History and legend




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From the Argonauts in the Legend of the Caves

The age of Myth

In a distant past, the small pebbles on the gravel beach, which are still visible today, were all white in colour. Apollonius of Rhodes told how the Argonauts, reaching Elba in their search for the golden fleece, dried the sweat from their bodies using the pebbles on this beach. Since then, legend has it that the white stones have become stained with grey and blue droplets. This story, which is probably a fable, is an obvious popular transposition of the works of classical authors (Hesiod, Sophocles, Herodotus, Strabo and many others), but could be linked to the exceptional finding in the 1960s of ruins under the sea just off the pebble beach which appear to prove the existence of the mythical port of Argivo on Elba.

Princess Alba and the knight Sabinus, both consumed by a love that was both passionate and condemned by others, turned to the goddess Venus for protection. She told them the island of Elba was a safe place to hide, with a promise that they would dedicate a place of worship to her in the house they lived in. However, the young couple forgot about this, and the goddess took revenge by making Sabinus loose his memory. He tramped around the island as a madman, and the unhappy Alba went to the place of their lost happiness and called out his name in vain. People tell oh how her calling can still be heard among the ruins of the Roman house at the caves of Portoferraio.

The age of the Pirates and Corsairs

The story of the lady of Grassera originates from Rio on Elba; kidnapped during a barbarian raid, she became a favourite of the Sultan Delasman, to whom she gave a son, Sinaam. In mysterious circumstances, the boy was adopted by prince Giacomo V Appiano. The ferocious corsair Khayr al-Din, known as Redbeard, who was in service to the Sultan, reached the gulf of the ancient town of Ferraia (now Portoferraio), demanding that the prince hand over the young Sinaam. When this was refused, the corsair orchestrated a series of raids and killings which did not stop until the youngster was handed over.

Opposite Portoferraio, there was a castle called Luceri, which the terrible corsair Redbeard destroyed during one of his raids, killing its master, a noble knight and father of five daughters. It is told that the damsels searched long and in vain for salvation; then, overcome with tiredness, they retraced their steps towards the place where the castle was, holding each other’s hands. At one point, a scream rang through the night: a corsair vessel was in sight once again. Terrorised, the girls decided to run away, but the oldest one slipped on a high rock face, dragging her sisters with her into the water. Today, when there is a full moon and the gulf is illuminated, the garland of the virgins can still be seen on the seabed.

The protagonists of this legend, dating back to the time of the barbarian raids, are two lovers. He, Lorenzo, was captured by pirates by the sea during the wine making season. Maria, in attempting to free him, fell into the sea and was drowned in the waves. A blue scarf was all that the sea left behind of her, and from that day, the place is known as “The Lover”.

Stories of sinkings

The inhabitants of Porto Azzurro live in the hope of seeing the treasures which legend has it are to be found there returned from the seabed. It is said that the Spanish vessel Polluce, loaded with jewels and works of art which Ferdinand IV, King of Naples, aware of his probable destiny, wanted to make safe, sank in the harbour. Survivors tell tales of the marvellous treasures on the seabed, giving rise to fabled sayings which have been improved over time … Various attempts have since
been made to recover the treasure, but in vain, as the sea has not returned anything.

Before 1600, canaries were only to be found in Spain, and to keep their monopoly, the Spanish only traded males. But one day, around the year 1550, a Spanish ship sank off the coast of Elba, between Marina di Marciana and Procchio. It was loaded with male and female canaries, and these birds nested and proliferated in the mild climate of the island, which is very similar to that in the Canary Islands.

Tales from recent times

In 1792, a monk named Beato Leonardo went to Portoferraio, where he dedicated himself to preaching against blasphemy and during his travels in the area, encouraged the people to live a life more focused on Christian morals. In the houses where the families accepted his word, Beato Leonardo inscribed the initials I.H.S. This is the origin of these letters which are still seen on many of the walls in Portoferraio.

Who was Mago Chiò? He was one of those madmen who country people know as lunatics. His fixation was to become famous: he inscribed his name in huge letters on the highest lighthouses, fortress walls and manors. He lived by stealing from fields and from people, but wherever he went, he announced himself by blowing on an old horn before stealing. The peasants let him do as he wished…

He lived in San Piero with his adopted daughter Maria, and was a survivor of the Italian Army who was blinded during the battle of Arcole, for whom Napoleon had ordered promotion in the field to the rank of lieutenant. However, he never received this promotion, making the soldier very disappointed. The girl made many sacrifices to make the old man happy, obtaining a lieutenant’s uniform in Portoferraio and a false document certifying his promotion, which for the veteran soldier was recognition of his merits and a return to life. During his exile on Elba, Napoleon visited Marina di Campo, and became aware of this, deciding to visit the veteran survivor. The girl became worried about what she had done, and went in search of the Emperor, revealing what had happened, promising to rectify the pitiful deed, certain that he would soon return to France. But, as luck would have it, the veteran lost his memory.

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