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CULTURE

Dante Day: How Italy is celebrating its national poet

Dante Alighieri, the giant of world literature who wrote the Divine Comedy, was commemorated on Thursday for Italy's national 'Dantedi' (Dante Day), in the year that marks 700 years since his death.

Dante Day: How Italy is celebrating its national poet
Dante was celebrated across Italy on 'Dante Day', March 25th. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

March 25th was picked last year to celebrate the man known to Italians as the “supreme poet” because most scholars believe that his fictional journey through hell, purgatory and heaven – as told in the Divine Comedy – starts on this day.

READ ALSO: Dante’s last laugh: Why Italy’s national poet isn’t buried where you think he is

Italian President Sergio Mattarella said that the “universality” of that masterpiece kept Dante relevant in the modern world.

“The Comedy still attracts us, fascinates us, makes us wonder today because it talks about us, about the deepest essence of man, made up of weaknesses, failings, nobility and generosity,” Mattarella said in an interview with Corriere della Sera.

Dante is credited with helping create the Italian language by using the Tuscan vernacular of his time, rather than Latin, to write his most famous poem, which he completed shortly before his death in 1321.

READ ALSO: Ten strange things you never knew about Dante

Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Despite restrictions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed at least 106,000 people in Italy, the country is planning hundreds of readings, exhibitions and other events to honour Dante over the course of 2021.

In his hometown of Florence, the Uffizi Galleries unveiled a 22-metre-high art installation in the shape of a tree in Piazza Signoria. Created by artist Giuseppe Penone, the sculpture “forces us to look upwards, hoping, dreaming and building”, said Mayor Dario Nardella.

Giuseppe Penone’s sculpture in central Florence was inaugurated on Dantedì 2021. Photo: Adriana Urbano

It also recalls one of Dante’s best-loved verses: “e quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle”, “and thence we came forth to see again the stars”, a message of hope amid the third wave of coronavirus infections in Italy.

In other celebrations, Oscar-winning actor and director Roberto Benigni, star of Life is Beautiful, read the 25th Canto from Dante’s Paradise on Thursday, in a live-streamed event from the presidential palace in Rome.

In the northeastern city of Ravenna, there was a reading of Dante’s works next to his tomb, where a flame burns all year round, fuelled by oil from the hills in the writer’s native Tuscany.

READ ALSO: Italian lawyers seek justice for Dante – 700 years after his death

Later this year in Florence, lawyer Alessandro Traversi is planning a summit of legal experts to symbolically rehabilitate the poet and conclusively prove that he was unfairly banished from his city.

Dante was exiled from Florence in January 1302, after finding himself on the losing side of a feud between the city’s “White” and “Black” political factions, and sentenced to death if he tried to return.

As well as lawyers, judges and historians, Traversi has invited the descendants of the poet and of the judge who exiled him, Cante de’ Gabrielli, to his conference on May 21st. Unlike their medieval ancestors, the two descendants – Count Sperello di Serego Alighieri, an astronomer, and Antoine de Gabrielli, a French business consultant – are friends.

Despite the lockdown restrictions this year, March 25th was a day of festivities for Italy. Not only did the country honour Dante, the country also celebrated the ‘floating city’ of Venice as it turned 1,600 years old.

Adriana Urbano contributed to this report from Florence.

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LA BELLA VITA

La Bella Vita: The best Italian-language podcasts, and unexpected foods you’ll find in Italy

From Italian podcasts to surprising delicacies and our favourite overlooked travel destinations, new weekly newsletter La Bella Vita offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like an Italian.

La Bella Vita: The best Italian-language podcasts, and unexpected foods you'll find in Italy

La Bella Vita is our regular look at the real culture of Italy – from language to cuisine, manners to art. This new newsletter will be published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to newsletter preferences in ‘My Account’ or follow the instructions in the newsletter box below.

A cornerstone of Italian culture, the tabaccheria is used for much more than just buying cigarettes. In fact, these little shops are pretty central to everyday life and anyone who moves to or just spends time in Italy will need to become as familiar with them as they are with the local coffee bar.

From paying bills to purchasing bus tickets, here are just some of the services you should know about and a few tips for your first visit.

Why the tabaccheria is essential to life in Italy – even if you don’t smoke

For Italian language learners: listening to podcasts is a great way to immerse yourself in a new language. Luckily there’s a vast range of audio shows for people wanting to learn Italian, whether you’re studying at an advanced level or learning from scratch. Here we’ve selected a few of our favourites, plus readers’ suggestions:

Some of the best podcasts for learners of Italian

Italy is known worldwide for pizza and gelato, but Italian cuisine is incredibly diverse and visitors are often surprised by some of the local delicacies on offer. I know rustic Tuscan cuisine didn’t exactly match my expectations when I first arrived in Italy. I quickly learned to love it – but my mother-in-law’s homemade chocolate cake made with pig’s blood (sanguinaccio is a delicacy in Puglia…) was a step too far!

So, from fried brains and tripe to suggestive desserts that you definitely wouldn’t expect the local priest to approve of, here’s a look at some more of the traditional foods loved by Italians – but not always by foreigners.

From fried brains to ‘sexy’ cakes: The Italian foods you might not expect in Italy

Visitors can find more than they bargained for at a traditional Italian food market. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

As regular visitors know, there’s much more to Italy than just the glamour of Rome, Venice or Florence, but some destinations suffer – we think unfairly – from negative reputations. From Caserta to Reggio Calabria and beyond, here are some of the overlooked Italian towns that are home to incredible sights that everyone should see at least once.

Nine overlooked Italian towns you should visit

If you’re planning a visit to Italy (or to another part of Europe from Italy) this year but want to cut down your carbon footprint, train travel is a great option and there are more routes than ever connecting Italy’s major cities to other parts of the continent.

Here are some of the main direct international train services you can use for travel between Italy and other European countries this year.

The train routes connecting Italy to the rest of Europe in 2023

Remember if you’d like to have this weekly newsletter sent straight to your inbox you can sign up for it via Newsletter preferences in “My Account”.

Is there an aspect of the Italian way of life you’d like to see us write more about on The Local? Please email me at [email protected]

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