Italy island marks 200 years since Napoleon exile

PORTOFERRAIO, Italy - The Italian island where Napoleon was sent into exile in 1814 marked the 200th anniversary of the emperor's arrival on Sunday with a re-enactment by enthusiasts from across Europe.

"Napoleon" himself was to land on Elba later on Sunday, on a sail ship modelled on the one that carried the deposed French leader there, joining 400 re-enactors in elaborate costumes.

Men in military uniforms of the time with swords and moustaches galore roamed the island, along with women in flowing robes preparing to welcome the hero of the day.

Participants in the bicentenary celebrations, which will continue on the Tuscan island until the anniversary of Napoleon's departure next year, came from countries including Britain, Czech Republic, France and Russia.

"Being here is extremely moving. The atmosphere and the emotions are very strong," said Jean-Michel Achalle, a 33-year-old Parisian dressed as a horse guard who came with some 50 members of a French re-enactment society.

Achalle said he is following the bicentenary closely and last month took part in a re-enactment of the defeated Napoleon's farewell to the Imperial Guard in Fontainebleau, a palace near Paris, when he departed for Italy.

The fiery Corsican was exiled to Elba after his forced abdication in 1814 following the Treaty of Fontainebleau with the Austrian Empire, Prussia and Russia.

He was installed as sovereign of the Italian island, although it was patrolled by Britain's Royal Navy.

Napoleon returned to France in 1815 but, after his defeat at Waterloo, he was exiled again - this time to the far more remote island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic.

During his exile on Elba, Napoleon rested from his battles but was also an active local governor of his tiny kingdom, building roads, schools, a hospital and a theatre.

"The inhabitants of the island have a very good memory of Napoleon, even an affectionate memory. When he left, the island had entered the modern era," said Gloria Peria, a local historian who also manages the island's archives.