your holiday


The english fort

San Rocco

This small fort is on the hill above San Rocco not far from the old part of Portoferraio where the view of the surrounding countryside is breathtaking; it is easy to get to just by following the roads across the town.

Its troubled history explains why over a century its name has been changed so many times. Cosimo lll Grand Duke of Tuscany had the English Fort built in 1700 while on a visit to Elba, although then it was called Forte di San Giovanni Battista and was built in an attempt to protect the town from the attacks from land. In 1728 however Gian Gastone, the last of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, had it pulled down; he feared that had the island been attacked, the Fort might have proven to be a strategic place for the enemy if they wanted to attack the town. And what Gian Gastone had foreseen came true in 1796 when, in response to Livorno having been occupied by the French, the English landed in Portoferraio on Acquaviva beach and took possession of what was left of the fort which from then onwards was called "English Fort". Even though the Grand Duke's sovereignty was still officially recognised, the four hundred men lead by Admiral Nelson, who is said to have set up his headquarters inside the fort, didn't leave the island till nine months later, and only after long and painstaking diplomatic negotiatons In 1802 after the French seiged Portoferraio, Napoleon, then First Consul, wanted the town reinforced on the outside so he had several defense areas built: he therefore decided to have the fortress brought down, had it re-built and more munitions brought in so that it became the nerve centre in the external defense system of Portoferraio along with Fort Montebello, the smaller one of San Rocco and the small Fort of S. Cloud (near the port in Portoferraio). When he arrived as emperor in Elba in 1814 Napoleon decided to give the English Fort a second lease of life, so he had it made bigger and had more canons, officers and soldiers brought there. He was convinced that the English Fort, that in his opinion should have been called Saint Hilaire Fort, was very important for the defense of both the town and the port and he wanted it to become the headquarters for his imperial fleet when, one day, he would have been the Emperor of the whole of Europe again, but, as everybody knows, he left Elba in 1815 never to return.

Between 1816 and 1817 a terrible epidemic of typhoid hit the Island of Elba and the rest of Italy, and the Grand Duchy government needed somewhere to to care for all the people who had caught the disease that was both big enough and far from the town, so they chose the English Fort. When the cholera epidemic passed in 1817 all the rooms in the Fort were disinfected and painted but the Fort was abandoned and never used again for military reasons until World War II. In 1861 with the Unification of Italy, brigandage rose and grew all over the peninsula, and this was when the English Fort became the home of the local prisoners, and you can still see a sort of "graffiti" on the walls inside the Fort probably written by one of the prisoners who had taken part in the literacy learning experiment held in the prison in 1865.

During World War II, an anti-aircraft battery was set up inside the Fort : a watchtower with a Breda 20 mm. machine gun that later became the home to many families from Portoferraio who fled from the plane bombings and became a sort of temporary refuge for the many poor and homeless families up till the early years of the 80s. In the years that followed, the Fort became home to many associations, local artists and even a radio station. The actual building and the walls around it aren't very big but there is a ditch all round it. Access is across a cement bridge (that took the place of the original wooden drawbridge), and some people believe the old underground tunnels that lead to the sea and to the outskirts of Portoferraio are still there.

Renovation work on the english fort came to an end in 2014, so since 2015 it has been open to the public again.

In the meantime, until the area dedicated to the natural history exhibition is completed, there is no admission fee if you want to go and see the monument as well as the "Plants and Animals from the Americas to Europe" exhibition, set up in collaboration with the Natural History Museum of Genoa.


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di Consorzio Servizi Albergatori
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POR FESR Toscana 2014-2020

federalberghi isola d'elbaThe Elba Hoteliers Association was founded in 1953 and represents 85% of the hotels on the Island of Elba and it is affiliated to the national “Federalberghi” Association.

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