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The Municipality of Portoferraio

What to visit in the municipality of Portoferraio


The municipality of Portoferraio, the capital of the island, is placed, in comparison with the other seven municipalities of Elba, in first place respectively for number of inhabitants and second for extension. The municipal territory is characterized by the capital, by some localities located mostly along the coast, such as Enfola, Biodola and Bagnaia, and by numerous scattered houses. The urban structure of Portoferraio is composed of a citadel, which in its current appearance dates back to 1548, the year in which Cosimo I de' Medici ordered the construction of the fortifications, still visible today, and of a peripheral fabric, developed following a strong building development in the post-war period, first to meet housing needs, then to respond to the burgeoning tourist demand.

If the history of the foundation of Cosmopoli is known to many, less known is that of the small inhabited nucleus of the Roman era, Fabricia, of which only the remains of a Roman villa from the 1st century BC remain. C., partly incorporated into the Medici fortifications. The domus, called della Linguella, is located at the end of the narrow promontory that closes the dock of Portoferraio to the east, adjacent to the archaeological museum of the same name where Etruscan and Roman finds found during the excavations of the 1960s and utensils and furnishings are preserved deriving from necropolises and high-altitude fortresses.

Datable to the 1st century. B.C. it is also the Roman villa of the Caves, which thanks to the excavations carried out between 1960 and 1972, is now easily recognisable: built entirely in opus reticulatum, it developed along a central axis consisting of a large rectangular basin surrounded by a peristyle, featuring three large gardens, panoramic stages over the gulf of Portoferraio.
There is no documentation or testimony from the medieval era.

The impressive fortification works, commissioned by the Medici family, are of great historical and cultural importance. The two main forts, Fort Falcone and Fort Stella, stretched along the sea and into the dock and guaranteed, together with the rest of the walls and bastions, a solid defense against attacks from the sea and long sieges. Furthermore, a hammer-shaped tower, precisely the Torre del Martello, was built in the strip of land that juts out towards the sea, thus constituting a valid military defense of the port. In this tower, at the end of the nineteenth century, the attacker of King Umberto I of Savoy was locked up, from whose name the nickname "Torre del Passanante" was derived for this tower. Inside the fortified walls, the "Dei Vigilanti" theater is worth a look. Formerly called the "Imperial Theatre", it was obtained from the transformation in the Napoleonic era, from the deconsecration of the seventeenth-century church of Carmine, used at that time as a military warehouse.

Napoleon, forced into exile on Elba after his abdication and the Treaty of Fontainebleau and before the "One Hundred Days", between the Falcone and Stella forts, had four windmills demolished to build his city residence, the so-called Palazzina dei Mulini, where he quickly attempted to recreate, in a smaller format, the atmosphere of a court that had always accompanied him, also welcomed the stay of his mother and sister Paolina. Currently there are preserved relics, furnishings and furniture of the time and part of the interesting library brought with him by the emperor and then donated by him to the Community of Portoferraio.

As for the extra-urban residence, Villa San Martino, it was purchased by Napoleon in June 1814 to make it his summer residence and remained uninhabited due to his departure from Elba. It was later acquired by Prince Anatolio Demidoff who, having built the imposing neoclassical gallery that took his name, essentially disinterested in the original idea of creating a museum of Napoleonic memories. It preserves period furnishings in the frescoed rooms (the so-called "Egyptian Room" is noteworthy) and, in the gallery, a collection of nineteenth-century Napoleonic prints.

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