Dwight Peck's personal Web site

The Veneto region in May 2017

A restful week around the Euganean Hills

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.


Arquà Petrarca, the poet's retirement home

We were visiting the Veneto region north of Venice earlier this spring, and now we're back to see some more of what we missed farther south.

A pilgrimage of sorts, 17 May 2017, past Este and up into the Euganean Hills to visit the retirement home of the great humanist and poet Francesco Petrarca, who died in the village of Arquà in 1374. (The second half of the town's name is a 19th century accretion after happily joining the Kingdom of Italy.)

We're progressing up past the northern end of Este's centro storico, into the hills to the northeast.

This is a part of Este that we missed utterly the other day, but we'll come back to it.

Arquà Petrarca is a medieval village of about 2,000 inhabitants nestled on a hillside in the Colli Euganei south of Padua -- a small nearby lake called the Laghetto della Costa has been listed by UNESCO as part of the 111 locations in the World Heritage site 'Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps' (no. 1363). There was a castle on the hilltop above, attested from 985, inhabited by a chap called Rodolfo Normanno.

It's a charming village in its own right, but its claim to fame is that it hosts the home of the great medieval scholar/poet Francesco Petrarch and his daughter's family in the final years of his long life, and it's been well kept up and is now a small museum owned by the city of Padua.

Walking down from the carpark above the village, we approach the Piazza San Marco. Francesco Petrarch (1304-1374) was a very big deal in his time, a genuine European celebrity -- known now as one of the founders of Renaissance 'humanism', not least because as a scholar he rediscovered the Roman Cicero's letters, and as a writer and poet, one of the sources for the systemization of the modern Italian language, along with Boccaccio and Dante.

He's also considered to be virtually the founder of the sonnet form of short poems, usually about love and sometimes written in narrative cycles. His 'Song Book' of 317 sonnets among other forms, devoted to his idealized but unrequited love for a young woman he called 'Laura', along with the epic poem Africa about the Punic Wars, got him designated 'poet laureate' in Rome in 1341 and influenced generations of poets in many languages.

The municipio or city hall. Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, in the early 16th century, adapted the 'Petrarchan' sonnet form of 14 lines in iambic pentameter metre, rhyming abba abba / cdecde, to English which has fewer possibilities for rhyming, leading to what is called the 'Shakespearean' sonnet's rhyming of abab cdcd efef / gg, perfected by Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare, and later Milton. (The / notes an expected shift in the rhetorical sense of the poem -- the Shakespearean rhyming couplet at the end frequently serves as kind of a punch line.)

Petrarch was born in Arezzo in Tuscany in 1304 but grew up near Avignon in France, where his notary father had followed the Papacy's move in 1309; as a youth he studied the law in Montpellier and Bologna but threw that over, entered minor orders in the Church but grew out of that in time, and spent a long life traveling, writing, pursuing diplomatic missions and residing with various appreciative patrons.

Petrarch moved to Padua in 1361 and was named canon in Monselice at that time. His formerly illegitimate daughter Francesca and her family lived with him in Venice and Padua for five years and then, in 1368, they all moved to Arquà to a property given him by his friend and patron Francesco I “il Vecchio” da Carrara, Lord of Padua. He professed to be very happy here, amongst his books and family, and died here in 1374, evidently a day short of 70.

So here we are.

Through the outer front garden into the inner front garden, where a nice lady relieves us of a mere €4 (€2 for me) for a good look-round.

Much of the interpretation is in English as well as Italian, which is a convenience, but the lack of toilet and disability facilities may not be, for some.

It's sometimes said that Petrarch built this house from scratch, but more reliably it seems that he remodeled an existing house to suit his needs, and the needs of his daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter who dwelt with him. Perhaps for guests as well -- certainly Boccaccio visited him during these years, though perhaps not in this house.

The beautiful external staircase, however, is said to be a later addition from the 16th century.

The stragglers are patiently awaited.

After the poet's death, a subsequent owner in the mid-16th century, named Paolo Valdezocco, wanted to create a small museum in his honor, and it was he who commissioned the frescoes that adorn the walls of the rooms on the first floor. In this main room, the pictures recreate scenes from the Sonnets, or Canzoniere.

Coke-bottle windows -- very little has been altered by subsequent owners down the centuries, supposedly out of reverence for the poet's memory. It has nearly always been something of a place of pilgrimage (even Byron showed up, as usual, not to mention Guglielmo Marconi).

Still in the main room with the entrance from the external staircase

The last private owner, a Cardinal Silvestri, donated the house to the Municipality of Padua in 1875, and conservative restorations were carried out between 1906 and 1985.

The 'Venus Room', a bedroom, Venus with Vulcan forging little arrows for Cupid. Hot stuff.

Another room, the 'Africa Room', has been decorated with scenes from Petrarch's epic poem Africa on the Second Punic War (218-201 BC) -- which may or may not be this room. Two painters from Padua were involved in the 16th century decoration, but they have not been identified, which is not really a surprise.

This is the so-called 'Cleopatra Room' (guess why?).

The inner front gardens in a kind of maze

As I recall, there are about seven or eight rooms on the first floor, and several more below.

Petrarch's view of the Euganean Hills off his balcony

On the ground floor, we await the short video on the poet's life (in Italian only).

Reproductions related to Petrarch's life

Back to the inner front garden . . .

. . . and the outer front garden ("Stay off the Grass!)

Back into town. Unfortunately, there were originally two small borgos (borghi) grown up beneath the castle on the hilltop, later merged into one municipality, the upper town and the lower town. We're in the upper town, determined by the road we were following at the time, and we've seen the Casa del Petrarca and will soon see the World War One memorial nearby -- after which, we drove away. We didn't know there was a lower town.

We're in the central Piazza San Marco in the upper town, and not in the central Piazza Petrarca in the lower one. The Church of Holy Trinity, mentioned in 1181, is up here (behind the pizzeria), but the Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta (recorded as a pieve in 1026) is not. And alongside that one, in the "parvis", is a huge mausoleum of Petrarch -- like this:

from PaddovaOggi.it

Terribly sorry we missed it! (In any case, scientific tests in 2004 concluded that the head was not the poet's, nor even from a male.)

Through the neither-indoor-nor-outdoor part of the San Marco pizzeria, to the . . .

. . . Church of the Holy Trinity.

Awaiting stragglers on the Via Castello up the hill

Nothing's left of the original castle, but we've got a monument to the Fallen of the World Wars, always worth a moment of silence.

A moment of silence . . .

. . . and back down the hill.

The Holy Trinity Church

Back through the restaurant, up the hill to the carpark, and out of town having missed entirely the other half of the village . . . and Petrarch's Tomb.

In any case, we're eager to be off on our driving tour of the Euganean Hills and, eventually, the Castello di Valbona.

Next: the Castello di Valbona


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 1 August 2017.


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