The King of Tavolara
Spring in Sardinia is always wonderful, astonishing. But that day of May 1900, the bay from Terranova (the modern Olbia) to the Tavolara Island was limpid, colourful and scented as none of the people on the pier remembered. A soft Mistral that brought the fragrance of thyme and cistus blessed the sea, crystal clear. The newborn century was setting such a splendid stage as the first scene of a future confrontation, a clash that wouldn’t have happened because of the next death of the two parties: the Queen Victoria, the monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland since 1837, who’d died on the 22nd of January 1901; the King of Italy Umberto I, nickname ‘the Good,’ who’d died within two months, on the 29th of July 1900.
The Queen Victoria reigned for 63 years and was able to improve and transform the United Kingdom of Great Britain in all industrial, cultural, political, scientific, and military terms. She added more than 8 million of square kilometres to her kingdom. In her ‘Victorian Era,’ the British Empire reached its apogee: at the beginning of the Twenties Century it was the only, well-recognized ‘superpower’ in the world, also thanks to its terrific fleet that dominated the main routes of the globe.
And just a British battleship, the HSM Vulcan, a Torpedo Boat Depot Ship, built at Portsmouth Dockyard and launched on the 13th of June 1889, belonging to the Mediterranean Fleet, entered the bay of Terranova on that day of May dressing a ship overall.
Of course, the Military Chief of the harbour of Terranova, the Mayor of the town, all the carabinieri and the customs officers marshalled on the quay, ready to welcome the visitors—it was a great event.
All the sailors of the Vulcan mustered on the windy deck in full regalia. The officials gave orders in that foreign language, and the cannon shot three times. Then they lowered a launch into the sea.
Something unexpected occurred then.
The elegant launch, in fact, didn’t head to the Terranova pier but to Tavolara, on the South part of the bay.
The island, of about six square kilometres, is a marvellous castle of granite, 564 metres high. Back then, there was only a fortified house that faced the Sardinian coast. The Pope Ponziano was exiled in Tavolara, where he died in 235 A.C.—according to the first version of this story. The second version says that Ponziano died in the Sardinian mines.
The crowd of the launch—the sailors, three high officials wearing a high uniform, and one photographer with a heavy tripod and a military camera called “Tropical”—landed in the northern coast of the island and searched for the king. At the end of the day, they took a picture of the royal family of Tavolara. This picture, shown at the beginning of this article, is kept in Buckingham Palace where there is also the official emblem of the Tavolara Kingdom, named “the smallest kingdom in the world.”
The HSM Vulcan went to greet the King of Tavolara, Carlo I, on personal behalf of the Queen Victoria. It was an official acknowledgement of the autonomous kingdom—and a high offence to the King of Italy, Umberto I.
To understand the background of that event and then its developments, we have to step back. The problem is that I have to speak about the Savoia family—that’s not a pleasure indeed. So, I’d shift this task to another article, sorry. Today is a nice day and I don’t want to spoil it.
However, if you are interested, don’t miss the continuation.