Two hundred years ago this month, Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled to Elba, an island just off the Italian coast. He was 44, and only stayed on the island for 10 months before he escaped and marched north, to Paris and ultimately to Waterloo.
To mark his sojourn on Elba, Napoleon’s arrival was re-enacted, with the British replica ship Grace playing the original vessel, Undaunted.
Elba, midway between Corsica and the Tuscany coast, is approximately 29 km long by 18.5 km wide and has a population of around 30,000. When Napoleon arrived, it was as sovereign of the island, which at the time was home to nearly 14,000 people.
He lived in the beautiful Palazzina Mulini. Behind the house is a stunning garden overlooking the sea, with distant views of the Italian coastline.
Hundreds of history enthusiasts arrived from all over Europe to take part in the re-enactment of his arrival.
Paul Casanova, re-enacting a captain in the Irish Legion, explained what goes into making such an event convincing: “In order to stage an authentic re-enactment, you have to know the rules governing behaviour at that time, so you have to do a lot of research and that can be difficult, and can take a long time. Then you have to put it into action. So you arrive in jeans with a mobile in your pocket, and then you have to go back two centuries and get into the skin of someone else. It’s a role play.”
Napoleon’s sister Pauline visited him on her way to Naples. She only stayed for two days, but because she promised to come back and share his exile, he reserved a suite of rooms for her.
Women in fact figured large in Napoleon’s exile, mainly because they made it easier.
His mother joined him on Elba very early on, and his sister Pauline arrived only a month after he did.
Then in August, his Polish mistress Marie Walewska arrived with her son Alexander, and took up residence further up the mountains in Madonna del Monte where it was cooler in the summer.
Napoleon had a summer residence in San Martino, where he had a country house built, complete with romantic symbols. The love knot on the ceiling of one room is said to refer to his separation from his second wife, Marie-Louise of Austria, the couple being represented by the two doves.
A local figurative painter, Luciano Regoli, is doing an oil painting called ‘The landing of Napoleon on Elba’ to commemorate the anniversary of Napoleon’s arrival; an event which threw the island into the heart of European history.
Exhibitions, events, and music from that era also feature on the commemorative programme.