Dante has a very strong presence throughout Bologna, as can be seen on the walls of the city center engraved with quotations from Dante Alighieri’s works. The most notable of which being, of course, the Divine Comedy.
We don’t know precisely when the Supreme Poet arrived in Bologna, but the details in his writings make it clear that he knew the city well. After Florence, Bologna is the most cited city in Dante’s works.
“As when one sees the tower called Garisenda from underneath its leaning side, and then a cloud passes over and it seems to lean the more, thus did Antaeus seem to my fixed gaze as I watched him bend…” (Dante Alighieri, Inferno, canto XXXI).
A journey through Dante’s Bologna must certainly begin from the Garisenda Tower, which stands together with the Asinella in the center of the city.
The famous Tower is even mentioned in the Divine Comedy, when Dante is in the “Well of the Giants”, punished for opposing God, between the eighth and ninth circles. On this occasion, the Supreme Poet sees the giant Antaeus protruding from the well and actually compares it to the Garisenda Tower. In memory of this reference, the eastern side of the Tower has a plaque with these very verses from the Divine Comedy.
This isn’t the only quote that links Dante to Garisenda! The tower is also mentioned in a sonnet, in which Dante curses his eyes because they have been distracted by the Garisenda and are unable to concentrate on the Asinella Tower.
No inscription, no plaque. Not even a verse to quote. However, Dante’s presence is still felt in the Basilica of Santo Stefano. Indeed, the capitals of its columns, with their monstrous forms, inspired the Soothsayers in the Divine Comedy.
Basilica di San Domenico
“He was called Dominic, and I shall speak of him as that laborer chosen by Christ to help Him dress and keep His garden” (Dante Alighieri, Paradiso, canto XII)
From Santo Stefano to San Domenico. On the floor of the Basilica, at the entrance to the chapel where the famous Ark of Saint Dominic is kept, there is an inscription of the verses from the 12th canto in Paradiso, which takes place in the Sphere of the Sun where the wise spirits are found. In this canto, San Bonaventura da Bagnoregio describes the life of San Domenico di Guzman.
“Here is the place of the Jovial Friars of the Order of the glorious Saint Mary, of which Loderingo degli Andalo’ Catalano de’ Catalani, reformers of the Municipality, attempting to impose peace between the factions and in the arduous struggle encountering the scorn of the people and Dante’s grave judgment. Inferno canto XXIII».
You will come across this plaque affixed to the wall at number 40 in Via Arienti. It recalls the presence of the Monastery of the Gaudenti (Jovial) Friars, a military and hospital order founded in Bologna in the 13th century. Among its main promoters was Loderingo degli Andalò, whom Dante places in Hell in the sixth pit of the eighth circle, among the hypocrites, where he is forced to wander for eternity wearing a heavy lead cloak.
“Here passes the ancient Roman road known to the people as ‘Strada Maggiore’ and remembered by this name in Dante’s ‘De Vulgari Eloquentia’ where, distinguishing the speech of the inhabitants of this district from that of the inhabitants of S. Felice, he heard in their diverse dialects the harmonious unity of the Italian language”.
Dante referred to Bologna not only in the Divine Comedy but in other works as well. On the wall of Porta Maggiore there is a plaque commemorating a line in “De Vulgari Eloquentia”, where Dante recognizes the different speech patterns between the inhabitants of Via San Felice and those of Strada Maggiore, even though they live in the same city.
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