Capraia has a long
and fascinating history, characterized by the passage of numerous populations.
Over the centuries, in fact, its position has made it an ideal base both for Mediterranean trade, and for battles against piracy, as well as a destination for religious communities seeking refuge from persecution.
The Greeks, in 1000 B.C., called the island Aegylon, meaning ‘land of goats’; while its current name derives from an Etruscan term meaning ‘rock’, echoing its nature as a volcanic, rugged and rocky island. In the Capraiese dialect, it is pronounced Capragghja.
The island may have been inhabited already in the proto-historic period, as evidenced by the discovery of fragments of objects of daily use. However, it is certain that Capraia was occupied by the Etruscans, starting from the 7th century, and then by the Romans who, around 238 B.C., converted it into a naval base to fight the growing Carthaginian and Ligurian piracy.
In the 4th century, Christian persecution drove some communities to take refuge on the island. Among these, were the Zenobite monks, who settled on Capraia, bringing with them African vines. They were the ones who later built the Monastery of Santo Stefano. With the arrival of the Saracen pirates, the island was abandoned by its inhabitants for two centuries, serving only as a strategic base along the pirate routes.
Between 900 and
1500, Capraia was fought over by the Pisans, Saracens and, eventually, the Genoese who, in order to deal with the constant invasions of Ottoman pirates, built the Fortress of San Giorgio and the three watchtowers, which are still there.
During the following centuries, the island was invaded by Corsicans and went, from being a possession of the Genoese Republic, to becoming a French territory, involved in the Napoleonic wars. After the Congress of Vienna, the island was annexed to the Kingdom of Sardinia – it became a free port and housed a tobacco factory. From 1873 onwards, a penal colony was set up here, which remained active until 1986.
After the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy, Capraia became part of the province of Genoa and, in 1925, it passed to that of Livorno. Since 1989, it has been part of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park.