Dante’s Divine Comedy is one of the most important works of Italian literature. It follows the story of a man who travels through Hell, Purgatory, and finally Paradise. Dante was as close to Florence as any other author, but he wrote his masterpiece in exile. The Divine Comedy features the city prominently, which is both the object of Dante’s scorn and his longing.
For Dante’s Florence, visit the Casa di Dante and then go down the street to Santa Margherita de’ Cerchi , where Dante is said to have first seen Beatrice.
Dante was buried in Ravenna, Italy in 1321. Two locations in Florence honor his death: the death mask in Palazzo Vecchio and the empty tomb in Franciscan Church of Santa Croce. Florence tried repeatedly to reclaim its native son but Ravenna wouldn’t let him go. Perhaps Dante’s final words to the city that kept him out were Ravenna’s refusal to give him up.
2. Boccaccio, Decameron
Boccaccio’s Decameron is a classic of Italian literature that resonates so well in a pandemic. It is a collection of 100 tales told by ten noblemen over ten days (text and commentary at Decameron).
These young people, known as the “Brigata”, fled Florence to the hillsides in order to escape the plague and create a short, but idyllic society. They tell many stories about lovers, villains, and tricksters. Boccaccio’s Comedy is “Divine” if Dante’s Comedy were “Divine.”
The Decameron starts with the noblewomen meeting at the Florentine Church Santa Maria Novella, where they decide to leave Florence and go to a villa located in or near Fiesole. (Take a virtual tour to the Villa Medici, Fiesole). This vantage point affords a spectacular view of Florence away from traffic, confusion, and at the very least, disease.
Recanati, Le Marche
Leopardi was the son of distant and conservative parents. He was born in Recanati, Italy at the end 18th century. He found refuge in the family library of 25,000 volumes as a child.
Leopardi, a sickly young man, was acutely aware that he would soon die at the age of 38. His inadequacy as a romantic figure is also evident in his writings, which are filled with pessimism.
Recanati was a place he long to escape from, but Leopardi, just like Dante, is still connected with his hometown. It is a place that appears in some of his most powerful poetry.
Today, the Casa Leopardi museum houses the family library and Leopardi’s desk. It faces Teresa Fattorini’s home, which is possibly where “Silvia” was immortalized in her poem about her death. Monte Tabor rises above, the town.
4. Alessandro Manzoni A Betrothed (I Promessi Sposi).
Manzoni’s 19th-century novel The Betrothed tells the story of doomed lovers Renzo and Lucia. It is set in a small Italian village in Lombardy. The hapless couple is separated by evil villains and meets with challenge after challenge until they reunite in Milan while recovering from the plague.
The Betrothed was a huge success in Italy and created a type of tourism trade. People identified the villages and homes of the fictional characters.
There are many Promessi Sposi locations today in Lombardy. The Villa Manzoni is the first, and it was here that Alessandro spent his summers. Another option is to go all-out for a Manzoni boat trip to the Adda river.
5. Eugenio Montale, Cuttlefish Bones (Ossi di Seppia)
Cinque Terre, Liguria
Eugenio Montale was another Nobel prize winner. He split his life between Genoa and Monterosso (the westernmost of five towns that make up Cinque Terre). (See Collected Poetry of Eugenio Montale).
Montale wrote much of his work in Monterosso. His poetry was influenced by the natural beauty of Monterosso. It is a pleasure to read Montale, as you walk alongside him through the Italian streets and side roads, along the trails and piazze in the Cinque Terre.
The Cinque Terre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been incredibly popular in recent decades. Monterosso is the most popular and largest beach with sand.
Begin with the Montale Literary Park. Book in hand, perhaps. Then, to escape the crowds, see more of the Cinque Terra, and continue your walk out from Monterosso along the Via dell’Amore trail linking the five villages.
6. Italo Svevo, Zeno’s Conscience (Le Coscienze di Zeno)
Trieste, Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Italo Schmitz was born to a Jewish family, in Trieste. His writings reflect this city’s multifaceted culture. Svevo is best known for his friendship with James Joyce. His writing captures a feeling of place in the psyches of his characters.
The Confessions Of Zeno is the story of Zeno, a Trieste-based businessman who decided to document his Freudian psychoanalysis experiences as part of his treatment. It’s a funny and clever way of telling his story.
The Museo Sveviano can be visited both online and in person and offers an interactive virtual tour of Svevo’s Trieste (https://svevo-ar.online.trieste.it/).
Trieste is a city that loves its coffee as much as its writers, so while you take your virtual tour, make yourself an espresso and imagine you’re seated at Caffe Tommaseo with Joyce and Svevo himself (https://caffetommaseo.it/). Mix an Aperol spritz with it, a drink that is rooted in the Italian Northeast. It’s summer in a glass. You can adjust the components to your taste to balance the sweet and bitter, just like Svevo.
7. Elio Vittorini, Conversations in Sicily (Conversazione in Sicilia)
Conversations in Sicily is a dialogue-based story about Silvestro’s return to Sicily, fifteen years after he fled. Vittorini left Sicily when he was young. However, an author’s warning warns that the protagonist is not to be confused or misunderstood by the “Author”.
Vittorini grew up in the city of Syracuse. It is an ideal place to have a conversation about Sicily. You can also enjoy some stunning scenery and seafood among its mixture of baroque churches, palaces, and ancient archaeological finds. Vittorini’s family was known to have moved around the island quite a lot because his father was a railwayman (just as Silvestro in Silvestro’s novel). You can also circle the island using a train (check out Rick Steve’s Sicily episode).
Aliano, Matera, Basilicata Lucania
While Carlo Levi hails from Turin but is more closely associated with Basilicata. This region, also known as Lucania (or Lucania) was where he was exiled from 1935-1936 because of his anti-fascist views. Christ stopped at Eboli is a title that comes from residents who claim Christ did not travel as far as their area. This implies that their lands go beyond religion, politics, and human history. Levi watches the locals as a journalist and is ultimately touched by their honesty and kindness. He also includes shocking descriptions of poverty in Matera where Levi’s sister, a physician, visited. There, the Sassi, are still dwelling in caves.
Christ Stopped in Eboli was published in 1952, bringing to light the poverty in the area. The residents of the Sassi were evacuated in 1952 and relocated to modern housing. Forward-thinking entrepreneurs started to restore the Sassi homes, which were later transformed into high-end restaurants and hotels.
Matera has many museums that focus on the peasant lifestyle. These exhibit the engineering feats of traditional methods. The Aliano literary park is located in and offers suggestions for itineraries to visit the places mentioned in this book.
You can get a glimpse of Matera from your home by watching one of the many films that made use of the location, including Pasolini’s Gospel According to Saint Matthew and Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.
Pasolini was a controversial and original poet, filmmaker, actor, and writer. Pasolini spent the first half of his life in northern Italy. However, Rome is the most closely associated with Pasolini because of his novels and his film work at Cinecitta (Italy’s movie studio). Pasolini’s first novel, The Street Kids explores the darker side of Rome. It focuses on the poorer, less educated youth living in Rome’s slums in the decades after World War II.
The Street Kids is largely set in Rome’s Tor Pignattara or Pigneti areas. These neighborhoods have been gentrified by Pasolini and are filled with street art, hipster bars, and eclectic restaurants. Cinecitta Studio, where Pasolini shot several of his films offers a fascinating museum and tours of the sets.
The scene of Pasolini’s 1975 murder, Ostia ( Livecam), is closely linked to Pasolini. (The identity of the killer or perpetrators is still unknown). The Sentiero Pasolini is a trail that runs from Ostia along the Tiber River to the coast, where you’ll find Pasolini’s literary park and the monument where his body was discovered.
10. Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend (“L’amica geniale”)
Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels is a series of four volumes that begins with My Brilliant Friend. It tells the story of the complicated friendship between Lenu, and Lila from their childhood in the slums of Naples, to their old age when Lila mysteriously and suddenly disappears.
These books are a worldwide phenomenon and have been made into a miniseries on HBO. While Ferrante is the focus of some of the fascination, a pen name unknown author, there’s another reason for the curiosity: the city of Naples. This isn’t the Naples of Capri and cruise ships. It is a tough and sometimes ugly Naples. A city full of violence and squalor, but always captivating.
Lenu, the narrator in My Brilliant Friend, claims she left Naples because she “no longer believed it was resurrections.” However, today’s Naples ( Livecam) seems to be reborn. It is a mixture of ancient artifacts and vibrant street life with amazing food and stunning views of Vesuvius.
My Brilliant Friend tours offer glimpses into Naples beyond the tourist centers. You can reach the island of Ischia (a key plot location) by ferry in just over an hour. Start planning your next trip. Expect to be surprised.