|Dante in Signori's square. On the background Cangrande's palace where the great poet stayed.
Thine earliest refuge and thine earliest inn
Shall be the mighty Lombard's courtesy,
Who on the Ladder bears the holy bird
(Paradiso, XVII, v. 70)
This is what Dante makes his ancestor, Cacciaguida, say in the sphere of Mars, that of those who fought for Christianity. The mighty Lombard is probably Cangrande (or maybe Bartolomeo), and the Ladder is Scala family's crest, that even today can be seen around Verona on old city monuments, adorned by eagle wings, symbol of the emperor's power of which Scala family members were deputies.
|Cangrande equestrian statue. From the top of his renewed funerary monument he's still turning his eyes over Verona.
||The ladder, crest of the Lords of Verona. On both side of the helmet the imperial eagle wings.
In Italy it was the time of the struggle between Guelfi and Ghibellini, the Pope party and the Emperor party. When in Firenze prevailed the Pope party, Dante, who supported the Emperor power had to flee. Wandering around Italy he arrived in Verona where he stayed from 1312 until 1318. He had already been at Scala family court, when Bartolomeo was lord of Verona, in the early years of 14th century. Under Bartolomeo's rule it is believed that Romeo and Juliet story took place. Many people like to believe that Dante's verses in Purgatorio are a proof that the tragedy of the two lovers is true:
Come and behold Montecchi and Cappelletti,
Monaldi and Fillippeschi, careless man!
Those sad already, and these doubt-depressed!
(Purgatorio VI, vv.106-108)
What might be Montecchi (Montague) and Cappelletti's (Capulets) reason for sadness?
And in Verona Dante also saw the palio, the horse race that for centuries had been held in town. He must have been impressed by the race if he wrote about it in his Inferno:
Then he turned round, and seemed to be of those
Who at Verona run for the Green Mantle
Across the plain; and seemed to be among them
(Inferno, XV vv 121/122)
Some people also like to think, but perhaps this is only a fantasy, that the dreadful description of Hell's gate, might have been inspired by the bronze portal of St. Zeno's church. Dante was in Verona again in 1312, during the rule of Cangrande, in whom Dante probably saw that ideal lord, whose military and political ability could unify and bring peace in Italy. In the six years of staying, Dante worked eagerly on his masterpiece, especially on Paradiso, which was written mainly in Verona, at Capitolare library.
The reasons why Dante left Verona in 1318 are unclear, they are to be found in Verona and outside Verona, in assignment he received from Ravenna, in a changed relation between Dante and Verona's lord, or again, in frictions between the poet and the Scala court.
|St Elena church, near the Cathedral.
||The plate, remembering Dante's presence on 7th January 1320.
In 1320 Dante is again in Verona where, in a cold evening on January 7th, in the church of St. Elena, he reads in front of cathedral prelates and Verona intelligentsia, his scientific treaty: Quaestio de aqua et terra. He was probably hoping to gain a chair in the Studio (the school of Verona which was becoming a famous university). But another scholar was preferred: Artemisio, and Dante continued his roaming until his death the following year.
Following Dante's footstep in Verona, allows us to discover fascinating and hidden monuments and places, some of which still preserve the middle age atmosphere Dante himself experienced.
For more information on Dante's Verona guided tours: