The Spaniards in Elba

The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were characterized by continuous struggles to possess the island, in particular among English, French and Spanish kingdoms. Spain was interested in gaining control over the sea and having an outpost in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. In 1603 King Philip III of Spain, conquered Porto Longone (Porto Azzurro) and built a massive fortress in the shape of an irregular pentagon (Forte San Giacomo), that had the role of counterbalancing the one created in the northern side of the island by Cosimo de' Medici. The construction of the Fort San Giacomo was under the designs of Don Garcia of Toledo who took as a model the great port of Antwerp. Today the fort has been converted into the prison of Elba and from its position it dominates the bay and the village of Porto Azzurro.

The Spaniards fortified Porto Longone and later Capoliveri that, together with the gulf of Mola, represented another wide and safe bay in Elba. The Spanish domination in the eastern side of Elba lasted about one and a half century and in 1646, three thousand infantry and three hundred knights of the French kingdom landed on Elba, after having conquered Piombino. At first they attacked Rio and the fortress of Giogo and finally they took possession even of Longone. France as well as Spain wanted to have a base in the middle of the Mediterranean in order to conquer Italy. The Spaniards left Longone to the French, given their superiority, but after four years, led by Don Juan, son of Philip IV, they conquered it back,.

In the fourteenth century were built several chapels and the charming Sanctuary of Monserrato, set on a dark "Dolomite" mountain. Meanwhile, the sea attacks by pirates and French continued, which led in 1659 the Spaniards to build a second fort in the bay of Longone, Fort Focardo. Built in front of the fortress of Longone it closed the entrance to the bay, making it safer.

In 1708, near Rio, came a landing of Austrian troops, who in the meanwhile allied with the Spaniards against the French. Unaware of that alliance and the agreements made at the headquarters, the Spaniards on the island resisted, especially in Longone and Capoliveri for over 4 months finally sending away the Austrians. Charging the local population of aiding the Austrians, the spanish Pinel ordered the destruction of the walls that had protected Capoliveri and Marciana and the fortress of the Giogo too since then.

Ferdinand, heir of Cosimo III, died in 1713. By order of the Grand Duke Gian Gastone, nearby Portoferraio the fort San Giovanni Battista was destroyed to prevent the enemies from using it to threat the nearby Cosmopolis. In 1738 Charles of Bourbon, (son of Elizabeth Farnese and Philip V of Spain), succeeded Gian Gastone due to lack of heirs, and after a deal with the Austrians left Elba to Francis I of Austria. A few years later, he was succeeded by his second son Leopold II, who built the lighthouse of Portoferraio thus facilitating the trade industry.

In the summer of 1796, with the excuse of protecting the island from the French, England obtained the permission to land on Elba from the governor of the Grand Duchy, who soon became a British stronghold thanks to its numerical superiority and military asset. The protests of the Grand Duke Ferdinand led to the expulsion of the British troops from the island in April 1797.

In the same time, despite some difficulty, the French were able to drive out the Italian sovereigns one by one and conquered Elba, which passed to the French republic in 1799.


Fort Focardo

Fort Focardo

Constructed in Spanish Age it offers a marvellous view on Porto Azzurro and Cima del Monte.

Forte Longone

Forte Longone

Used as a hight-security prison, it can be visited only the outside area, that offers a beautiful view of Calamita.

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