The Way of Life in Medieval Times
This museum, a monument dedicated to Dante, his intellect and literary masterpieces, is perfect for those who are intrigued by the city as it might have appeared in the 1300’s - not just physically but also economically and politically. This museum resides in a building refurbished on the spot believed to be where his birth residence was, and is arranged on three floors according to the three most important stages in his life.
Who is Dante anyway?
He is considered the father of the Italian language as we (more or less) know it today. Born in Florence in the late 1200’s, he is often referred to as "il Sommo Poeta" (the Supreme Poet) and "il Poeta". Many may recognize his most famous poem, The Divine Comedy, which provided intrigue in Dan Brown's film Inferno and hours of study for students of all ages in Italy.
Not only was he an influential poet, but he was also a political activist; he fought in battles and worked as an ambassador. His political beliefs eventually forced him into exile beyond the borders of Florence where he eventually died in Ravenna.
And though the Florentines make lots of noise about bringing his remains “home” - they still are not totally inclined to forgive him for his “supposed” corruption and financial wrongdoing.
Finding Dante's Home
It was in the late 1800’s, when Florence was named the capital of Italy, that the administrative government moved to preserve Dante Algheri's memory and the house where he was born and lived in a manner worthy of the Italian hero that he had become over the years. See side box information about Dante's life.
However, with the removal of the title as capital of the nation, all efforts were put on hold until 1911 when the government finalized the purchase of the land and buildings and started the restoration of the Casa di Dante Museum.
You will find numerous markers throughout the city which recall the passage of the famous poet; as you roam Florence you will inevitably come in contact with a series of commemorative plaques placed throughout the city in 1907 which indicated many of the very real places mentioned in his epic poem.
The little square in front of the museum was created after the structure was designated to be a museum (and is a lovely photo spot within the city). If you are wondering how they determined exactly where his home was, you can thank the tireless researchers who read ancient administrative documents for the local government from the 1300's! They found reference to a dispute over a fig tree on the border of the property between the Alighieri family (Dante's last name) and a neighboring priest.
For some extra fun: Dante Algheri and the Divine Comedy have been documented in this special itinerary following Dante’s footsteps through Dan Brown’s film "Inferno"!
Though for many Italians, Dante's poem means hours of study and memorization - for many this poem is a masterpiece, described as "widely considered the preeminent work in Italian literature and one of the greatest works of world literature."
The poem speaks of Dante's imaginative travels through various levels of the afterlife: Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. While trying to represent the soul's journey towards God he speaks of real people residing in the different levels - reaping their just rewards based on his interpretation of history.
What to expect in the Museum?
The museum features so much more than the story of Dante, it strives to incorporate important aspects of Medieval Florence into the displays. Dante was very much an enthusiastic protagonist in the vicissitudes that crafted the Florence which we see today. He was active in political considerations and outspoken in his criticism of the many events that were fundamental to the changing of the tides in the Florentine ruling parties. Did you known he also served as an ambassador to San Gimignano for the Guelph League.
Within the museum you will find an intriguing base of information that will help you appreciate the subtle but deeply embedded forces that made Dante an exile in this birth town as well a corresponding information that will make Medieval Florence come alive for all ages. Our suggestions: arrange for a guided tour that will animate what could potentially be a rather dry subject for many.
He was condemned to perpetual exile; if he returned to Florence without paying the fine, he could have been burned at the stake. In June 2008, nearly seven centuries after his death, the city council of Florence passed a motion rescinding Dante's sentence - but emotions still run high when you speak of Date.
Dante may have been forgiven, but his remains have not yet returned home! When you visit Santa Croce Church and stand in front of the cenotaph dedicated to this great poet, know that it is empty.
Though much of the artwork within the museum are copies of originals, you will find that they true purpose is not to showcase the exquisite execution of these masterpieces, but rather an attempt to tie everything together so that an inquiring mind can see how the many aspects of life in the time that Dante lived influenced his experience.
The first floor displays a series of documents on some of the aspects of 13th century Florence during the youth of Dante, and it is devoted to the Guild of Physicians and Apothecaries, to which Dante belonged.
Especially interesting on this floor, is the recreation of one of the more memorable and epic battles which Dante himself also participated: the Battle of Campaldino near the town of Poppi, between Florence and Arezzo. If you visit Casentino and the Castello of Romena you will be able to retrace some of his steps during the battle and while in exile. On this floor, there is a model creating the positions of the warring parties, full size real soldiers and the weapons they used during the battle.
The second floor exhibits documents relating to his exile and it is also called the political room due to the panels describing the internal divisions of the city of Florence and the war between competing factions
Of special interest on this floor is the reproduction of bedroom as it would have appeared in the late 1300's, allowing for a glimpse of the home life during the medieval times.
The third floor offers a collection of original and high quality copies of Dante’s work over the centuries. It also offers some insight on the Florentine economy with a model showing how Florence was divided into districts in the Middle Ages
Interesting for all ages are the life size models wearing outfits which are hand-embroidered and richly adorned with jewels, fine fabrics, and furs, representing a noble bride and a notary.
Located in the historic center, within the ancient city walls, this museum effectively gives its viewers the means to imagine medieval times in one of the most important Tuscan towns during Dante's lifetime. Not only will you come in touch with Dante, who influenced generations to come with his creativity and literary skill, but you will also learn more about the political, social and everyday life of the people of Florence in the 1300's.