March 2021: Dante guides us through the most beautiful bits of Florence, Tuscany, Verona and RavennaMonday, 15 March 2021
Events in Italy in March 2021:
Dante Day, 25 March, throughout Italy; https://www.italofile.com/anno-dantesco-dante-alighieri-2021/. Special events will be held throughout Italy on 25 March to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante Alighieri, the Supreme Poet. My two favourite events are:
The Dante Train, 25 March. On this day, a train will travel from Ravenna (where Dante died) to Florence (where he was born). Along the way it will stop at a number of stations where the travellers will be entertained by concerts held on the platforms by young musicians. www.terredidante.it/en/treno-dante.jsp
L’ora che volge il disio; Dante’s Tomb; Ravenna.; until 31 December. Every day for the remainder of 2021, passages from Dante’s masterpiece the Divine Comedy will be read in front of the Poet’s tomb. Readers are drawn from the public. If you are in the area, have a facility with Medieval Italian and would like to put your name forward send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (+39) 328 481 5973.
Hidden Italy weekend: Following in the footsteps of the Supreme Poet:
Dante Aligheiri: il sommo poeta (the Supreme Poet) was the author of the Divine Comedy, an imaginary journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise that is considered one of the greatest works of world literature. He was the first to imagine a united Italy (‘il bel paese’) and created a common language to bring the people together, a fusion of classical Latin and the common dialect, which formed the basis of modern Italian.
Dante was born into a well-off family in 1265. He married into an influential aristocratic family in 1277, and had four children, but his real love, and inspiration for some of his greatest works, was Beatrice, a girl he only laid eyes on twice in his life: once in church when they were both nine years old and then again in the street in Florence when they were eighteen.
Dante was a soldier and man of influence in his home city, aligned with a faction that aspired to a single Italy united under the (German) Holy Roman Emperor. His faction was rolled in 1302 and Dante was condemned to death (to be burnt at the stake) which forced him into exile. Recognised as a major writer and intellectual, Dante spent the rest of his hosted by various courts throughout Italy. He never returned to Florence, dying in Ravenna in 1321 from a bout of malaria that he contracted on his way back from a diplomatic mission in Venice.
An astonishing amount of the Italy that Dante lived in and knew still exists: the Medieval heart of Florence, where he was born; the forests, trails, castles and villages of the Casentino in southern Tuscany, where he found refuge after being exiled from his home city; the streets and palazzi of Verona, where he was hosted by the powerful della Scala family; and finally the court of Ravenna, where he admired the Byzantine mosaics and libraries that inspired him to finish his greatest work.
Florence was an extraordinary city in the middle of the 13th century when Dante was born: almost as populous as Paris and Naples, it was a city of manufacturing, banking and trade, which made it unique in Medieval Europe. The result of this cultural ferment was the Renaissance, a cultural revolution that transformed Europe. Dante was a protagonist, one of the great innovators of Western civilisation.
The best place to start to understand Dante’s world is the Sala dei Primitivi (the Halls of the Primitive) in the Uffizi Gallery, a majestic space where three of the most important Italian paintings are hung together, spectacular altarpieces by Cimabue, Duccio di Buoninsegna and Giotto (an exact contemporary of Dante) which transformed the foundations of European art as Dante transformed European literature. www.uffizi.it
The Baptistery of St John.
The Battistero di San Giovanni is a large octagonal building that stands in front of the Florence Cathedral. Dante visited this monument many times, admiring the ‘bel San Giovani’. The blazing mosaics on the ceiling of the baptistery, vivid illustrations of Jesus come to judge the living and the dead; inspired Dante’s ‘Inferno’, with its dead and tormented; and his ‘Paradise’, where the Just are welcomed by Abraham. They were the premise for the Other World presented in Dante’s Divine Comedy. www.duomo.firenze.it
The Bargello National Museum:
The Bargello is one of Italy’s most important museums, with the largest collection of Renaissance sculptures in the world. In Dante’s day it was the seat of the criminal tribunal, where Dante was condemned in absentia to a life of exile. The nearby chapel, now and exhibition space, was a place where the condemned were prepared for death, comforted by members of the Confraternity of Good Death, before being led out of town through the Porta alla Croce to meet their maker. The walls of the chapel are covered in frescoes dating from the 13th century (once attributed to Giotto) which a portrait of Dante, recognisable by his aquiline (ie large, hooked) nose, recognised as the most realistic and touching of the Supreme Poet. http://www.bargellomusei.beniculturali.it/
Where to stay:
Leone Blu Suites (Piazza Carlo Goldoni 2). A short walk from the Carraia bridge over the Arno, this very comfortable hotel set in a 16th century palazzo, has nine suites furnished with a blend of antique and modern. Double with breakfast from 126 euro.
Residenza Castiglioni (Via del Giglio, 8). A charming B&B in the heart of the historic centre of Florence. The rooms have antique furnishing and several of the ceilings are frescoed. Double with breakfast from 80 euro.
Where to eat:
Il Santo Bevitore (Via Santo Spirito 64). One of the flagships of Florentine cuisine, this terrific restaurant offers a mix of traditional and innovation. It has a fabulous selection of cold cuts and salamis. Around 40 euro per person.
Enoteca Fuori Porta (Via del Monte alle Croci). This welcoming and professionally run osteria is just outside the 14th century walls of Florence. It is ideal place for lunch while visiting the beautiful San Lorenzo in Oltrarno quarter.
There are many events organised in Florence throughout 2021: exhibitions at the Uffizi (including ‘Inverted Trees’ by local sculptor Giuseppe Penone) at the Bargello and at the Pitti Palace. Due to the pandemic, the Maggio Musicale festival has been moved to September, running through into 2022. The details of these and other activities can be found at: www.700dantefirenze.it
The Casentino Valley (Tuscany): Cammino di Dante
In 1302, Dante fled Florence after he was condemned to death by the new regime. The recently constituted Cammino di Dante is a marked 380 km loop walking trail follows his escape route from the Tuscan capital across the Apennine Mountains to Ravenna on the Adriatic coast and then returns to Florence through some of the most beautiful places in central Italy, a total of twenty-one days’ walking.
It was created in 2012 thanks from a shared passion for Dante Alighieri among group of trekking enthusiasts and scholars of the Divine Comedy (ie Dante nerds). Hidden Italy will be developing the Florence to Ravenna leg as supported self-guided walk as soon as we can get back to Italy. In the meantime, check out the route at www.camminodante.it
Dante’s first stop on escaping Florence was in the Casentino Valley is in southern Tuscany near the beautiful town of Arezzo, where he was hosted by sympathetic lords. Known as the Valley of the Soul, it is home to the National Park of the Casentinesi Forests, Monte Falterona (where the Arno River starts) and Campigna and is made up of centuries-old fir, beech and chestnut forests and recognised by UNESCO as a world heritage site. www.parcoforestecasentinesi.it/en
Walking through this valley means immersing yourself in the historical events that have taken place here over the centuries. While staying in the castles of Romena, Porciano and Poppi, Dante wrote many of his letters and found his inspiration for some of the most famous verses in his Divine Comedy. A perfect place from which to explore the Casentino is Poppi, a delightful hilltown where Dante stayed in 1311 as a guest of Count Guido da Battifolle and his wife Gherardesca.
Where to stay:
Fattoria La Vecchia Quercia (Poppi, Via Colle Ascensione 159). This lovely agriturismo set in the country outside Poppi has five rooms, two self-contained aprtments and a heated swimming pool: the perfect base from which ti explore the Casentino. Double with breakfast 110 euro.
Albergo San Lorenzo Poppi, Piazza Jacopo Bordoni 2). Set in a beautifully restored building (with its own chapel) in the centre of Poppi, this 3-star hotel has ten rooms and an olive garden overlooking the valley. Double with breakfast 69 euro.
Where to eat:
Mater (Moggiona, Via di Camaldoli, 52). This gourmet restaurant places and contemporary twist on traditional cuisine. Dinner person around 60 euro, degustation menu 75 euro.
Atlantic Oil (Poppi, Via Falterona 50). The obligatory dish of this relaxed and welcoming artisan brewery is tortelli alla lastra, a delicious meal of tortelli filled with local casentinesi potatoes.
From 1316 to 1319, Dante lived and worked in Verona, the Cangrande della Scala, a ruthless autocrat who ruled over one of the most brilliant courts in Europe. It is easy to see why he loved this city, which is divided by a river and surrounded by hills just like Florence. Much Verona’s historic centre, with its churches, convents, palaces and squares is still intact. http://www.turismoverona.eu
It is also easy to imagine the Supreme Poet walking through the Medieval Piazza delle Erbe (the ancient Roman Forum), passing under the arcades of the Casa dei Mercanti (the old markets) and standing in the shadow of the Lamberti (there’s a lift to the top of this these days, with wonderful views) and standing in front of what is now the Prefecture Headquarters but in 1316 was the residence of Cangrande and probably where Dante lived during his sojourn.
However, I think the most remarkable survivor from the age of Dante is the Capitolare Library, one of the richest libraries in Europe and is the oldest still functioning library in the world: http://bibliotecacapitolare.org. It is here that Dante discovered, and was greatly influenced by) the works of the great Roman writers, including Plinio and Livio, who were still unknown to most in his day – the books he read are still in the collection!
There is a statue of Dante in the Piazza dei Signori, which celebrated the 600th anniversary of the poet’s birth. It was installed in 1865 and the inauguration took place secretly at 04.00 am so as not to offend the Austrians, who were still ruling Verona at that time.
Where to stay:
Hotel Indigo Verona (Corso Porta Nuova). Set in an arte nouveau palazzo, and with Verona’s famous Arena only a short walk away, this comfortable boutique hotel’s ambience is inspired by opera and, of course, Shakespeare. It has an excellent cocktail bar. Double from 115 euro.
Hotel Accademia (Via Scala). My favourite hotel in Verona: an elegant 4-star hotel in the pedestrian heart of the town and was favoured by Maria Callas when she came to town. Double with breakfast from 110 euro.
Where to eat:
Torcolo da Barca (Via Cattaneo 11). An elegant and attentive restaurant in the centre that is renowned for its traditional dishes. It’s signature dish is the carello di bollito (a wide choice of boiled meats, carved at the table). Around 45 euro per person.
Osteria da Ugo (Viccolo diestro Sant Andrea 1). A simple old-school restaurant is celebrated for its rich selection of antipasti and regional dishes, especially fish. Dinner per person from 35 euro.
A range of exhibitions and events have been organised throughout 2021 to celebrate the Supreme Poet. Details available on: www.danteverona.it.
In 1319, Dante’s roaming finished at Ravenna, a fascinating city on the Adriatic Coast that was once the capital of the Western Roman Empire, where he was the guest at the court of another enlightened ruler, Guido Novello da Polenta. Here he found the comfort and serenity that had eluded him during the rest of his exile. He was reunited with his family, hosted in great honour by Guido and surrounded by a small group of admirers and writers. www.turismo.ra.it/?lang=en
Dante died in Ravenna in 1321 from an attack of malaria that contracted on his way back to Ravenna from Venice, where he had been send on a diplomatic mission. His tomb is in Ravenna and has been jealously guarded for 700 years. Florence has envied Ravenna this honour. Each year since 1483, on the second Sunday in September, the Comune of Florence donates the olive oil that illuminates his sarcophagus.
In 1517, with the blessings of the Medici Pope, they went a step further: a delegation from Florence came to take Dante’s remains back to his home city but their plan was thwarted by the Franciscan monks who placed the remains in wall in the church of St Francis and there they remained, lost, until they were accidently uncovered in 1865 during restorations. The remains were hidden again in 1944, this time in nearby gardens, when the Nazis occupied the city. www.turismo.ra.it/cultura-e-storia/dante-alighieri-tomb/?lang=en
It is still possible to visit two of Ravenna’s treasures that inspired Dante. The first are the marvellous mosaics at the church of St Vitale, for which the city is famous, begun in 525 under the Roman emperor Theodoric, and referred to Purgatory of the Divine Comedy. Not far from here is the beautiful pine forest of Classe, which Dante compared to Paradise on Earth. www.ravennamosaici.it
Where to stay:
Palazzo Bezzi (Via di Roma 45). Elegant and refined, this 4-star superior hotel in the centre of Ravenna has thirty-two spacious rooms, recently renovated. It also has a wellness centre with sauna and Turkish baths. Double with breakfast from 99 euro.
B&B Casa Masoli (Via Girolamo Rossi 22). This marvellous B&B set in an 18th century palazzo in the historic centre has three rooms and three suites with exposed beams, frescoed ceilings, antique furniture and brocade. Double with breakfast from 85 euro.
Where to eat:
Ristorante Alexander (Via Bassa del Pignataro 8). Sophisticated but welcoming is set in a restored cinema that dates from the 1920s. It’s menu is a very successful mix of tradition and innovation, with an emphasis on local ingredients. Degustation menu 45 euro.
Ca de Ven (Via Corrado Ricci 24). This historic enoteca is a Ravenna institution. It has a vibrant atmosphere and a wonderful setting in a 15th century building, complete with vaulted and frescoed ceilings. It has an excellent wine selection and serves local Romagnoli dishes, including piadina (a flat bread served with delicious toppings). Dinner from 20 euro per person.
What to do:
A variety of events and exhibitions have been programmed in 2021 in Ravenna. Details can be found on: www.vivadante.it