French and pre Napoleonic period

In March 1799, French troops were sent from Livorno to occupy Portoferraio. Its citizens were initially hostile, but the resistance was soon won thanks to the Governor's consent and the Jacobin sympathizers. The last men who remained faithful to the Grand Duke were forced to embark to the continent, while the governor and the Jacobin sympathizers were celebrating the event showing off cockades and tricolor flags. Then was established a patriotic civic party by conscription; on the first of April was erected the Tree of Liberty in Piazza d'Arme (now Piazza della Repubblica).

After the Provisional Government of the Republic succeeded Luigi Lambardi, who was already consul of France in Portoferraio, in charge of organizing the municipalities according to French laws. Both the administration and the Jacobins felt isolated while struggling to set up the National Guard due to the lack of volunteers. With the threat of considering the recalcitrant as rebels, finally were formed four companies expensed by the municipality.

The bad behavior of French troops exasperated so much the citizens that forced the municipality to allow the ordinary court to judge and punish the military. The other few French troops around the island encountered unexpected resistance: after the ambush of Capoliveri, General Miollis, commander of the troops assigned in Tuscany, landed on Elba to put down the revolt and ordered the loot of the village. The attempt to conquer Longone failed as the town was well protected by the Neapolitan troops who were supported on sea by the English, and managed to block even the arrival of supplies in Portoferraio.

At that time, prisoners and rioters of Elba were forced to join the troops in Longone which then became strong enough to push back the French until the walls of Portoferraio. After the revolt of Marciana, it was clear that the French were not strong enough to occupy the island: Monserrat commander of the Portoferraio was forced to surrender, which was signed in the church of San Rocco in July 1799. Portoferraio was then occupied for a short time by the Neapolitan troops waiting to return under the rule of the Grand Duchy.

After Napoleon's victory over the second coalition, the French returned to Tuscany and got possession of the whole Elba Island. The strategic relevance of Elba and the constant threat of the British rule, made the possession of the island and its mines more important than ever for the French government. While the commanders of Elba's garrisons were agreeing to oppose against the French, in Longone arrived the order of the King of Naples to surrender peacefully. Fixon, commander of Portoferraio, on the orders of the Grand Duke (retired to Vienna in the meantime), decided to resist, opening the hostilities. In May 1801, French troops sent from Corsica landed in Longone and then headed towards Portoferraio. French parliamentarians asked Fixon to surrender; but the request got rejected and French bombardments against Portoferraio begun by the Navy and by a battery installed in the site of Grotte Caves.

After the failure of both this attack and the French negotiations, Fixon proposed a temporary truce in order to receive orders from Vienna, but actually he just wanted to take some time and wait for British help. Meanwhile, some lucky events wickened the French batteries, whose ammunitions were almost finished; their food was close to finish and the soldiers were suffering from malaria, caused by the near salt marshes. Fixon, supported by all citizens and the British reinforcements arrived in Portoferraio, resisted to the bitter end. Even when France and England signed the Peace of Amiens, which took place on the seventh month of siege, the battle continued six months more. Only in June 1802, after having received express permission from the Grand Duke Ferdinand III, the governor Fixon ceded the square of Portoferraio to the French garrison. Annexed to France, Elba was part of the 23rd Army Division before moving to 25th.

On July 14, 1802 the islanders, represented by municipal deputations, swore loyalty to the French republic and Elba sent a deputy to Paris. The third of September 1802 a delegation of Elba went to Napoleon asking to be treated as a duty free area, especially for wine. They thanked the First Consul for "the great benefit received, considering the island as a French territory". Although Napoleon welcomed the Elba delegation, he couldn't hide the disapproval against the Portoferraiesi, who" instead of taking part against the Mighty and Victorious Country of France had rather kept the neutrality as it was more convenient for them".

Briot, was appointed General Commissioner for Elba, Capraia, Pianosa, Montecristo and the islet of Palmaiola. French laws were modified in accordance with local customs ss much as possible and ports became duty free. The military commander Rusca, born in Piedmont, earned the respect among the inhabitants of Elba as well as the Corsican Commissioner Galeazzini, who was responsible for the construction of roads and bridges in Elba Island. Both communication and postal services with the mainland increased and became more efficient.

The French also thought to build a large iron processing system throughout the whole Mediterranean Sea, but finally this never happenned. In 1804 took regularly place the vote for the proclamation of Napoleon Emperor of the French, among over 4587 votes, 4487 were in favour. In 1809 Elba became a sub prefecture and was part of the Mediterranean Department. The French systems of justice and the Napoleonic Code were applied on the island; municipalities were in charge of primary school, while secondary education could also been taught by privates; clergy depended on the diocese of Ajaccio and priests continued to teach updating their programs with the ones of public education. Each year, ten among the most deserving boys were chosen together with children of public officials, to be sent to study in French high schools.

Under the French rule, Portoferraio also resumed the works on the fortifications according to the latest standards intended to provide a stronger defensive belt consisting of: Fort Saint Cloud, at the entrance of the harbor; Fort Saint Hilaire (English Fort); and the small fort on Mount Albero. Among the French soldiers must be mentioned the general Leopold Hugo, father of Victor, the famous writer who stayed in Portoferraio as a child in a house in Via del Buongusto, nowadays Via Garibaldi.

Fast inquiry

Elbaworld suggests

da visitare
What to visit

Discover places and attractions nearby.

Recommended excursions

Discover incredibly beautiful excursions on Elba Island.