Saint Helena Island: The Place of Napoleon's Imprisonment

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Saint Helena, a British Overseas Territory, is a remote island located in the South Atlantic Ocean about 1,950 km west of the south-western coast of Africa. The nearest land is Ascension Island, the site of a US Air Force auxiliary airfield, which is 1,125 km to the north-west. The most remote inhabited island in the world, Tristan da Cunha, is located 2,100 km to the south. Uninhabited when first discovered by the Portuguese in 1502, Saint Helena was garrisoned by the British during the 17th century, and for a long time served as an important stopover for ships sailing to Europe from Asia and South Africa. its importance as a port of call declined after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869.

Saint Helena's most famous resident was Napoleon Bonaparte, who was exiled there by the British from 1815 until his death in 1821. You can still visit his flower-laden gravesite and residence there. Today, the island is home to some 4,000 residents.


Jamestown, Saint Helena Island. Jacob’s ladder is visible on the lower part of the image.  Photo credit

Saint Helena is a volcanic island located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, composed largely of rugged terrain and perpendicular cliffs rising 500 to 700 meters tall. The only practicable place for ship landings is on the island’s north-western side at James Bay, from which a narrow valley extends 2.4 km inland. In this valley, sandwiched between steep cliffs, is nestled the town, capital and port of Jamestown.

Jamestown is Saint Helena’s most peculiar settlement. The town is rather long, thin and densely populated, with tightly knit, long and winding streets. Shrubs and trees decorate some of the street corners. The surrounding terrain is rough and steep, and rockfalls are an occurrence, sometimes damaging buildings. The town's prominent features is Jacob's Ladder, a staircase of 699 steps, built in 1829 to connect Jamestown to the former fort on Ladder Hill. The ladder is very popular with tourists, is lit at night and a timed run takes place there every year, with people coming from all over the world to take part. Other interesting sites to visit include the Museum of Saint Helena, the impressive High Knoll Fort, and Napoleon's two residence - Longwood House and the Briars, and his tomb.

Longwood House, in the town of the same name, was the home in which Napoleon spent the great majority of his time on Saint Helena and also where he died. It has several wings and contains the type of furniture it would have when he lived there, though most of the originals have been carried off elsewhere. The house is now run as a museum and maintained by the French government.


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Being one of the most remote islands in the world and with no commercial airports, travel to the island is by ship only. RMS Saint Helena, the island’s only lifeline, runs between St Helena and Cape Town, also visiting Ascension Island and Walvis Bay, and occasionally voyaging north to Tenerife and Portland, UK.

Life is slow and hard in Saint Helena. There are no chain stores here and the handful of local shops close for the day at 4pm. Wednesday is a half-day and few businesses open at all at the weekend. Shelves in the supermarket remain empty most of the time, until the ship arrives, and then stocks disappear again. There is no mobile network on the island, and internet connection is irregular and spotty. Economy is weak and is almost entirely sustained by aid from the British government. Unemployment is a persistent problem, and many residents work abroad. The island’s only attraction is its remoteness, but few tourists are willing to spend six days in a ship to reach it. Last year, only 3,200 visitors arrived on the island.


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Jacob’s ladder. Photo credit


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RMS St Helena in port of Jamestown, Saint Helena Island. Photo credit


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Longwood House, Napoleon's residence on Saint Helena Island. Photo credit


Longwood House, Napoleon's residence on Saint Helena Island. Photo credit


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Sources: Wikipedia / Wikitravel / BBC

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1 comment:

  1. Cool article. Publicity for our tiny island is always welcome. And great photos too!
    If interested you can read more about St. Helena at


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