and glory in his new statelet, very much a big fish in a small pond.
To arrive by sea today in his capital city of Portoferraio is a magical experience, for the town comes as a surprise; the old town has hardly changed since the Emperor’s time, only the giant yachts from the Virgin Islands making a significant difference. The old town must be one of the most picturesque harbours on the Mediterranean.
View from the old town, Portoferraio
The rest of the 140 square kilometers island is rugged and mountainous, with spectacular views, beautiful beaches and delightful little coastal villages. In some ways Napoleon definitely appreciated the beauty of his island kingdom and, with his characteristic capacity for work and organization he immediately set about improving the island and the quality of life for its inhabitants, building roads and hospitals, improving sanitation and housing, introducing street lighting, reforming the fishing fleet and initiating innovations in agriculture. Naturally, he also began to expand his army and navy and he established a court of great pomp and ceremony in his restored villa in Portoferraio.
Napoleon's main residence, the Villa Mulini
It would have been better for Napoleon, and the thousands more innocents who were to die in his final battle, had he been able to satisfy himself with such delights as the stunning view from his villa. Instead, less than 10 months after arriving on Elba, he made his way towards his Waterloo. After the battle the Bourbons finally had their way and he was banished, truly banished, to a lonely, far away island in the mid-Atlantic.
The view that Napoleon lost