Portoferraio: The Roman Route
For the person arriving by sea towards the end of the Ist century BC, the roadstead of Portoferraio seemed to be enclosed and controlled by two sumptuous patrician villas, one lying along the Linguella spit almost at sea level and the other with sweeping views of the island and the Tyrrhenium coast from the summit of the Grotte promontory: along the roadstead in the natural amphitheatre now occupied by Portoferraio, a settlement linked to the island's premier landing place began to spring up.
The main trading routes criss-crossed along the Elban coast: Italian wine bound for the west in the 1st century BC (wrecks A and B at Sant'Andrea), and fish sauces, wine, oil and corn for italian markets in the hey day of the Roman Empire, from Spain, Gaul and Africa (wrecks at Chiessi, Procchio, Porto Azzurro and Punta Cera).
Elban mineral resources, furthermore, are a strong reminder of ancient days: iron, already exploited in Etruscan times, continued to be extracted in ever diminishing quantities in the Ist century BC; from the beginning of the II century granite quarrying began to take on great importance as witnessed by an area dedicated to Hercules by Attiano, prefect of Hadrian's praetorium, found in a quarry at Seccheto and by columns used in buildings in Rome.
The Villa delle Grotte built in the late 1st century BC is a typical example of the residences built in this period along the coast and on the islands in the Tyrrhenium sea as refuges from the burly of the city life.
Houses grew up around a porticoed garden with a large pool in the centre that ended in a enormous room looking out over the bay; two other gardens surrounded the residential nucleus, which also housed a small spa-type area.
The richness of the embellishments with terracotta slabs decorated with reliefs, fragments of affrescos, mosaic and marble floors, are evidence of the presence of wealthy patrician families on the island, that brought over materials and expert craftsmen from Rome.
The history of the Linguella Villa, built as early as the middle of the Ist century BC, revamped in the second half of the century and again at different times during the II and III centuries AD appears to be less straightforward.
The most clearly visible remains, made difficult to see by the fortifications built between the XVI and XIX centuries (see the Medici itinerary) are from this latter period.
If it is hard to have an overall picture of how the residence was laid out, we nonetheless get an idea of the richness of the multicoloured mosaics with geometrical patterns, marble inlays and male torsos sculpted from marble found in the area around the harbour-master's office.
At the same time that two villas were built (a third villa called the Capo Castello Villa was unearthed at Cavo) a settlement, going by the name Fabricia and corresponding to modern Portoferraio sprang up.
Just a few buildings are visible below Forte Stella; on the outskirts, on the Mulini plain (Villa dei Mulini; see the Napoleonic itinerary).
Materials from the villas and roman Portoferraio are displayed in the town's Archeological Museum housed at the Linguella in the former Magazzini del Sale (see the Medici itinerary).