The red of iron, the gold of pyrite and the silver of hematite, to the thousand shades of granite. Elba's is a journey through the colors of the stones, which have always been guarded in the belly of the island and excavated, starting with the Etruscans until a handful of years ago, with deposits inexhaustible enough to seem eternal.
Closed in 1981 after nearly two thousand years of operation, Elba Island's iron mines are now open and can be visited: #Elbaunderground is going underground to discover what is still considered to be among the world's most extensive mining basins, with more than 200 mineral varieties on the surface of the island and more than one-twentieth of all the minerals on earth, means going on a real journey through history and science.
Mining tourism today represents one of the most fascinating frontiers of "experiential" visitation in which the tourist not only sees, but is personally involved through immersive activities: from visiting tunnels to collecting minerals, from the mineralogical trekking route to visiting stone processing plants. With ever-changing panoramas: the eastern side of the island, the one facing the boot, is dominated by the iron deposits; the western side, which looks to the Tyrrhenian Sea and Corsica, by the granite stone, which is still being excavated. Framing it all is the sea, always a stone's throw away from the visitor throughout his stay on the island.
The route begins at Monte Calamita, in the Ginevro Magnetite Mine, the only tunnel mine still open to visitors on the island. It is the largest deposit in Europe and is considered a strategic iron reserve by the Italian state, so much so that it is still protected for its importance.
Equipped with a helmet and a spirit of adventure, with the help of guides, you can descend "into the belly of the island" immersing yourself in an experiential visit. How did the miners live? What customs permeated the small community dedicated to excavation? What did it mean to work underground? The visit answers these and other questions, in an articulated tour along the mine's tunnels and communal spaces, where you will have more than once the feeling of seeing the activity still going on, thanks in part to the presence of instrumentation left on site immediately after the closure in the 1980s.
Another unmissable stop is San Piero, on the west side of the island, dominated by granite. Here, accompanied by expert guides on excursions in contact with the wildest part of Elba, you can discover more about the quarrying and working of the stone, which has marked the history of architecture. Here again Suffice it to say that the 7 colossal columns of the Pantheon in Rome (12 meters high and 1.5 meters in diameter) were made from Seccheto granite. But granite from Elba in Rome can also be found under the Quirinal, at the Palatine and the Colosseum, testifying to the importance the ancient Romans attached to this quarry of fine stone.
According to some scholars, a trace of Elba is also found in Aachen Cathedral, specifically in the 18 columns brought to Germany by St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, and then transferred to the church by Charlemagne. To return to Italy, Elban granite is found in the Cathedral and Baptistery of Pisa, as well as in the Boboli Gardens, the altar of San Lorenzo and the Chapel of the Princes in Florence. The stone is still prized by architects and interior designers for its durability.
The trip is completed with an exploration of old work sites and dedicated museums. A key stop is Rio Marina, the oldest mine on Elba Island, where excavations began in the Etruscan-Roman period and continued almost uninterrupted until the industrial period. What is striking about Rio are the colors: the living rock glows under the sun, blending with the blood red and yellow ochre that stretch and sink into a turquoise sea. Also here it is possible to visit the Mining Museum, which finds continuity in Rio nell'Elba in the Archaeological Museum of the Elban Mining District, to which must be added guided tours of the mining sites of the Basin, Valle Giove, Falcacci and the Conche mining site. In Capoliveri with visits to the museum of the Old Workshop and the Vallone and Ginevro Tunnels mining sites, and finally to the MUM, or the mineralogical and gemological museum of San Piero to discover the wonderful world of granite.
Passionate about minerals? Looking for a new experience that can engage children and excite adults? Have you always dreamed of challenging yourself to search for gemstones, ice axe and bag in hand? This is the right experience for you! The island's mines offer family-friendly trails and excursions where, in the company of experienced naturalist guides, you can feel like a geologist for a day as you discover and collect minerals firsthand.
Mineral collecting in the mines is a real adventure, fun and engaging, starting with the setting itself, midway between the lunar surface but at the same time a step away from the sea. The earth shines and here the challenge begins to search for minerals of different eras, formations and shapes.
The route is accessible on foot or, for the more adventurous, by e-bike, which becomes a min-ebike for the occasion, or even by safari-style Army all-terrain vehicle.
Families who prefer the "slow going" can opt for the mining areas tour by little train: in about 80 minutes, thanks to a comfortable little rubber train, through red earths in an almost Martian landscape, you go to discover the most important and ancient mine on Elba Island for an unforgettable trip to Valle Giove, in the mines of Rio Marina. On the way, it is possible to disembark in search of pyrite and hematite samples to preserve and collect.
For those who want to choose a more natural means of transportation, there are the donkey trails along the granite routes, which allow you to discover the west coast on the back of a donkey, the same means used from ancient times until the middle of the last century to travel the island's roughest trails.
The mines also provide a fantastic excuse for hiking enthusiasts. Following the "mining veins" that crisscross the body of the island, Elba offers numerous trails suitable for all kinds of sporting experiences.
Suitable for everyone is the Granite Route, which starts and finishes in San Piero and through some dirt paths, leads to the quarries and offers beautiful views of the island of Giglio and Monte Cristo (3 km, easy). Other routes on the Granite Route allow you to visit things that are still active or get to archaeological sites.
Another route connects the mines of Rio Marina: here, in addition to visiting the mining sites, you often have the chance to meet a-you-per-tu with the island's wildlife, such as wild boar, hare and red partridge.
For the more demanding, the Calamita mines offer different itineraries that can be modulated according to the level of experience and the time one wishes to devote to the visit: they range from easier routes (Macei the iron ores, 2 km, duration 1.5 hours; From the Museum to the Sea, 2.5 km, duration 1.5 hours; The Old Railway Route, 7 km, duration 3 hours) to those of medium intensity (Calamita Ring, 11.5 km. duration 3.5 hours) or of longer duration, for trained hikers (The Miners' Way, 9 km, duration 5 hours).
Strategic location for the large amount of hematite and limonite immediately identified by the emperor as soon as he landed on the island as a strategic-military axis.
The beach is named after the islet a few meters from the shore, itself named after Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister who, according to a legend (probably created by a tourism entrepreneur in the 1960s) loved to sunbathe on these rocks.
Designated as a summer residence, Napoleon purchased the property from the Manganaro family in 1814, with the intention of transforming it into a comfortable and refined abode that would have nothing to envy from Parisian residences.
Built in 1724 by Grand Duke Gaston de’ Medici, it was Napoleon’s city residence during his first stay on Elba Island.
It was built as a sign of gratitude in 1606 by José Pons y León of the Dukes of Arcos, Spanish governor of Naples and first governor of the square of Longone (part of the state of principals). In September 1814 Napoleon, accompanied by Pons and Bertrand wanted to visit the sanctuary.
While the Elban economy today is based on tourism, the fact remains that the people of San Piero and the west coast (Pomonte) have also lived and continue to live off their granite and marble
Visit the harbor where Maria Walewska landed and the armed watchtower visited by Napoleon himself in 1814