26 February 2016

Napoleon escapes from Elba

Emperor leaves idyllic island to face his Waterloo

The French painter Joseph Baume's 1836 picture of  Napoleon about to depart from Elba for mainland France
The French painter Joseph Baume's 1836 picture of
Napoleon about to depart from Elba for mainland France
French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte escaped from the Italian island of Elba, where he had been living in exile, on this day in 1815.

Less than a year before, he had arrived in Elba, an island dotted with attractive hills and scenic bays, following his unconditional abdication from the throne of France.

Several countries had formed an alliance to fight Napoleon’s army and had chosen to send him to live in exile on the small Mediterranean island about 10km (6 miles) off the Tuscan coast.

They gave Napoleon sovereignty over the island and he was allowed to keep a small personal army to guard him. He soon set about developing the iron mines and brought in modern agricultural methods to improve the quality of life of the islanders.

But he began to be worried about being banished still further from France. He had heard through his supporters that the French Government were beginning to question having to pay him an annual salary.

Villa San Martino was Napoleon's country house on Elba
Napoleon's country house on Elba, the Villa San Martino
He had also been told that many European ministers felt Elba was too close to France for comfort.

Napoleon also missed his wife, Marie-Louise, who he believed his captors were preventing from joining him, and he was worried about being moved again to somewhere even more remote.

On the evening of February 26, 1815 Napoleon and a few hundred loyal soldiers boarded small boats and sailed to a tiny fishing village near Cannes, from where they marched north to Paris.

Napoleon seized power again and governed for a period now referred to as 'The Hundred Days,' but his final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo was less than four months away.

The picturesque port of Portoferraio is the arrival point for visitors to the island of Elba
The picturesque port of Portoferraio is the arrival
point for visitors to the island of Elba
Travel tip:

Elba is now a popular destination with holidaymakers who arrive by ferry at Portoferraio, which has an old port and a modern seafront with hotels. The west coast of the island has sandy beaches but the east coast is more rugged with high cliffs. Inland there are olive groves and vineyards producing Elba DOC. You can visit Napoleon’s two residences, Palazzina Naopleonica, a modest house built around two windmills in Portoferraio and Villa San Martino, his country house, which is further inland at San Martino and is decorated inside with Egyptian-style frescoes.

Hotels on Elba from Hotels.com

Piombino is the mainland point of departure for Piombino
The port of Piombino, the nearest mainland town to Elba
Travel tip:

Piombino is the point on the mainland closest to Elba, from where ferries run back and forth at frequent intervals during the day. The town is on the end of the Masoncello peninsula between the Ligurian and Tyrennian seas. It has an historic centre dating back to when it was a port used by the Etruscans. The main Etruscan city in the area, Populonia, is now a frazione (hamlet) of Piombino. It still has some Etruscan ruins to see and the Museo Etrusco Gasparri, which has important bronze and terracotta works.

Piombino hotels by Expedia.co.uk

More reading:

Napoleon becomes King of Italy

Napoleon's troops defeat the Austrians at the Battle of Marengo

Joachim Murat executed by firing squad

Also on this day:

1921: The birth of Milan architect Angelo Mangiarotti 

1943: The birth of Oscar-winning set designer Dante Ferretti

Selected books:

The Invisible Emperor: Napoleon on Elba, by Mark Braude

Napoleon: A Life, by Adam Zamoyski

(Picture credits: Napoleon's house by Furukama; Portoferraio by Ferpint; Piombino by Sailko; via Wikimedia Commons)


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