Walking on the roads of Dante

From Florence to Ravenna (Italy)

From our special correspondent

The 25 km covered that day did not diminish his enthusiasm, on the contrary. Francesco, professor in Verona, has been walking for five days already on the “Dante’s Routes”, a signposted route of 395 km which, in about twenty stages, goes from Ravenna – where the poet died in 1321 – to Florence – where he was born in 1265 – before returning to his starting point, crossing chestnut forests, olive groves, vineyards and picturesque villages.

Francesco had embarked his wife Alessandra in this adventure which “Combines nature and culture”. Then, on the first night of their journey, they met Daniele, a Milanese crazy about hiking. They have been walking together ever since. However, unlike Francesco who says: “The more I study Dante, the more I love him and the more I want to read him”, Daniele hardly cared about the poet. He just wanted to immerse himself slowly in a beautiful nature.

Along the way, Francesco recites passages he knows by heart, while marveling at the “The powerful scent of flowering broom”, “the atmosphere of the Apennines which (him) recall the Italy of his childhood ” or the charm of the hermitage of Gamogna – a monastery founded by Saint Peter Damian, crossed in the solitude of a wood, near Marradi.

One evening in July, the trio made a stop in this town, in a hotel-restaurant on the list of stopover establishments on the “Chemin de Dante”. Francesco, Alessandra and Daniele are thrilled by this “Way of experiencing the landscape differently”. They are no exception. This summer, on this path, many were the enthusiastic Italian walkers at the same time as admirers of the “Father of the Italian language”.

It was in 2016 that the “path of Dante” (1), which crosses a territory straddling Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, was marked out – the signs are stamped “CD”. The association which took the initiative is anxious to make the line stick with the facts and gestures – real or supposed – of Dante during his exile and / or with the characters or places that inspired him, in particular for the writing. of The Divine Comedy.

Since then, the tourist authorities of Italy and the two regions concerned (2) have undertaken to diversify the offer, under the plural name “Routes of Dante” (“Life of Dante”, in Italian). There is the trek, sometimes difficult, but also a bicycle route, along the old via Faentina, two routes by rail – one in a small tourist train, the other on the regular Ravenna line. -Florence – and a multitude of tailor-made proposals from local tourist operators.

Grouped on a new website (3), they are not only intended to mark the 700e anniversary of Dante’s death. The ambition is broader. Having understood that the Covid-19 pandemic reinforced aspirations for a different holiday, the tourist offices intend to give more priority to “Soft mobility”, of which the “Dante’s Roads” are erected as a symbol.

This ambition was received five out of five by Sara Cavina who, with her friend Sara Zanni, runs a small hiking agency aptly called “4 per hour” (4). Their playground is Brisighella, among others.

This picturesque village stretches its red tiled roofs at the foot of three rocky spurs over which a fortress, a sanctuary and the clock tower watch. All around are marked paths, one turned towards local olive oil, another towards the gypsum long extracted from the many quarries, another still dedicated to Saint Anthony, another finally to Dante. In his writings, the poet and thinker exhausted, without ever naming him, Maghinardo Pagani, local potentate and champion of the dodging between the supporters of the Pope (the Guelphs) and those of the Emperor (the Ghibellines).

In Marradi, a village of 3,000 inhabitants located 50 km from Florence, the mayor, Tommaso Triberti, understood the benefit he could derive from these “Dante’s Routes”: his “chestnut capital” is not proud of it. it not to have a charming Italian theater, some beautiful nobiliary palaces, that of the Torriani for example, and a museum which pays homage to Dino Campana, local literary glory quickly set up in “Italian Rimbaud”?

A few kilometers away, Borgo San Lorenzo is betting on these same “Life of Dante” to publicize the Villa-Museum Galileo Chini, a figure in the Liberty style (Italian Art Nouveau), the atypical Romanesque church which houses a very damaged painting by Giotto, the painter’s birthplace nestled in the middle of the vineyards or even the excellent local wines and cheeses.

In Ravenna, famous for its Byzantine-style monuments and its extraordinary colorful mosaics from the early Middle Ages, the idea is rather to invite visitors to renew their gaze: is not Dante resting there in a tomb near the Franciscan basilica? The same goes for Florence who, after having banished Dante, never ceased to want to make amends for his ingratitude. In the cathedral, until December 31, the superb Comedy lights up Florence of Domenico di Michelino, where Dante is enthroned in majesty, is for the first time visible up close, climbing a platform, during special guided tours.

A new route also encourages visitors to discover the city as it was in Dante’s time: although torn between rival factions, it was in full expansion. The churches of Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce, the baptistery of Saint John the Baptist (Dante was baptized there) and the old Palace were under construction. The Dantes lived in the narrow streets of the medieval quarter, populated by houses of merchant corporations.

“They lived in one of the 150 tower houses in the city, explains guide Silvia Cappelli. Most of those that belonged to the Ghibellines were destroyed at the end of the 13th century.e century, after the victory of the Guelphs. The others were lowered during the Renaissance so that they no longer exceed the dome of the Duomo, the cathedral. “

The house-museum presented as that of Dante’s was rebuilt in 1910. Upstairs, a voice-over features extracts from the poet’s works, which many Italians often recite at the same time. “For us, Dante, it’s something! We study it in high school for three years. And we are very attached to him because he is at the origin of our language ”, exclaims Silvia Cappelli.

The same enthusiasm was perceptible this summer during the “Dantesque readings” organized in the evening, either by volunteers as in Ravenna, or by actors as in Borgo San Lorenzo. “Dante fascinates me, thus confides Ilaria, met in this town located north of Florence. He was a man of his time with the weapons of knowledge, he knew how to live different experiences, he continued to engage and continued on his way despite adversity. “

To listen to him, these “Dante’s Routes” seem much more than a simple tourist promotion tool. They say a lot about the identity of Italians, their connection to history. It is no coincidence, moreover, that in Ravenna as in Florence, one finds Dante painted on the walls and on the metal curtains of shops. Dante, icon of “street art”, who would have imagined it?


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