The Tonietti Mausoleum

June 14, 2016 / Art & Archaeology
Cavo, Tuscany

Day trip to Cavo. Why not? It was simply one of the destinations of the various ferries leaving Piombino on the Tuscan coast to l’Isola d’Elba, but more importantly it was the next ferry leaving for Elba and we were eager to get on our way.

No need to look up Cavo to see if there would be anything of interest… Elba is an island in the Mediterranean, how wrong can you possibly go? Beaches, sun, good food.. even if there was nothing noteworthy, you’ll still have a nice day.

On the 40 minute ferry trip to Cavo (basically straight across from Piombino; you can see one from the other), we did a search for a passeggiata (walk, or hike) and found numerous references to a three hour loop up through macchia mediterranea (mediterranean scrub brush and woods) in the hills above Cavo which lead you to a certain mausoleo Tonietti at the top, great views on the way up and back to town. Perfect. And it would leave us a couple of hours to take a dip too before catching the 7 pm ferry back.

Cavo turned out to be a sleepy (for now, no doubt) little holiday town right on the water, bougainvillea-draped villas arrayed up the hill all facing the stunning, crystalline water. From the main piazzetta we began our hike up into the hills, and sure enough, we were immediately rewarded with some incredible views. Occasionally the outline of our halfway point and ascent destination would poke through the maquis along the trail, confirming that were moving in the right direction.


As we got closer and closer more of this strange tower became visible, until we literally stumbled upon one of its large stone blocks which had obviously broken off and rolled partway downhill. Another few steps and there it was, rising up through the trees. The first thing that became apparent was its dilapidated state and slow losing battle against gravity.


It was a tomb and mausoleum commissioned in 1899 by a leading Elban mining family, the Tonietti, and designed by none other than Coppede’, a “superstar-architect” of the day if you will, known for his unique style best seen in the Coppede’ neighborhood in Rome, for which he is most famous.


And sure enough, great faces, Ancient Roman triremes poking out, lion (monkey?) heads, owls, and gargoyles, all signature touches of Coppede’, were immediately visible. All these stone motifs in the middle of nowhere in a forest on a Mediterranean island together with its rundown and overgrown state brought on some serious cognitive dissonance. Before I knew it I was in Angkor Wat reciting long forgotten lines from that Ozymandias poem by Shelley that I learned in grade school, with King Louie (the orangutan) from Disney’s The Jungle Book singing “I’m the King of the Jungle…” from behind a rock.

I met a traveller from an antique land…” indeed. More likely sunstroke.

Neat hike though.




by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

10 Responses to “The Tonietti Mausoleum”

  1. Linda Boccia

    Elba was the island where Napoleon was exiled, but later escaped. I work for a California winery and we produce Aleatico, which is only grown on Elba originally. It is a somewhat rough red that allegedly was the favorite of Napoleon, although we don’t know whether it was sweet or dry in his day?

  2. Janet Eidem

    Seems like it is a treasure worth restoring. All it takes is money….I know. Thanks for taking the hike and sharing with us.

  3. Oh, I love it! But how sad that it’s allowed to go to ruin. Are there no remaining members of that proud family to step up and take over a restoration effort? We can’t allow those wonderful monkeys, gargoyles, and other images disappear. Thanks GB, too, for your urge to go “wandering” yet again; you always find something fun, exciting or noteworthy…….this was all 3!

  4. Anne Robichaud

    ..and who knew about the Coppede links to Elba? (Such a fascinating quartiere di Roma…how about a note on that, too, GB?)

  5. Now let’s hope that due to this article that restoration will arrive soon, the building is too, too good to fall into dust. Thank you Anne.

  6. Joan O'Grady

    On our way to Lerice by car from the port of Civitavecchia we will spend an evening in Piombino to visit Elba, what a wonderful article to fall upon, We will for sure look to find this mausoleum monument. Is it easily found? do we ask? thank you sooooo much for adding such an adventure to our trip.

  7. Marianna Raccuglia

    Too bad it looks so overrun with weeds. Your photos are really wonderful – thanks!


Leave a Reply