However this mirror of water, which was the most protected natural harbour between La
Spezia and Gaeta, had already been used as a port by Roman ships and probably also by the
Etruscans who came to Elba to mine the iron ore. It is a promontory that wraps around the
present Medici harbour like an embrace. The longest narrowest part is called "Linguella"
because of the tongue like spit of land jutting into the sea. Today the ferries arrive in the
commercial port , a few hundred meters further south, in the part of Portoferraio built in the
last century. The port houses a picturesque tourist marina, where beautiful boats arrive from
all parts of the world.
As it is naturally protected from the winds and has a beautiful environment with ancient
monuments, Portoferraio harbour is one of the most spectacular marinas in the
Mediterranean and perhaps even more, if the newspapers were right in reporting Admiral
Horatio Nelson at the end of the eighteenth century when crossing Gulf of Portoferraio , he
said it was the most beautiful shelter he had ever encountered.
The natural environment is certainly spectacular, but so is the city that has developed around
the harbour like an authentic monument, in fact some of the greatest architects and military
engineers of the Italian Renaissance worked here, and they were still faithful to the working
style of Leonardo da Vinci.
Portoferraio, had already been a former imperial city of Rome, with two bimillenarie villas
facing the Gulf. During the first half of 1500 it was at the centre of a political dispute between
the military dominion of the Medici family of Florence and the weak Piombino state of
Appiani, which nevertheless had strong connections at the imperial court of Charles V. The
florin was at that time the strong currency and Charles V, who was in conflict with Francis I of
France and the Church, had to also partially satisfy Cosimo I, who wasted no time as within a
few months had occupied the natural harbour of what was then called "Ferraio" with a strong
The work began in early April of 1548, two months after John Camerini replaced Giovanni
Battista Bellucci, who along with other engineers had traced the ground plan of the work on
two hills. But it would be Camerini, the most famous military engineer of Tuscany, and on his
death Bernardo Buontalenti, who were to construct the new foundations of the town so
desired by the grandson of the Magnificent Florentine Cosimo and which was named in his
honor as Cosmopolis.
Renaissance Portoferraio, a magnificent example of an old established city, is all built around
his port, prosperity or misfortune could have come of this, but the design and construction
were so well carried out that Portoferraio was never occupied by force or by a siege.
It is worth noting that Cosmopolis was an island within an island, as an artificial canal to the
south, covered up during the early nineteenth century, connected the water of the new port to
the beach at Ghiaie, so the sea and the fortifications completely surrounded the final part of
the promontory, where two forts were built, along with a series of other avant-garde
structures which still today have the ability to impress with their functionality and beautiful