It is located in Sardinia, in the Gulf of Olbia, facing the town of Porto San Paolo.
Looking at it from the mainland, Tavolara appears under different perspectives, sometimes as a pyramid, or as a mountain with white rock walls overlooking the sea, or as a hill covered by vegetation. Below the sea level it is a rich world of particular interest to divers.
To the southwest, in the direction of Porto San Paolo, the mountain slopes down to form a narrow isthmus, called "Spalmatore di terra (Earth spreader)", with a beautiful long beach. It is here that you can meet the "Re (King)" of Tavolara and his family.
But let's go back to the beginning of this story told by Tonino Bertoleoni, present "ruler" of the island.
Italy on a 1793 map. The Bertoleoni family became the Ruling House
In the late 1700s, Giuseppe Bertoleoni, Tonino's great-great grandfather, left Genoa with his family on a small pleasure craft. Passing Corsica they reached the Maddalena archipelago and particularly the island of Santa Maria, where part of the Bertoleoni family settled. Giuseppe continued sailing to the south and found the beautiful, uninhabited island of Tavolara. He settled there and built his house, hiring some some shepherds to watch over the many wild goats.
The magic of this island made itself known to its new inhabitants through these animals: some of the goats belong to a particular species, characterised by the golden colour of their teeth. These goats with golden teeth, as Tonino tells us, will play an important role in the history of the kingdom of Tavolara.
The Bertoleoni family are the only inhabitants of the island. Based on this, Giuseppe's son Paolo submitted some appeals to the Royal House of Savoy for recognition of his ownership and sovereignty on the land of Tavolara.
The Savoy King wants the goats with the golden teeth
Carlo Alberto of Savoy, upon ascending the throne in 1831 in place of Carlo Felice, in 1836 went to Tavolara with the royal yacht for a hunting trip and to meet personally the author of so many appeals. The memory of this meeting has been handed down by the Bertoleoni family and has reached us through Tonino's voice: "it's really true! They met and Carlo Alberto introduced himself as the King of Sardinia. So Paolo Bertoleoni introduced himself as the King of Tavolara". Carlo Alberto stayed for a few days as a guest of the royal family of Tavolara.
Since Paolo had told him about the exceptional goats with the golden teeth that inhabited the island, the Savoy king, after returning to Turin, sent General La Marmora with a corvette to the island of the Bertoleoni family to take some specimens. The general arrived on the island bearing gifts (a brooch and a gold ring) for Paolo Bertoleoni's wife and, together with the King of Tavolara, he went up the mountain in search of the goats. In three days of hunting he captured four goats with golden teeth.
After this legendary encounter with the King of Sardinia, the Bertoleoni family boasted a royal coat of arms and considered itself, to all efffects, sovereign of the island, although there is still no document supporting their right.
A few years later, however, the state property administration tried to expropriate the Bertoleoni family of their island, arguing that there is no title deed on it. Paolo Bertoleoni decided to go personally to Turin to see Carlo Alberto, travelling from Porto San Paolo and then proceeding from Civitavecchia. He got reassurance from the king himself and, after a few days, from the town of Tempio he received a scroll recognizing him as absolute master and king of Tavolara.
Tonino Bertoleoni defends his family history from those who argue that it is just a legend. Unfortunately, he cannot show the scroll documenting the sovereignty of the Bertoleoni family because it went lost, but in his restaurant overlooking the "Spalmatore di terra" beach, he proudly shows a copy of a photograph of the rulers of Tavolara.
Photograph at Buckingham Palace
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Queen Victoria of England, having found out about of the existence of this small kingdom facing the coast of Sardinia, sent her personal photographer by ship, the Vulcan, to portray the family of the sovereigns of that place. In Buckingham Palace museum, in London, there is a photograph of the royal family of Tavolara, kept in a collection of portraits of the royal families of the world, commissioned by Queen Victoria herself. Beneath it there are the words: "The royal family of Tavolara in the Gulf of Terranova di Pausania, the smallest kingdom in the world".
The story of the kingdom of Tavolara lasts to this day and anyone coming to this lovely place can be convinced of it, admiring the colours of the sea and its rocks, walking on the white sand until the isthmus is only a few centimeters wide and visiting, among the lilies of the sea, the small cemetery, almost invisible from the sea, where the tombs of the first king of Tavolara and his descendants and relatives are found. An exception is the tombstone of Girolamo Sotgiu, a literature professor who, as a boy, spent his summer holidays here on this beautiful island and asked for his remains to be kept here: the tombstone in the cemetery was inscribed by his own hand.
Do not believe the ashes scattered on the clear
waters of Tavolara mean that a life ended.
Oh, how useless it would have been!
Today, Tavolara is no longer solely owned by the Bertoleoni family. For what is in their power, however, Tonino Bertoleoni and his relatives are committed to protecting and preserving their island and its history: "You cannot imagine how much money they have offered me and how many did it," he told me, "but as long as we remain, Tavolara will remain the same!"