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NAPOLEON

Elba marks Napoleon exile anniversary

"Napoleon" returned to the Italian island of Elba on Sunday as part of a historical re-enactment to mark the 200th anniversary of the defeated French emperor's exile.

Elba marks Napoleon exile anniversary
"Napoleon" returned to the Italian island of Elba on Sunday. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Hundreds of enthusiasts from across Europe came together for the start of bicentenary celebrations that will last for the 10 months Napoleon stayed on the Tuscan island.

Sailing on a ship like the one used by the real Napoleon, Roberto Colla, a 59-year-old-doctor in a bicorne hat, arrived to a crowd in period costume.

Colla said the key to being a good Napoleon was being "humble" and remembering that the famous Corsican "stayed with his soldiers – he was one of them".

Colla owns some 600 books about Napoleon, reflecting a historical passion shared with other re-enactors.

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

"It's atmospheric, it's come alive!" said Ann Cockerton, a history graduate from Britain who wore a dress with a large decollete that she had designed herself.

"It makes you feel like you're there, you're back there," she gushed, praising the "fabulous military regiments" who greeted the arriving Napoleon.

"We like travelling and commemorating these things because we love history and a lot of us admire the emperor," she said, admitting that it was difficult being a Napoleon fan while living in famous enemy Britain.

One of the soldiers guarding "Napoleon" was Frenchman Serge, a member of a historical association that every year re-stages the battle of Waterloo in which Napoleon was finally defeated by the British and Prussians.

"I started when I was 17 for fun. I liked the uniform but then I got into it. I became passionate about history," the 42-year-old said as he showed off his rifle.

Jean-Michel Achalle, a 33-year-old Parisian dressed as a horse guard said it was an "extremely moving" experience.

"The atmosphere and the emotions are very strong," he said.

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

'Affectionate' memory

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 escaped to France in 1815 but, following his defeat at Waterloo, he was exiled again – this time to the remote island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic.

During his stay on Elba, Napoleon rested from his battles, went hunting and organised grand balls.

But he was also an active local governor of his tiny kingdom, completing large public works projects including roads, schools, a hospital and a theatre.

"Residents of the island have a very good image of Napoleon, even an affectionate one. By the time he left, the island had entered the modern era," said Gloria Peria, a historian and head of the island's archives.

"More than an exile, it was a reign," she said.

Peria said Napoleon chose Elba because it was close to the mainland but also could be easily defended since "his greatest fear was being assassinated".

"Napoleon" certainly received a triumphant welcome on Sunday, with a cannon salute and cheers from hundreds of people in the port.

There was one jarring detail, however.

As he was handed the keys to the island at a ceremony, a drone buzzed overhead.

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

IN MAPS: A brief introduction to Italy’s many local ‘dialects’

Are the Italians around you speaking a completely different language? Why are local dialects often so far removed from modern Italian? Here's what you need to know.

IN MAPS: A brief introduction to Italy's many local 'dialects'
A man wearing a t-shirt reading ''100% Venetian''. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

It's the problem italian language learners have faced for as long as anyone can remember. You've diligently studied your Italian grammar, and carefully practiced your phrases ahead of your first visit to Italy, only to realise upon arrival that the Italians around you seem to be speaking a different language entirely.

READ ALSO: Ten of the most common Italian language mistakes you should avoid

Italy's dialects are far more than just heavily-accented Italian. They seem like totally different languages because, in fact, that's exactly what they are.

It's not quite correct to call them “dialects”, which are actually variants on a standard language. These are different languages which evolved separately from Latin – or, in some cases, other languages.

And even when they switch to Italian, speakers of these dialects or languages often speak with a heavy accent, much to the dismay of anyone still getting to grips with with basic Italian. Even in a big city like Florence or Rome, Italian spoken in a thick local accent can be hard to decipher – even for native Italian speakers from other areas.

As the map below shows, every region and often province has its own local language. Some have more than one, and each town may also have a variation.

Many of these are part of language “families” and some are more closely related to Italian, or to Latin, than others.

The map below classifies them further and also shows how languages in different regions are connected.

Map: Antonio Ciccolella/Wikimedia Commons

This might look complicated, but anyone who lives in a small italian town will no doubt still be thinking that a more detailed map is needed, as there are actually many more, smaller variations within these categories.

Do people in Italy really still speak all of these dialects?

The language we call Standard Italian derives from 13th-century Florentine. Until then, there had been no written rules, and the languages of what is now Italy had mainly evolved by being spoken.

When Italy was unified in 1861, only 2.5 percent of the population could actually speak the Italian language. All spoke their regional languages. Now, that figure is in the high 90s, though around five percent still speak only or predominantly in their regional language.

 
While you might imagine that these dialects or languages are mainly used by older people and are slowly dying out, that's not usually the case. 
 
While they'll also speak standard Italian, you'll find young Italians proudly speaking their local lingo everywhere from central Naples to the valleys of South Tyrol.
 
Some are far more widely used than others. In fact the most widely spoken is Neapolitan, with over five million speakers today.
 
The least widely-used is Croato. This dialect is used by an ethnic minority from a region corresponding to present-day Croatia and is spoken in the southern region of Molise. Today it only around 1,000 speakers.
 
In the southernmost parts of Italy, such as Salento and Calabria, Griko dialects are thought to derive from ancient Greek.
 
Meanwhile, Sardinian is classified as an “endangered” language by Unesco,  Like Italian, Sardinian has roots in Latin – in fact, some linguists argue that, of all the modern Romance languages, Sardinian is the closest to Latin – but it also displays much older influences. Today, particularly younger people on the island speak a mix of both languages, a sort of “Sarditalian”.
 
For more details, here are our guides to getting started with some of Italy's regional languages:

 

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