1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Elba
ELBA (Gr. Αἰθαλία; Lat. Ilva), an island off the W. coast of Italy, belonging to the province of Leghorn, from which it is 45 m. S., and 7 m. S.W. of Piombino, the nearest point of the mainland. Pop. (1901) 25,043 (including Pianosa). It is about 19 m. long, 61 m. broad, and 140 sq. m. in area; and its highest point is 3340 ft. (Monte Capanne). It forms, like Giglio and Monte Cristo, part of a sunken mountain range extending towards Corsica and Sardinia.
The oldest rocks of Elba consist of schist and serpentine which in the eastern part of the island are overlaid by beds containing Silurian and Devonian fossils. The Permian may be represented, but the Trias is absent, and in general the older Palaeozoic rocks are overlaid directly by the Rhaetic and Lias. The Liassic beds are often metamorphosed and the limestones contain garnet and wollastonite. The next geological formation which is represented is the Eocene, consisting of nummulitic limestone, sandstone and schist. The Miocene and Pliocene are absent. The most remarkable feature in the geology of Elba is the extent of the granitic and ophiolitic eruptions of the Tertiary period. Serpentines, peridotites and diabases are interstratified with the Eocene deposits. The granite, which is intruded through the Eocene beds, is associated with a pegmatite containing tourmaline and cassiterite. The celebrated iron ore of Elba is of Tertiary age and occurs indifferently in all the older rocks. The deposits are superficial, resulting from the opening out of veins at the surface, and consist chiefly of haematite. These ores were worked by the ancients, but so inefficiently that their spoil-heaps can be smelted again with profit. This process is now gone through on the island itself. The granite was also quarried by the Romans, but is not now much worked.
Parts of the island are fertile, and the cultivation of vines, and the tunny and sardine fishery, also give employment to a part of the population. The capital of the island is Portoferraio—pop. (1901) 5987—in the centre of the N. coast, enclosed by an amphitheatre of lofty mountains, the slopes of which are covered with villas and gardens. This is the best harbour, the ancient Portus Argous. The town was built and fortified by Cosimo I. in 1548, who called it Cosmopolis. Above the harbour, between the forts Stella and Falcone, is the palace of Napoleon I., and 4 m. to the S.W. is his villa; while on the N. slope of Monte Capanne is another of his country houses. The other villages in the island are Campo nell’ Elba, on the S. near the W. end, Marciana and Marciana Marina on the N. of the island near the W. extremity, Porto Longone, on the E. coast, with picturesque Spanish fortifications, constructed in 1602 by Philip III.; Rio dell’ Elba and Rio Marina, both on the E. side of the island, in the mining district. At Le Grotte, between Portoferraio and Rio dell’ Elba, and at Capo Castello, on the N.E. of the island, are ruins of Roman date.
Elba was famous for its mines in early times, and the smelting furnaces gave it its Greek name of Α᾽ θαλία (“soot island”). In Roman times, and until 1900, however, owing to lack of fuel, the smelting was done on the mainland. In 453 B.C. Elba was devastated by a Syracusan squadron. From the 11th to the 14th century it belonged to Pisa, and in 1399 came under the dukes of Piombino. In 1548 it was ceded by them to Cosimo I. of Florence. In 1596 Porto Longone was taken by Philip III. of Spain, and retained until 1709, when it was ceded to Naples. In 1802 the island was given to France by the peace of Amiens. On Napoleon’s deposition, the island was ceded to him with full sovereign rights, and he resided there from the 5th of May 1814 to the 26th of February 1815. After his fall it was restored to Tuscany, and passed with it to Italy in 1860.