700 years have passed since the death of the Great Poet, but there are still some traces of his passing through the streets of Florence. The city has undergone profound transformations: in Dante’s “Fiorenza” there was no Giotto’s Bell Tower, Brunelleschi’s dome and not even Palazzo Vecchio. The city was a network of narrow streets and houses made of stone and wood, interspersed with towers, small churches, shops. Nevertheless, still today it is possible to find many places related to our Poet.
Dante was probably baptised during the Holy Saturday ceremony (26 March 1266) in the Baptistery of San Giovanni, the octagonal building in front of the façade of the Duomo: the Baptistery is mentioned several times in the Divine Comedy.
In front of the Baptistery is the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. At the time of Dante the Cathedral had a completely different aspect: the church was much smaller and was called the Cathedral of Santa Reparata.
If you enter it today, however, on the left aisle you will find one of the most famous tributes to our poet. You cannot have never seen it: it is on all the covers of school books. We are talking about Domenico di Michelino‘s painting, made on the bicentenary of Dante’s birth (1465), which portrays him with the Divine Comedy in his hand, immersed in the scenery of the work.
Built in the early years of the first millennium, the Church of Santa Margherita dei Cerchi is truly ancient and witnesses the most important love story of Italian poetry, Dante’s love for Beatrice: here in fact the Poet often met his muse, Beatrice Portinari, always accompanied by his mother and nurse: in this church Beatrice married Simone de’ Bardi.
Inside, on the left side, there is the Portinari family tomb: the plaque affixed indicates it as the tomb where Beatrice was also buried, but in reality the young woman was probably buried in Santa Croce in her husband’s family tomb.
A painting by an English painter of the nineteenth century in Pre-Raphaelite style recalls this meeting, placed just to the right after the entrance. It is the little notes left on Beatrice’s tomb that make this place a symbol for all lovers; be careful though: it seems that reading the little notes left by other visitors brings bad luck in love!
A few steps ahead of the “Church of Dante”, you will find yourself in a small square. Here stands the so-called “Casa di Dante“. In reality the building in question was rebuilt at the beginning of the twentieth century on the houses of the Mardoli and Giuochi. What was most probably the real house of Dante is located a little further on, in Via Dante Alighieri, in front of Piazza San Martino, even if it no longer preserves its medieval aspect. You will recognise it by the plaque affixed on the building: “Io fu fu nato e cresciuto / Sovra ‘l bel fiume d’Arno alla gran villa“.
The “Casa di Dante” museum, however, can be interesting to immerse yourself in the life of medieval Florence: located on three floors, it offers an exhibition itinerary that traces the history of the city in the fourteenth century and the life of the poet.
Returning to Dante’s most accredited house, in the small square opposite you can also see the Torre della Castagna, which also existed in the 3rd century, and the Oratorio dei Buonomini di San Martino born where once stood the apse of the church of San Martino al Vescovo which in the 14th century was patronized by the Alighieri and Donati families and where Dante probably married Gemma Donati in 1285.
A nice walk to Piazza Santa Croce will allow you to admire the famous statue of Dante made of Carrara marble by the sculptor Enrico Pazzi in 1865, for the 600 years since the birth of the poet.
When the sculpture was inaugurated, this somewhat severe and sullen Dante, wrapped in his cloak and escorted by four marzocchi and an eagle, stood in the middle of the square. It remained there until 1967, when it was placed in a corner, on the churchyard of the Basilica, to allow the historical football to take place.