Rock of inspiration
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Rock of inspiration

If you are seeking poetic inspiration, try following the footsteps of the nineteenth-century poets who found it at Dante's stone, the Sasso di Dante.     A translation of the Divine Comedy published in England in 1814 popularised Dante in British society, and ‘Dante's Stone'

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Thu 31 Jan 2013 1:00 AM

If
you are seeking poetic inspiration, try following the footsteps of the
nineteenth-century poets who found it at Dante’s stone, the Sasso di Dante.

 

 

A translation
of the Divine Comedy published in England
in 1814 popularised Dante in British society, and ‘Dante’s Stone’ was listed in
guidebooks of the day as one of the important Florentine sites that any
cultured tourist on the Grand Tour should visit. Poets and writers came to pay
homage to the great poet and were often stirred by the experience. Several of
them, including William Wordsworth and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, were moved
to write poems about the site.

 

These
writers seemed to revere this stone as a shrine to the Sommo Poeta. Wordsworth called it ‘The laurelled Dante’s favourite
seat. A throne,‘ while for Browning it was ‘the holy stone where Dante sat.’

 

There
is this inspirational stone today? If you have walked around the south side of
the Duomo, chances are that you have passed Dante’s stone without even noticing
it. A marble plaque on the wall between two shops reads ‘Sasso di Dante.’ But
where did Dante actually sit? Well, in his time the piazza looked quite
different. In Dante’s time, in the place of the buildings that we see today, was
the medieval cathedral canonry, the exterior wall of which had a long stone
bench, much like those we still today see on some Florentine buildings (such as
the Palazzo Strozzi). This is probably where Dante sat. The plaque was
originally placed in the pavement in the alleged location of Dante’s preferred
seat. Then, in the 1820s, the building, along with Dante’s bench, was removed
and at some point the marble plaque was placed on the exterior wall of the
building, where we see it today. 

 

It
is said that the young Dante came here regularly and always sat in the same
place. One anecdote states that as he was sitting here, a certain man passed by
and called out, ‘Dante, what is your favourite thing to eat?’  ‘A
hardboiled egg,’ he replied. About a year later, the same man, whom Dante had
not seen since the first encounter, again passed by and called out to him,
‘With what?’ ‘With salt,’ Dante immediately replied. When not discussing his
favourite food, Dante would have sat in this spot, watching the construction of
the cathedral and composing verses dedicated to his muse, Beatrice.

 

In
the early nineteenth century, when many English poets visited or lived in
Florence, the stone marking the location of his favourite seat was just about
the only tribute to Dante in Florence. Later, a memorial was built for him in
the basilica of Santa Croce, and in 1865 the sculpture by Enrico Pazzi was
placed in piazza Santa Croce (see TF 135). These grand monuments draw our
attention today, and the humble plaque that marks the spot where Dante once sat
is rarely noticed.

 

The
next time you pass through the south side of the piazza del Duomo, pause for a
moment at this unassuming plaque and see if you can feel the spirit of Dante or
of the many poets who found inspiration here. Maybe you, too, will feel a
poetic stirring within.

 

MORE DANTE

Seeking
more of Dante in Florence? Visit the house-museum, Museo Casa di Dante (www.museocasadidante.it); the Santa
Margherita dei Cerchi Church, also known as Chiesa di Dante (TF 114); or sleuth
around the streets for the marble plaques with memorable verse from his famous Divine Comedy.

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