A Place of Art and Beauty
“Via dell’Oro, Via della Regina, Via del Carmine, Vicolo Mortaio, Piazza del Mercato, Via dell’Amore: these are just some of the hidden corners in Portoferraio that tell the tale of a fortified town, the ancient Cosmopolis, founded in 1548 upon the will of Cosimo de’ Medici, and that still hold memories of its historical past within their walls, and conserve their genuine essence. They are testimonies to an epoch that no longer exists. The symbols of Portoferraio’s past that are simply waiting to be rediscovered.”
I’ll start from here! Starting from the “beating heart” of Portoferraio, quoting art historian Elba-native Gloria Peria (who often “lends her pen” to the Elba Per2 magazine), I’ll tell you the story of a secluded area of Portoferraio that is particularly dear to me as it reminds me of the smell of paint, of the perfume of salt air, of anchors, buoys, marine ropes, iron, and nails… It reminds me of my childhood, of hard work… my roots. A “glimpse” of Life! I used to go to Via Porta Nuova with my babbo, as we Tuscans affectionately call our fathers, when he had to supply a client with materials he did not have in stock in his shop. My father ran a hardware store, where he also sold nautical equipment and paint; he came from an ancient Elban family of businesspeople for generations. But let’s go back to Via Porta Nuova! Via Porta Nuova, today as in the past, is a dead-end street, partly divided by a gate with a sign that read (and still reads) “Restricted Military Area, Off Limits”. At the beginning of the street, there was the “Da Pechino” bakery and Gaetano Donati’s Lavanderia Sole laundry; a bit farther, beyond the gate, there was the Police Station, which many years ago was moved to Viale Elba; the police station faced the sea on one side, and the warehouses owned by my father Marcello on the other side. One of these warehouses was rented to Meros, a dear friend of my father’s, who had set his workshop there. He forged iron, and my father sold it… Behind the warehouses (there were a total of six; four beyond the gate and two outside of it), in a courtyard at the foot of the Medici Fortresses, Giulio Venturini had his marble workshop. I don’t remember who ran the other shops. What I do remember, though, is the Grigolo and the Old Market (the former Galeazze Arsenal), which were not distant from Via Porta Nuova, where men and women “yelled” very early in the morning prompting clients to buy their catch of the day displayed on marble counters…
I remember the fruit and vegetables brimming from the stalls, and I thought they looked like a painter’s palette. I remember the Life that “throbbed” everywhere: the noise, people shouting, and the frenzy of commerce made it a lively district. It was the 1970s, the years of the tourist boom. I remember the Friday flea market that enlivened Piazza della Repubblica and Via del Mercato Vecchio, while horse-driven carriages stopped in Piazza Cavour waiting for wives and mothers to hop on, proud of their purchases… How many memories!!! Who knows! Perhaps it was a bit like in the distant past when Portoferraio was “a place of celebrations, encounters, business trades. The Porta a Mare of the ancient Cosmopolis, facing the pier, was the only point of access to the town together with the Porta a Terra because its imposing bastions enclosed and protected it like a precious coffer; a town that over the centuries became a delightful and industrious city, renowned among merchants, soldiers, seafarers, who sought refuge in its port and within its walls […] It teemed with inns, flourishing artisan shops, small houses embellished with orchards and gardens.” This is what Gloria Peria tells us about the Portoferraio of time gone by.
Every corner and glimpse of Portoferraio is a place rich with charm. We just need to discover them! Many more words could be devoted to describing this “city”, my hometown, but recollections lead me again to Via Porta Nuova. Today, the warehouses my father owned, and the shops once run by my grandparents and great-grandparents, have seen new light thanks to a major renovation that brought the I Magazzini Atelier to life, a place of Art and Beauty. Here, the memories of a family still “live”; the evidence of the value and true essence of the past: objects endowed with a soul, objects that are very dear to me. I have always thought of this place as a space devoted to hard work and creativity, where Art takes shape and where “Art is being told”.
In the same place where a blacksmith once forged iron, I “mold” the ideas of many couples in love. Here, I plan and create special events. Here, I dream… The emotion I feel in having given concrete shape to such an ambitious project is immense: I turned a dilapidated space into a “jewel” of rare beauty. I was witness to the “rebirth” of my origins. I could not but share this place and my feelings with those who, like me, speak through Art. Belinda Biancotti, Antonella Avataneo, Francesca Groppelli, and Gabriele Diversi were the first artists to whom I opened my doors to tell of their Art, which found harmonious balance with my past. Each of them uniquely expresses their art; each of them conceives art in a different way. Antonella Avataneo considers the shaman to be the first artist who held a paintbrush in his hands so that a desire of his tribe might magically become reality. She pursues this philosophical concept: if you want beauty and light to enter your world, you must paint the light, beauty, and color. Belinda Biancotti paints to bring to light the potential within every individual so that they might become aware of possessing all the resources to turn dreams into reality. Francesca Groppelli is an artist who indefatigably continues her artistic explorations. She believes in recycling and, using recycled paper and cardboard, she creates works of art. She considers herself a contemporary alchemist who transforms “recycled” material into Art. Gabriele Diversi is a young artist who seizes the changing nature of reality through observation and drawing. It depends on the day, on the time when he looks at the world that surrounds him, as well as at the light, at his emotions, and many more tiny details. Without further ado, I extend my invitation to you to explore a corner of Portoferraio devoted to work and creativity, where Art takes shape and where Art is being “told”.
The article is been written for the magazine of touristic promotion Elba Per2 e non solo… Edizione 2022/2023 by Rossella Celebrini, author of the project Atelier “I Magazzini” and owner of the brand Rossella Celebrini Events Luxury Experiences in Tuscany.
Ph. Credit Daniele Anichini