How a new Dante-themed hotel in Florence brings the author to a new audience
I lived in Florence during the second half of 2019. As a poet myself, I went there to write and study Italian. It was a surrogate home, a home I couldn’t wait to return to when I heard about the hotel’s goal to bring in one of the greatest masterpieces in history. to a new audience.
Dante was born in Florence in 1265, to a noble family, the Alighieris, who – as custom dictated – married him to a wealthier cousin, called Gemma, rather than to Beatrice whom he worshiped (more her later). Yet they were wealthy, had four children, and were thriving.
In 1300 he was of such stature that he became chief magistrate. But he was soon drawn into the seething political controversy of the time, the battle between the Black Guelphs, who were pro-Pope, and the White Guelphs, who were more circumspect. He joined them, and when the Black Guelphs took power, was exiled on pain of being burned at the stake.
So he left the city of his birth in anger. His masterpiece and his legacy, The Divine Comedy, has largely become a book about Florence. He wasn’t always kind about it, writing about the place: “Florence, rejoice, now that you have such a fame, / And on land and sea you spread your wings! / All the Hell echoes with your name! ” He died in Ravenna in 1321. No, it must be said, by fire, but from malaria.
I started my deep dive into Dante with the newly restored mosaics of the Baptistery of San Giovanni, where he was baptized and which he calls “my beautiful Saint John” in the 19 hymn of Hell. In exile, he hoped that it would be a place of symbolic reparation and where Florence would give him the dignity and rank that had been denied to him before.