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From Florence to Garda Lake, discovering the homes of Italy’s literary masters

by Andrea Carli

Understanding Italy through its literary gems, starting off from the places inhabited by its poets and writers. Florence, Arquà, Certaldo Alto, Recanati, Milan, Gardone Rivera: all essential pins on the map to discover the home-museums, sources of literary inspiration.

Let’s begin with “the Supreme Poet,” Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), the author of the “Divine Comedy”, regarded as the founding father of Italian literature. At number 1 Via Santa Margherita, in Florence’s city center, a museum has been set up in his house, which now features reconstructions of furniture, clothes and other everyday objects that were common in medieval Florence– together with some original historic exhibits such as weapons, coins and pottery.

From one founding father to another, we stop by Arquà, a medieval hamlet nestled among the Euganean hills, near Padua. Here the poet Francesco Petrarch (1304-1374) spent his last years. The small town still hosts his tomb. The house is a typical 14th century mansion: inside there are fresco scenes inspired by Petrarch’s works; outside there is a garden, which the poet lived as a paradise of the mind, a place to withdraw and create poetry.

Certaldo Alto, a town of 16,000 inhabitants in the middle of Valdelsa, along the road connecting Empoli to Siena, used to be home to Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375), the author of the tales collection “Decameron.” At number 12 Via Boccaccio, one can visit the 14th century house, with the library, the poet’s bedroom, and the garb of the dames portrayed in Boccaccio’s tales.

From there we can go to Marche, a stone’s throw from Tuscany, especially when literature is involved. Recanati, in the Macerata province, hosts the Leopardi manor, once house to count Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), the foremost 19th century Italian poet and among the giants of world literature, recently rediscovered in the UK and in the U.S.

The house overlooks a small piazza, which became famous for having animated Leopardi’s poem “Saturday in the village.” The whole first floor of the mansion hosts the library. Palazzo Leopardi very often holds exhibits on the poet and his works.

Number 1 Via Morone, Milan, used to be home of the author of “The Betrothed” (“I Promessi Sposi”), Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873). Documents, photographs and letters by and about Italy’s foremost novelist can be seen in the palace.

The last stop is in Gardone Riviera, on the Garda Lake, between Brescia and Verona. This is the site of the former residence of Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863-1938), writer, poet, playwright and daring airplane pilot, nicknamed “Il Vate” (“The Rhymer”). The house, known as the “Vittoriale degli Italiani” is an ensemble of buildings, streets, squares, theaters, gardens and waterways, built as a memento of D’Annunzio's “inimitable life” and of his WWI swashbuckling exploits. Buon viaggio!