The French emperor Napoleon lived in exile on Elba for nine months, from May 4, 1814 to February 26, 1815. The residences of Napoleon on Elba were two: Villa dei Mulini in Portoferraio, and Villa San Martino in the countryside, above Portferraio. Napoleon choose the location of Elba, instead of Corfu, for his exile.
Villa dei Mulini is so named because previously, on the same point where the Villa is located, there were 4 mills (in fact Mulino in italian means mill). Napoleon chose Villa dei Mulini as his main residence because of its dominant position over the city: from the terrace, not only could he enjoy a wonderful view but he could keep an eye on the harbor and observe which ships entered the port.
This Villa was originally built in 1724 by Gian Gastone de’ Medici. When Napoleon arrived in 1814, the structure was modified under his direction and became the official residence of the Emperor on the island, used for receptions and parties, and public events.
Villa di San Martino was, instead, where he had his private life and his summer residence. It is perched on top of a hill and surrounded by woods, and boasts an incredible view of the countryside and the sea in the distance from the upper terrace. Despite being a small villa, Napoleon wanted to have nothing to envy in terms of comfort and refinement and was in fact very well furnished and decorated. In order to buy the villa he asked for a loan from his sister Pauline, who , to fulfill this wish, sold some of her jewels. She also animated the villa with lively Paris-style parties.
On the first floor, he built a library, where he spent a lot of time. But the two most important rooms in the villa are:
– Sala egizia: which is decorated with hieroglyphs and pyramids, and on the ceiling the zodiac can be admired. An octagonal bath, which contained papyrus plants, is in the center of the room.
– Sala del nodo d’amore: which was dedicated to his union with Maria Luisa d’Asburgo-Lorena, his wife who, however, did not follow him in the exile on the Isola d’Elba. At some point of his exile, Maria Walewska, his Polish lover arrived on the coast of Elba with the Emperor’s son, her sister and her brother.
Since Napoleon’s exile left a mark on the Island and on the island’s inhabitants, every year, especially in May, there are several historical commemorations.
More info to visit the residences of Napoleon on Elba:
Villa dei Mulini: Portoferraio – Piazzale Napoleone. Cost to enter 5 Euro (full ticket). The first Sunday of each month the entrance is free.
Villa di San Martino: Portoferraio – Località San Martino. Cost to enter 5 Euro (full ticket). The first Sunday of each month the entrance is free.