Napoleon on Elba Island, Italy

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) was a French military leader, who conquered much of Europe in the early 19th century. He quickly rose to fame during the French Revolution, after seizing power and crowned himself emperor in 1804. He was shrewd, ambitious and a skilled military strategist, who successfully waged war against many European nations and expanded his empire. However, after a disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812, Napoleon abdicated the throne and two years later was exiled to the island of Elba. After nine months on Elba, where he had busied himself building roads and improving two properties, while he secretly planned a return to France, he did escape to France and returned to power in 1815. After his Hundred Days campaign and  a crushing defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, he abdicated once more and was exiled to the remote island of Saint Helena, where he died at 51. Napoleon must have been devastated to go to Saint Helena, because he thought Elba was very remote (which it is) and he had updated two villas on Elba, to keep up to the standards he was accustomed to in Paris. Villa San Martino, also known as Villa Bonaparte was his country estate on Elba Island and the one we toured. There were noticeable and recurring themes on many of the buildings and inside the various rooms. These included honeybees, the letter “N” and the eagle. Notice the “N” and the eagle at the gates of Villa Bonaparte…………….

The “N” of course represents the first letter of his first name. But, what do the honeybees have to do with Napoleon? We first spotted all three on the upper motif of the villa. The bees are in a triangle shape.

Villa Bonaparte, Elba Island, Italy

And here is an eagle in the garden………………which represented Napoleon’s military strength.

Villa Bonaparte, Elba Island, Italy

He had his horse on one wall too.

Villa Bonaparte, Elba Island, Italy

The eagle sentries graced the rooftop garden of the villa………….

Villa Bonaparte, Elba Island, Italy

Maybe they had gatherings up here, it was a beautiful view……..

Villa Bonaparte, Elba Island, Italy

Was this a table? A type of barbeque? A beacon light?

Villa Bonaparte, Elba Island, Italy

Inside Villa Bonaparte we found………modest rooms with fine decorating. Remember, he asked his sister to sell her pearls, so he could re-furbish the properties to his standing…………

Villa Bonaparte, Elba Island, Italy
Villa Bonaparte, Elba Island, Italy

One of the well known rooms is the “Hall of the Knot of Love,” decorated with trompe-l’œil, or three dimensional paintings. The room was meant to be a dining room, where the fresco on the ceiling of two doves in flight, holding the lover’s knot, symbolized the love between Napoleon and his then wife, Maria Luisa. He divorced Josephine because they had no children together. But, it was his mistress Napoleon brought to Elba with him, and placed her in the second villa a few miles away, while he used this country estate for his pleasure.  The other villa, the Palazzina dei Mulini, where the mistress resided, was for business. You notice there are honeybees on the motif around the far edge, in this room as well.

Villa Bonaparte, Elba Island, Italy

In this room we are back to the bees again. So what was it about between Napoleon and the honey bees? There are several ideas to ponder……..

The bee was chosen by Napoleon to link the new dynasty to the ancient kingdom of France. 

Or, it was said, when Napoleon came to power after the Revolution and moved into the Royal Palace, he refused to spend money on new decor and they were looking over items to see what could be salvaged.  Some of the curtains had been torn from the windows and lay on the floor. The rich and elegant drapes were embroidered with the fleur-de-lis (the French Royal emblem) However, when the  drapes were on the floor and one looked at the emblem upside down, Napoleon thought it looked like a bee, so from then on the strong, little, working bee became the emblem of Napoleon. Oh, I like that thought!

And the third reason for the emblem of bees on Elba island, was Napoleon told the people of Elba they were hard working and in unity like bees, to get his residences ready and in their part in building up the island. Three bees were chosen because Elba had had three rulers and now he was the fourth and would finally unite them under one banner! Yeah, until he could escape!

Villa Bonaparte, Elba Island, Italy
Villa Bonaparte, Elba Island, Italy
Villa Bonaparte, Elba Island, Italy
Villa Bonaparte, Elba Island, Italy

And there had to be the Egyptian room……………..where the walls depicted the Egyptian countryside………..and Napoleon’s military campaigns and discoveries there.

Villa Bonaparte, Elba Island, Italy
Villa Bonaparte, Elba Island, Italy

and the large octagonal pool held papyrus plants at one time……….

Villa Bonaparte, Elba Island, Italy

The zodiac was the feature on the ceiling……….

Villa Bonaparte, Elba Island, Italy

I’m always interested in the kitchen. Here, it was on the main floor with the main bathroom for Napoleon close by……….. a big room, but not much left in it………

Villa Bonaparte, Elba Island, Italy

An extension to the property was made when Napoleon’s niece and her husband, Russian Prince Anatole Demidoff, took possession of the villa in 1851.  He added the new gallery………with pairs of granite columns and dedicated a museum to Napoleon with weapons, paintings and other items……

Villa Bonaparte, Elba Island, Italy

And his ceiling also included the bees………….

Villa Bonaparte, Elba Island, Italy

And lots of fancy artwork………..

Villa Bonaparte, Elba Island, Italy

But, they didn’t stay here long. They ran out of money………………and the Italian side of the family died out. Napoleon’s last hurrah lasted 100 days and then the British exiled him for good to Saint Helena’s Island, 1200 miles off the west coast of Africa, in 1815. They also sent a garrison of experienced officers to guard him. Napoleon’s new quarters were on the pavilion grounds of the Balcombe family home until a permanent residence at Longwood House was completed in December 1815.

He died there May 21, 1821 at the age of 51.

Next, we will see what else there is to Elba Island! It’a enchanting and very remote!

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Marie says:

    Napoleon could have used a couple of overstuffed chairs. The furniture doesn’t seem conducive to leisure. 🙂 I want my own Egypt room.

    Like

    1. Ha ha! Marie I’m with you!

      Like

  2. Thanks for this fabulous tour. I’ve always wondered about those Napoleonic bees, and here they are! It’s also nice to know that other people run out of money during construction, too!

    Like

    1. Ha ha! People never change! This family tended to live above their means I think!

      Liked by 1 person

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