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Dante's Florence

From Porta San Gallo to the Bargello, admiring the many splendors of 13th century Florence

Dante's Florence

Florence is not only one of the most beautiful Italian cities, is is also the birthplace of the Italian language, paternity of which is widely attributed to Dante Alighieri, who lived in the Tuscan capital and wrote many of his most important works, including his Divine Comedy, here. This tour of Florence commences in the quarter of the city where the poet lived between the 13th and 14th century, visiting the many places linked to Dante and to a period of time when the city was theater of bitter conflict between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, factions which supported the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire respectively.

We make our first stop at the Casa di Dante, a museum which recounts the life and works of the great artist. The building is located, if not exactly in the same palazzo where Dante lived, in the same street, as can be ascertained by various documents written by the poet. The museum is situated right in the center of Florence, just steps away from the Church of Santa Margherita de' Cerchi, where Alighieri married Gemma Donati and also first set eyes on his famous muse, Beatrice. The Portinari, Beatrice's family, were parishioners and Folco Portinari, Beatrice's father, is buried here. Some believe that Beatrice was also laid to rest in the family tomb.

Described by Ugo Foscolo as the fleeting Ghibelline, Dante was actually a White Guelph, a faction perhaps closer to the Ghibellines in as much as it opposed the granting of excessive powers to the pope, the prime objective of the more extreme Guelphs (later defined the Black Guelphs). Dante personally recounts the defeat of the Uberti family, fervent Ghibelline supporters, whose houses were destroyed so as to make way for the new Piazza della Signoria. Designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in the 14th century, Palazzo della Signoria dominates the square with which it shares its name, and where any number of world famous works of art can be admired. Like an open air art gallery, the piazza is home to statues by Donatello (Marzocco and Giuditta and Oloferne), Michelangelo (David) and Benvenuto Cellini (Perseo).

Ponte Vecchio, another famous landmark of Florence was, like much of 14th century Florence, theater of bitter conflict between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, and described by Dante in his Paradise. This is where to find the Tower of the Amidei, in which Buondelmonte was murdered by the Amidei after having broken his engagement with one of the family's female members. Buondelmonte de' Buondelmonte, of Guelph persuasion, became the symbol of Guelph and Ghibelline reprisals. Today, the great majority of tourists crossing the bridge to admire its jewelery shops and the view of the Arno river, are oblivious to its blood-stained past.

So as to see a photograph of Dante Alighieri, we head to the Bargello. Built as Palazzo del Popolo and seat of the town courts, the Bargello now houses an important Museum, containing works by artists of the caliber of Dontello (his David is on show here). In the Bargello Chapel, painted by pupils of Giotto, there is a portrait of Dante Alighieri.

Another image of the poet can be seen in the Church of Santa Maria Novella, house of worship after which Florence's nearby central station has been named. The exterior of the church is faced with strongly contrasting blocks of black and white marble with dark green inserts. Inside the building, in the Strozzi Chapel painted by Nando di Cione, we find a fresco of the Last Judgment as described by Dante in his Divine Comedy. The poet is depicted amongst the elected.


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