Through the pages of Tuscany
Walk off the wine along Via Folgore da San Gimignano, with a volume by the San Gimignano-born poet (born 1270) of the same name. Appropriately, in his sonnet February, he writes: “draw wine and let the kitchen smoke; And so be till the first watch glorious; Then sound sleep to you till the day be wide.”
Your next stop is the gorgeous and deeply inspiring city of Siena, whose patron saint, Catherine (born 1347), wrote The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena, a groundbreaking church text that describes her revelations and conversations with God while in ecstasy. Her partial remains and relics can be found at the city’s Basilica of San Domenico, while just down the hill, at the Shrine of Saint Catherine, you can walk through a few small museums that were once her house.
Siena also has Shakespearean ties; the Bard himself being very fond of Italian literature as source material for his plays and sonnets. It was the setting for Masuccio Salernitano’s story of Mariotto and Giannozza in il Novellino (story XXXIII), one of the first sources for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Years later, Siena’s magic (and the compelling story of doomed, star-crossed lovers) continue to inspire writers. Anne Fortier’s novel Juliet (a New York Times best seller from 2010), is a highly imaginative work of historical fiction set in Siena that vividly brings this Tuscan city to life. Step onto Via della Sapienza and follow the journey of the protagonist as she moves through the ancient city and connects with the legacy of Juliet.
If one can compare a city to a playwright, Florence is the world’s Shakespeare. A place so prolific it features the largest concentration of Renaissance art in the world, Florence also has a genius that extends beyond the visual.
Born in 1265 and exiled in 1302, Dante Alighieri changed the face of Western literature with his great work, The Divine Comedy. Begin following in the poet’s footsteps in Badia Fiorentina, the city’s oldest monastery, where Dante saw his love and infatuation, Beatrice Portinari, for the first time. (Dante references the church’s bells in Paradiso XV.) At Number 4 Via del Corso, on a palazzo once belonging to Beatrice's father, a passage from an Purgatorio XXX is engraved on a plaque, describing the illuminating and inviting Beatrice as she waits to guide Dante into heaven. There are 33 other excerpts of The Divine Comedy on plaques throughout Florence.
Your next stop is the breathtaking Basilica of Santa Maria Novella and the Cappella Strozzi section, in particular, which is decorated with Divine Comedy themed frescoes by Nardo di Cione. Next, wander along Via Santa Margherita to Dante’s House. His birthplace was converted into a museum featuring a small collection of works by and about the author and Florence itself. Finally, visit Dante’s tomb inside the Santa Croce Basilica. Also inside this church are the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli.
It is with Niccolo Machiavelli that your literary tour of Tuscany concludes. This Florentine, best known for his political and philosophical writings, was also a comedic playwright. Leave your copy of The Prince (Machiavelli’s political treatise and most famous work) at home and explore another side of Machiavelli expressed in The Mandrake (Mandragola), his most popular play (and Tom Hanks’ only New York stage role as the lead, Callimaco). Cosy up with your copy and a cappuccino at Cafe Gilli, a famous meet-up for writers and artists since the 1700s. As you reach the play’s climax pull out your pen and note the locations in Florence hit by the play’s protagonist Ligurio while in hot pursuit of Callimaco. Among them are the Piazza della Signorina, Palazzo Spini Feroni in Piazza Santa Trinite and Loggia dei Tornaquinci. “I’ve never wanted to find Callimaco as much as I do now!” Ligurio proclaimed. Does Ligurio find him? Can you?