Batteries and forts
16 July 2010
Military structures dot the archipelago, including the huge NATO base on the east coast of San Stefano. Many, like this decrepit Forto San Giorgio, are derelict.
The islands of course are important, controlling eastern access to the strait and the fertile, convoluted headlands of north east Sardinia. Nelson famously hung out here for a while, pre-Trafalgar. He couldn't go ashore as the Kingdom was neutral at the time, but he was very taken with Sardinia. He wrote that Great Britain should seek to annex Sardinia rather than Malta, as its key Mediterranean base, for its harbours, facilities and friendly people. The Admiralty, of course, ignored him.
Before Nelson, one of Napoleon's first command missions (in 1793) had been to conquer Sardinia, and particularly these islands. He failed miserably. Local troops knew these complicated, rocky, shallow waters, and led his navy a merry dance. Their leader Domenico Millelire in particular sailed in and out of passages, bays and straits, taunting the French ships until in the end they went away. Millelire got the first gold medal issued by the Sardo-Piedmontese Navy for his dashing bravery.
If you know the islands well, this kind of marine guerrilla defence would be excellent. It can be very confusing in broad daylight, with modern charts and visual aids to differentiate one bay (depth say 4m) from the next (depth 1.2m with nasty rocks), or to tell which one leads to a passage and which is a dead end in which your ships will be trapped. At night, without those helpers, it must be impossible.
We've had an excellent few days in the archipelago - which have actually been very cheap as there's nothing to spend money on. But it was time to move on.