Throughout 2021 the city of Ravenna has been celebrating the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante Alighieri. But how did this famous Florentine poet come to be associated with Ravenna? And where can you find Dante in Ravenna today?
Dante And Ravenna
Dante was born in Florence in 1265. As well as making a name for himself as a poet, he became heavily involved in politics. This got him into trouble with the city authorities, and he was exiled in 1302. He never returned to Florence again.
For many years Dante wandered from one town to another. However, in 1318 Guido Novello da Polenta, the lord of Ravenna, invited him to make his home there. It was in Ravenna that Dante completed his master work, The Divine Comedy, and it was here that he died and was buried in 1321.
Where To Find Dante In Ravenna
As you walk around Ravenna you are following in Dante’s footsteps. Many of the streets and buildings that you see today would have been there in the 14th century, and would have influenced the poet. In particular, he must have been familiar with the magnificent Byzantine mosaics for which the city is most famous.
Unfortunately, we don’t know the exact location of the house in which Dante lived, although the Casa Scarabigoli (close to Dante’s Tomb) is often regarded as a possibility. Another site to look out for is the unmarked house near Porta Sisi in Via Zagarelli alle Mura. This is reputed to have been the home of Francesca da Polenta, who features in Dante’s Inferno.
Two places with a more certain connection are Dante’s Tomb and the Museo Dante.
Tomb Of Dante
Dante’s burial place has a curious history. He was originally buried in a Roman sarcophagus in Ravenna, but his bones later had to be hidden, as the city of Florence tried to repatriate his bones in the 15th century. The current tomb, a grand neoclassical monument at the end of Via Dante, was built in 1781, However the bones were nowhere to be found, only being rediscovered by accident in 1865!
The story doesn’t end there, as he was hidden again during the Second World War, to protect against possible bomb damage. And Florence still hasn’t quite given up hoping for the bones to return to them…
Around the tomb is an area known as the Zona di Silenzio (Zone of Silence), where visitors are asked to pay their respects to Italy’s national poet. Here you will also find the Quadrarco di Braccioforte, a small garden containing the wall where Dante’s bones were hidden, as well as some ancient sarcophagi.
Basilica Of San Francesco And The Dante Museum
The Zona di Silenzio also includes the Basilica of San Francesco. This is known as “Dante’s Church”, because the poet would sometimes come here to meditate, and because his funeral took place here.
Behind the Basilica are the 14th century Franciscan Cloisters, where the Dante Museum opened in 1921 as part of the 600th anniversary celebrations. The museum contains paintings, manuscripts and other information and artefacts relating to Dante’s life and work.
The Roads Of Dante
Beyond the city, tourists can explore Le Vie di Dante (Roads of Dante). This is a 400 km trail between the poet’s birthplace in Florence and his final resting place in Ravenna, following the places of his exile. You could travel the route by train or car, bike or foot. Whichever you choose, it is designed for slow travel. Although perhaps not the 16 years it took for Dante to get to Ravenna from Florence!