For the past two centuries, the Palazzina dei Mulini in Portoferraio, on Elba, has sparked the interest and creativity of historians and writers. One of them was Ernesto Ferrero, who chose it as the setting of his wonderful novel, “N.” – winner of the 2000 Strega Prize and inspiration for director Paolo Virzì’s 2006 movie.
The “N” in the title stands for none other than Napoleon Bonaparte, who stayed at the Palazzina from May 4th 1814 to February 26th 1815: the exiled emperor had reached the island after fleeing Marseilles on the “HMS Undaunted”, a British ship, and claimed the building as his official residence. Here, he spent the eight months before his last “flight of the eagle” – from Elba to France – and his failed attempt to return to power, before Waterloo and his final years on the island of Saint Helena.
The general used the Palazzina di Portoferraio – built in the early decades of the 1700s for the gardener of the grand duke of Tuscany, and named after the nearby windmills (“mulini” in Italian) – mostly for public events.
“Since Napoleon was an ‘Empereur ordonné’,” experts Roberta Martinelli and Velia Gini Bartoli have explained, “his life on Elba was ruled by the ‘tout comme à Paris’ principle, perfectly coherent with his usual habits. He constantly repeated this to Count Bertrand, the grand marshal in charge of managing the ‘maison’ on Elba – which according to its treasurer, baron Peyrusse, had ‘only’ 12 officials and 67 people on staff.”
“The new order of Napoleon’s court brought to Elba a downsized version of the ‘Etiquette du Palais Impérial’, describing everyone’s roles throughout the day, the Emperor’s ‘lever’ and ‘coucher’ routines, entrance to the palace, how meals were served in the Main Hall, night services, cleaning and valets’ work” (translated from R. Martinelli-V. Gini Bartoli, “Napoleone imperatore, imprenditore e direttore dei lavori all’Isola d’Elba”, Gangemi Editore, Rome 2014).
We invite you, with our gallery, to the Emperor’s home.