Despite its small size, the island of Elba has been known since the beginning of recorded history. Called Ilva by the Ligurians and Aethalia by the Greeks, Elba passed to the Etruscans and later the Romans. It was ruled by Pisa in the Middle Ages, was a haven for Barbary pirates in the 16th century and then privately owned by the powerful Medici family. The island's most famous resident was Napoleon Bonaparte, whose first exile from France and short reign over Elba lasted from May 1814 to February 1815. During that time, Napoleon was able to improve the island by altering street plans, building new roads, modernizing agriculture and developing the iron mines.
Iron ore is still mined above the Rio Marina and then shipped from Portoferraio (Port of Iron). With a population of just over 11,000, the town is the largest of the eight on the island and is considered its capital. Geologists and gem stone collectors find Elba a treasure trove with over 150 minerals and semiprecious stones found here due to the seismic turmoil that created the island. The rich soil also produces an astonishing range of foliage and flowers aided by sun that shines almost every day of the year. Despite summer tourism, the island is largely agricultural and the ambience is quiet and relaxed, allowing the visitor to enjoy Elba's natural charm, peaceful abundance and timeless beauty.