Dante Alighieri is considered to be one of the greatest minds in Western literature. His celestial border-traversing chronicle, The Divine Comedy, is a masterpiece of imagination, scale and indeed irony, due to the fact that there’s nothing funny about it at all. It takes the name ‘Comedy’ because technically it has a happy ending; this differentiates it from a ‘tragedy’, which traditionally ends in blood or death. And while it does end on a lighter note, The Divine Comedy certainly contains its fair share of gore and terror, particularly in its first and most popular book, ‘Inferno’, where the fearless protagonist braves the nine circles of Hell.
Dante the poet was a born and bred Florentine, and references to the city permeate his work. Unfortunately, he picked the wrong side of a civil war in 1302, and was permanently banished from his beloved city until his death in 1321. Despite that, Florence is full of Dantean lore, sites and literature and the place most associated with Italy’s master poet. The city only saw fit to officially pardon their favorite prodigal son in 2008, but had long since forgiven him before that. Trekking through Dante’s Florence can add a whole different dimension to a visit to the eternal renaissance city; if you’re planning a trip there, whip out your BUCKiTDREAM planner and start taking down some of these Dante-inspired ideas to make your Florentine dream trip simply divine.
Drop In to Dante’s House In the heart of medieval Florence, between the Church of San Martino and Piazza dei Donati, sits Casa di Dante, the location of the house that belonged to the Alighieri family and the place where Dante was supposedly born and raised. The city of Florence ordered the a replica of the house to be rebuilt to commemorate the poet, and today the building functions as a three-storey museum devoted to Dante and his works. The first floor gives an insight into the poet’s early life and service in the Italian military. The second is devoted to his painful exile, while the third is largely concerned with the Comedy and Dante iconography. This is a brief, informative museum trip that won’t take up a huge chunk of your day and won’t break the bank either. It has a cool Dante-devoted gift shop on the ground floor too that’s well worth a visit.
Kneel at Dante’s Church Considering The Divine Comedy set the precedent for much of the Catholic iconography we still recognize today, religion was certainly a big part of Dante’s life (our modern interpretation of a fiery Hell populated by grotesque, bat-winged demons all come from Dante’s mind). Just around the corner from Casa di Dante, literally a twenty-second stroll, you’ll find the Santa Margherita dei Cerchi, commonly known as Dante & Beatrice’s Church. This small, simple church, lodged snugly between two unassuming buildings, is a major location in Dante lore. Dante’s muse and one true love Beatrice used to frequent this church, and tradition maintains it was here that Dante first clapped eyes on his favorite girl. Unfortunately, Beatrice was already betrothed to some other bozo, so Dante instead married Gemma Donati, in a ceremony that took place at the Santa Margherita dei Cerchi. Beatrice’s nanny is interred in the church, and possibly Beatrice herself; although it’s far more likely that she’s actually buried with her husband’s family. That doesn’t stop tourist and visitors leaving notes to her though; it’s become custom for lovers and couples to ask Beatrice to protect their love. This little church is only open until 12pm and for special services, but it’s well worth a visit as a slice of Dantean history.
Peruse the Paperback Exchange If all the Dante talk and sightseeing has you hankering to check out what all the fuss is about, head to Florence’s English-speaking bookshop the Paperback Exchange, located on Via delle Oche, to grab yourself a copy of his masterpiece The Divine Comedy. They have multiple translations to fit all tastes and budgets; with a copy in hand you can grab a seat and an espresso in Piazza della Signoria, read away the daylight hours and feel like a true Florentine. The Paperback Exchange also has a great collection of English-language books to browse, and you can happily while away a couple of hours between its cozy shelves. It’s also located in the heart of old Florence; when you’re done browsing, you can wander the surrounding alleyways and streets, retracing the 800-year-old steps of Dante and his peers as they went about their city.
Do Il Duomo The centerpiece of Florence’s imposing skyline, Il Duomo is the trademark of the city and dominates it from almost any angle you care to look at it from. The chapel and tower are worth a visit on their own, but there are three points of interest for intrepid Danteans. The first is Sasso di Dante, meaning Stone of Dante, located on the south side of Il Duomo’s piazza. The actual stone doesn’t exist anymore, but there’s a plaque commemorating the spot; it’s said that Dante sat there and watched the construction of the Santa Maria Cathedral while composing his poems. The second is a famous painting of Dante which hangs inside the Cathedral itself. It portrays the poet poised between Il Duomo and the mountain of Purgatory he created. The third is the beautiful San Giovanni baptistry, located opposite the Cathedral doors, which is where a baby Dante was baptized.
See the Man Himself At the Uffizi The Uffizi Gallery is one of the most prominent art galleries in the world, featuring works by Florence’s other favorite sons, Michelangelo, Botticelli and Da Vinci. Unfortunately, it’s usually packed with tourists and the queue to get in can be quite intimidating. Luckily, for us puritanical Danteans, the only thing of interest is located outside of the gallery. Lining the narrow courtyard of the gallery are several statues of famous Italians; three quarters of the way down, on your left, you’ll find our boy. There’s also a statue of him in the Piazza Sante Croce, hanging out with an eagle. Both sculptures, while probably looking nothing like him in real life, are worth checking out to get a sense of the impact he had, an continues to have, on Italian culture.
Grab a Slice At the Trattoria Dante After a hard day’s Dante-spotting, what better way to unwind than with a slice of traditional Florentine pizza. The Trattoria Dante is located just across the Arno, and specializes in pizza and pasta. As an added bonus, and in keeping with the theme of your day, a fresco of Dante and Beatrice will watch over you while you dine.
One of the best ways to know a city is to roll up your sleeves and get involved with the history of the place. This little Dante tour outlined above should be more than enough to fill your BUCKiTDREAM planner with adventures and outings; and who knows, you might discover your own Dante-based excursions in the beautiful Florence’s labyrinthine streets!