Weekly Blog for 27 April, A Boccaccio Week in Firenze (Florence)


Odyssey has a dream of experiencing Boccaccio in one of the beautiful gardens near Florence, reminiscent of the one where his gracious band of not overmodest storytellers fled to take refuge from the plague.

On the following morning, . . . the ladies, with certain of their waiting-women, and the three young men, with as many of their serving-men, departing Florence, set out upon their way; nor had they gone more than two short miles from the city, when they came to the place fore-appointed of them, which was situated on a little hill,  somewhat withdrawn on every side from the highway and full of various shrubs and plants, all green of leafage and pleasant to behold. On the summit of this hill was a palace, with a goodly and great courtyard in its midst and galleries and salons and bedchambers, each in itself most fair and adorned and notable with jocund paintings, with lawns and grassplots round about and wonder-goodly gardens and wells of very cold water and cellars full of wines of price, things more apt unto curious drinkers than unto sober and modest ladies. The new comers, to their no little pleasure, found the place all swept and the beds made in the chambers and every thing full of such flowers as might be had at that season and strewn with rushes.

The Villa Gamberaia is such a locale, built in the 17th century, but “in the Tuscan style”, which seems to mean preserving some of the architectural and landscape features of the early Renaissance, Boccaccio’s era. Gamberaia serves primarily as a high-end park, listed as a tourist attraction in its own right, also offering meeting and banquet facilities, and it includes limited capacity guest houses as well. These are hardly budget lodgings, but if we win the lottery, why not enjoy the best? There are also commercial hotels in the area with the same sort of facilities and views, also rather pricey. And some more affordable.
Florence from the Villa Gamberaia

Florence from the Villa Gamberaia

Odyssey’s band of devotees of Italy’s first prose fiction writer could book such a facility for a week, and enjoy daily readings, reenactments, discussions, and other hoop-la, just as though we were a gaggle of Renaissance aristocrats, sitting out a difficult time to the accompaniment of risqué stories, told with languid grace by our comme il faut companions. The event could have something of the air of Henry Eliot’s Chaucer walk to Canterbury earlier this month (April 2013).
"The Decameron" by pre-Raphaelite painter John William Waterhouse

“The Decameron” by pre-Raphaelite painter John William Waterhouse

In Odyssey’s version, participants would also have the option of gadding about Florence in their free time, for of course there’s far more than Boccaccio memorabilia going on there. We won’t begin to list the possibilities – The list would grow unwieldy much too quickly, so you’re on your own. As usual, Gary’s Going My Way could make travel arrangements, and could book for additional time after, or before, the Boccaccio week in the same or other lodgings.
Boccaccio is not the only early literary figure linked with the “city of Flowers” (Firenze, or Florence). It is traditional to speak of a trio of them — “three fountains” or “three crowns”, as they say. Boccaccio was an admirer and biographer of Dante Alighieri, who died when he was 8, so they never met. Dante spent his early years in Florence, and his later life in political exile, living in several different cities to the north, from Verona to Ferrarra. Petrarch was a more precise contemporary of Boccaccio’s, and they were good friends by all reports, but the great fountainhead of Italian lyric poetry came to Florence only occasionally, and spent his last years at Arqua, now called Arqua Petrarca, near Padua. Of course day trips devoted to Dante and Petrach could be taken to these northern cities, or they could be visited later. If there were public demand, Odyssey could include a Dante day and a Petrarch day in a Boccaccio week.
Of course Odyssey is not usually about visits to birthplaces, studios, or museums, as we assume that travelers can easily visit those attractions on their own. We are about recreating the experience of the literary work itself. But for those who are interested, here are a few places of interest in Florence and nearby cities for those interested in the “three fountains” of early Renaissance literature in Italy, Boccaccio, Dante, and Petrarch.
Casa del Boccaccio (lit. “House of the Big Mouth”, no kidding, really!), in Certaldo, about a half-an-hour’s drive to the southwest. Well reviewed.
Casa di Dante (“House of Dante”, in town) — very poor reviews.
Arqua Petrarca, 2 hours north — This award-winning town, officially acknowledged one of the most beautiful in Italy, preserves a medieval atmosphere, and revels in its link with Petrarca. Worth a day’s add-on after the Boccaccio week ends.

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