History of Elba Island

Elba Island was inhabited by an ancient Ligurian populations, who started mining activities since the early Iron Age. However, excavations and findings proved human presence from the Paleolithic. Around the tenth century BC, Greeks from Phocaea settled in the Island, attracted by the abundance of iron ore, which melted on site using rudimentary processing methods. From the greek "aithalos" (smoke) the Island took its first name (Aethana or Aethalia), for the thick smoke that were coming out of the countless furnaces, which after extensive use of wood, led to the destruction and depletion of forests.

When the Etruscans (sixth century) and the Greeks of Syracuse (fourth century) took over, the Iron manufacturing was moved to the mainland, in the area of Populonia, where it continued in Roman times until the early centuries of the Empire. With the Roman domination Aethalia took the name of Ilva, for the primacy of the Ilvates (the race from the Ligurian coast) who were able to reach great economic and commercial growth. Their wealth lasted until a law forbade turning on furnaces for the excessive depletion of both coastal and Elba forests. In fact, Rome was expanding its Empire in Europe and Asia taking possession of rich iron mines where extraction and processing systems were cheaper than Elba; then begun its rapid decline.

At the fall of the Roman Empire, Elba could not escape the Lombard invasion and was ruled by a duke based in Lucca. In a passage of the Dialogues of Gregory the Great (second half of the eleventh century), appears for the first time the name of Elba instead of Ilva.

At the end of Lombard rule, Elba, which at the time of Sextus Pompey had been an impregnable fortress and naval base, was exposed to the raids of Greek, Norman and Saracen pirates who devastated the island several times.

After being papal patrimony, in the tenth century Elba passed into the political sphere of Pisa.

In the eleventh century Elba was invaded by the forces of Al-Mujahid, who, after having conquered the Balearics and Sardinia (1015), held the island until the defeat of Luni versus the combined fleets of Pisa and Genoa. In order to defend the island against the threat of Saracen raids, Pisa fortified some places on the island, especially Marciana, Rio and Capoliveri. Meanwhile were also rebuilt the fortresses of Luceri and Volterraio, where once stood an Etruscan acropolis.

The Pisan rule in Elba remained always under risk, due to the continuous attempts of Genoa to take possession of this strategic island of the Tyrrhenian Sea. After the battle of Meloria, disastrous for Pisa, the Genoese took possession of Elba, but after only two years (1292), it was back to Pisa. After ups and downs, that saw the island involved even in the wars with Florence, in 1399 Elba became part of the state of Piombino, Suvereto, Buriano, Scarlino, Vignale, Populonia, Elba, Pianosa and Montecristo.

The lords of Piombino didn't have easy times to defend their rule against frequent barbarian invasions and repeated threat from Siena to Florence. Meanwhile Elba continued to be fought over by Genoa, which in 1441 tried to conquer it, as well as Alfonso of Aragon in 1448. During the wars of domination fought between France and Spain, the State of Piombino, despite its declared neutrality, was unable to avoid being involved. Elba was in turn used by French forces and Spanish ones as a naval base. In 1501, Cesare Borgia, known as Valentino and son of Pope Alexander VI, forced into exile Giacomo IV Appiano, who could regain possession of his State only in 1503, after the death of the pope.

In order to strengthen his power, Giacomo IV allied with Ferdinand the Catholic, who conferred him the title of Captain of the Spanish forces in the Kingdom of Naples. As a result of this alliance Giacomo IV received a contingent of troops and a fleet to defend his state. In 1509, he ensured also the protection from Maximilian I of Habsburg, who elevated the Lordship of Piombino to Princedom declaring it Imperial Fiefdom; this recognition was later ratified by Rudolf II too.

During the reign of Giacomo V, coasts and islands of Tuscany underwent many barbarian raids, especially by Khair ad-Din, known as Barbarossa, who had established his lair in the Isle of Palmaiola.

Elba was repeatedly ransacked and many of its inhabitants were deported as slaves, some of whom were later freed by Charles V, when, in retaliation, he attacked and destroyed Tunis.
However, the danger of new raids remained and to thwart the constant Saracen threat, in 1548, Charles V entrusted the defense to Cosimo I de' Medici, Duke of Tuscany, investing him with the fief of Piombino. This investiture, however, was immediately revoked the following year, following the protests of the Duchess in charge Elena Appiano, mother of Giacomo VI, and the Genoese. Anyway the geopolitical situation of Elba was already changed: the Medici family hold the territory where later would rise Portoferraio and the Appiani got the rest of the island.

On the ruins of the ancient villages of Fabricia and Ferraia, was built a fortress in honor of Cosimo, that should have been called Cosmopolis, but that in the end took the less bombastic name of Portoferraio. The impenetrable defence consists of three forts bounded by solid and powerful walls.

In 1553, Medici's defences proved to be very efficient when the Turks of Dragut, encouraged by France, attacked the island and devastated the lands of the Appiano family, while Portoferraio remained undamaged.

As Elba was a good base for fleets, under the vice King of Naples, Juan Alfonso Primentel Herrera, the Spanish occupied Longone and established a permanent garrison; so, since 1603, the island became tripartite between the Grand Duke of Tuscany, the House of Appiani and Spain.

This policy aspect was preserved until 1738, when the Treaty of Vienna (at the end of the War of Polish Succession) assigned the entire island to the Grand Dukes of Lorraine, as the House of Medici extinguished.

Already in 1734, with the extinction of the House of Appiano, the principality of Piombino was sold by the Emperor to Niccolò Ludovisi, husband of Polissena Appiano. In 1735 Longone and the State of Presadi became part of the Bourbon Kingdom of Naples.

After the transfer of Corsica under the French rule (1768), England put pressure on Leopold II to acquire Elba, but the initiative was rejected by the Bourbons and France.

In 1796, after the occupation of Livorno by the Republican troops, the British landed on the Island of Elba with the pretext of protecting the 4000 French royalists, who two years earlier had found asylum in Portoferraio. Because of the continuous warfare between French, English, Bourbon and Lorraine armies, the situation became highly unstable and ended only in 1802, when the Peace of Amiens annexed Elba to France.

From that time, the Island followed the French administrative system and in its district were included also the Islands of Capraia, Pianosa, Montecristo and Palombaia. Overall the French domination advantaged the Island, which saw improved its road network, activated its trade and had a significant increase of its economy.
However, the new tax system and the establishment of the land tax produced severe discrepancies and discontent, particularly among landowners and generally among all those who derived no benefit from the maritime trade.

In the Capoliveri area, especially, the aversion towards the French broke out in frequent riots that were bloodily suppressed.
With the Treaty of Fontainebleau (11 April 1814), Elba, together with Pianosa and Palmaiola, formed an independent kingdom assigned to Napoleon, who held the island from the 3rdof May 1814 to the 26thof February 1815. After the brief reign of Napoleon, the Island returned to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and then to the Kingdom of Italy in 1860.

World War I

World War I

The birth of the blast furnaces in Elba and the years of First World War.

World War II

World War II

Indelible marks are visible on the island of Elba. Many images and documents describing the events of the latest World War.

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