This year, in Italy, and around the world, we’ve been marking 700 years since the death of Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321).
Dante is considered the Father of the Italian language and litearture, with his masterpiece The Divine Comedy written in (vulgar) Italian, rather than in (erudite) Latin – thereby ushering in a rich cultural tradition of Italian letters.
Dante lived much of his life in exile, and his final years were no different. Unable to return to his native Florence, Dante spent his final years, from 1318-1321 in the city of Ravenna, in the neighboring region of Emilia Romagna. In 1321, he died of malaria following a diplomatic trip he had undertaken to Venice. It is in Ravenna where he is buried.
After years of having been interred in a monastery (with twists and turns that rival the best literature), his tomb was built in 1780, and witnesses a flow of tourists who come to pay homage at his tomb.
For a period of one year during World War II, Dante’s bones were removed and buried at the adjacent garden, following fears that the tomb could have been bombed in the final years of the war with its frequent bombing and air raids.
The spot is noted with a small plaque.
In reality, Dante’s body had been moved previously. His present tomb contains the Ancient Roman sarcophagus where Dante was originally interred.
However, Florence soon grew to regret its exile of its most famous literary son and plotted the poet’s return to his native land. In the 16th century, Florence managed to get support – via Medici-backed Popes – for Dante’s return to his native city. In response, the monks of Ravenna simply stole his bones and secreted them away.
When the Florentine envoys arrived to transport the body back to his birthplace, they found the sarcophagus empty.
Poor Dante’s remains would be hidden once again when the French occupied the city in 1810. Judging from all the priceless works of art that made their way to Paris during this time, this seems a reasonable action to have taken.
Thankfully, Italy’s greatest poet now rests in peace in this quiet town.
When you are next in Ravenna, you can pay homage to the great poet by visiting Dante’s tomb.