By simply following the roads, you will get to this small fort on the hill above San Rocco not far from the old part of Portoferraio where the view of the surrounding countryside is breathtaking. Its troubled history explains why over a century its name has been changed so many times.
In 1700, while on a visit to the Island of Elba, Cosimo lll Grand Duke of Tuscany had the English Fort built, although then it was called Forte di San Giovanni Battista built in an attempt to protect the town from the attacks from land.
but in 1728 Gian Gastone, the last of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, had it pulled down; he feared that had the island been attacked, the Fort might have proven to be a strategic place for the enemy if they wanted to attack the town.
That is exactly what Gian Gastone had foreseen in 1796 when, in response to Livorno having been occupied by the French, the English landed in Portoferraio on Acquaviva beach and took possession of what was left of the fort which from then onwards was called "English Fort". Even though the Grand Duke's sovereignty was still officially recognised, the four hundred men lead by Admiral Nelson, who is said to have set up his headquarters inside the fort, left the island only nine months later, and only after long and painstaking diplomatic negotiatons
In 1802 after the French seiged Portoferraio, Napoleonthen known as Console Primo, wanted the town reinforced on the outside so he had several defense areas built: he therefore decided to have the fortress brought down, had it re-built and more munitions brought in so that it became the nerve centre in the external defense system of Portoferraio along with Fort Montebello, the smaller one of San Rocco and the small Fort of S. Cloud (near the port in Portoferraio).
When he arrived as emperor in Elba in 1814 Napoleon decided to give the English Fort a second lease of life, so he had it made bigger and had more canons, officers and soldiers brought there. He was convinced that the English Fort, that in his opinion should have been called Saint Hilaire Fort, was very important for the defense of both the town and the port and he wanted it to become the headquarters for his imperial fleet when, one day, he would have been the Emperor of the whole of Europe again, but, as everybody knows, he left Elba in 1815 never to return.
In the years 1816 and 1817 a terrible epidemic of typhoid hit the Island of Elba and the rest of Europe, and the Grand Duchy government needed somewhere to to care for all the people who had caught the epidemic that was both big enough and far from the town, so they chose the English Fort. When the epidemic finally passed in 1817 all the rooms in the Fort were disinfected and painted but the Fort was abandoned and never used again for military reasons until World War II.
In 1861 with the Unification of Italy brigandage rose and grew all over the peninsula, and this was when the English Fort became the home of the local prisoners, and you can still see a sort of "graffiti" on one of the walls in the Fort probably written by one of the prisoners who had taken part in the literacy learning experiment held in the prison in 1865.
Interesting facts: Before actually being moved permanently to the Linguella Tower, Giovanni Passanante was put in prison here for a short time, and along with the other prisoners made to do hard labour in the salt mines in Portoferraio.
During World War II, an anti-aircraft battery was set up inside the Fort : a watchtower with a Breda 20 mm. machine gun that later became the home to many families from Portoferraio who fled from the bombings and became a sort of temporary refuge for the many poor and homeless families up till the early years of the 80s.
In the years that followed, the Fort became home to many associations, local artists and even a radio station.
The actual building and the walls around it aren't very big but there is a ditch all round it. Access is across a cement bridge (instead of the original wooden drawbridge), and some people believe the old underground tunnels that lead to the sea and to the outskirts of Portoferraio. are still there.
Renovation work on the English Fort came to an end in 2014, so since 2015 it has been open to the public again.