We are in the exiting and exotic exile island of Elba. It has been described as a rich and famous yet in some respects tormented place. Elba features a diverse natural landscape. Pristine sapphire waters hug the coastline. The luxurious fine grained sandy beaches and pebbly coves are numerous. It is famous for perfume and painterly pink postcard sunsets. Industrially, it has some of the purest minerals and the oldest iron mines in the world, the origins of which reach way back into the mists of time.
Elba’s Rich History
In real history, this is where the dynastic Medici family created their perfectly idealized and strategically fortified town called ‘ Cosmopoli’. Internationally sophisticated yet quaint, culturally diverse yet deeply Italian, Elba is the origination of what we today call a ‘cosmopolitan’ lifestyle.
Napoleon Undaunted in Elba
Elba was the island chosen for French dictator and self appointed emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s first exile. ‘The little general” was forced to abdicate after the signing of the Treaty of Fountainebleu and was sent to Elba on the “HMS Undaunted”. He arrived here in Portoferraio on 4 May 1814.
It was an aptly named ship that delivered him to the island, because even though he had been banished, the little man and his ego remained largely undaunted. Through no official process at all, Napoleon was granted sovereignty over Elba. Importantly, that meant he would also retain the title of ‘Emperor’.
Elba was hardly prison. He was granted permission to maintain a personal guard of around 600 men so continued in some capacity to hold reigns of power. His mother and sister moved to the island, living a lush and lavish lifestyle in mansions that today are museums. He lorded his power over the 12,000 inhabitants of Elba which was a considerable come down. Before his surrender Napoleon had held dominion over 70 million Europeans.
Elba’s main town Portoferraio’s town quay today
Short in stature and reputedly aggressive, his attitude surely made him appear taller when he entered a room. His ego was certainly tall. Napoleon escaped exile on Elba and returned to France in early 1815 in efforts to reclaim the empire.
Napoleon subsequently led a new army that only enjoyed temporary success before suffering a second defeat. The hundred days war preceded another humiliating surrender, this time at Waterloo. As a result he was exiled for a second and final time, to the island of Saint Helena located off the coast of Africa, where he died.
Main Town Portoferraio
We’re anchored in Portoferraio – which pretty much translates as iron port. Portoferraio is the biggest town on the island. It strikes us that the boats here today would look very different to the boats here in Napoleon’s time.
There are frequent crisscrossing, cartoon decorated, car carrying ferries. They come from Corsica, Sardinia and the mainland, which is just 10km (6.2mile) away, making the island hugely accessible. But of course in Napoleon’s time they would all have been sail or steam powered boats. Note: ‘Undaunted’ was a steam ship. We visited the fuel dock yesterday to top up Waiata’s tanks. It’s an absurdity in some respects – needing to fill up a sail boat so often. As we’ve mentioned before – we think sailing the MED means Motor Every Day. The marine fuel dock is plonked directly in front of historic battlements. It is a visual contradiction in terms and in some respects, a pity. But I guess that’s what many might call ‘progress’.
A couple of centuries after Napoleon’s two exiles, a little Swedish band wrote this song for the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest. In essence, it is a mini-history lesson, drawing analogies between a woman who gives in to the battle and falls in love, surrendering to her personal ‘Waterloo‘. With their gorgeous lead singers and glam rock costume’s, the song burst into a worldwide hit, putting Abba on the global music map. Interesting fact: the song “Waterloo” was originally titled ‘Honey Pie’. Sweet.
My my, at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender
Oh yeah, and I have met my destiny in quite a similar way
The history book on the shelf
Is always repeating itself
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