We celebrate the centenary of the Nobel award to Elie Metchnikoff in 2008, shared with Paul Ehrlich, as respective pioneers of cellular and humoral immunology. Metchnikoff is rightly famous for his recognition of the biological significance of leukocyte recruitment and phagocytosis of microbes in host defence against infection, inflammation and immunity. As a comparative zoologist he utilised a broad range of model organisms for microscopic studies in vivo and in vitro. His work prefigures much of contemporary research in innate immunity. In this brief review, I cover some details of his Europe-wide life in Russia (mainly Odessa) and at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. He had a complex personality, yet his creative genius, imagination and insights justify the title of "Father of natural immunity".