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Dante Day: How Italy is celebrating its national poet

Dante Alighieri, the giant of world literature who wrote the Divine Comedy, was commemorated on Thursday for Italy's national 'Dantedi' (Dante Day), in the year that marks 700 years since his death.

Dante Day: How Italy is celebrating its national poet
Dante was celebrated across Italy on 'Dante Day', March 25th. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

March 25th was picked last year to celebrate the man known to Italians as the “supreme poet” because most scholars believe that his fictional journey through hell, purgatory and heaven – as told in the Divine Comedy – starts on this day.

READ ALSO: Dante’s last laugh: Why Italy’s national poet isn’t buried where you think he is

Italian President Sergio Mattarella said that the “universality” of that masterpiece kept Dante relevant in the modern world.

“The Comedy still attracts us, fascinates us, makes us wonder today because it talks about us, about the deepest essence of man, made up of weaknesses, failings, nobility and generosity,” Mattarella said in an interview with Corriere della Sera.

Dante is credited with helping create the Italian language by using the Tuscan vernacular of his time, rather than Latin, to write his most famous poem, which he completed shortly before his death in 1321.

READ ALSO: Ten strange things you never knew about Dante

Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Despite restrictions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed at least 106,000 people in Italy, the country is planning hundreds of readings, exhibitions and other events to honour Dante over the course of 2021.

In his hometown of Florence, the Uffizi Galleries unveiled a 22-metre-high art installation in the shape of a tree in Piazza Signoria. Created by artist Giuseppe Penone, the sculpture “forces us to look upwards, hoping, dreaming and building”, said Mayor Dario Nardella.

Giuseppe Penone’s sculpture in central Florence was inaugurated on Dantedì 2021. Photo: Adriana Urbano

It also recalls one of Dante’s best-loved verses: “e quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle”, “and thence we came forth to see again the stars”, a message of hope amid the third wave of coronavirus infections in Italy.

In other celebrations, Oscar-winning actor and director Roberto Benigni, star of Life is Beautiful, read the 25th Canto from Dante’s Paradise on Thursday, in a live-streamed event from the presidential palace in Rome.

In the northeastern city of Ravenna, there was a reading of Dante’s works next to his tomb, where a flame burns all year round, fuelled by oil from the hills in the writer’s native Tuscany.

READ ALSO: Italian lawyers seek justice for Dante – 700 years after his death

Later this year in Florence, lawyer Alessandro Traversi is planning a summit of legal experts to symbolically rehabilitate the poet and conclusively prove that he was unfairly banished from his city.

Dante was exiled from Florence in January 1302, after finding himself on the losing side of a feud between the city’s “White” and “Black” political factions, and sentenced to death if he tried to return.

As well as lawyers, judges and historians, Traversi has invited the descendants of the poet and of the judge who exiled him, Cante de’ Gabrielli, to his conference on May 21st. Unlike their medieval ancestors, the two descendants – Count Sperello di Serego Alighieri, an astronomer, and Antoine de Gabrielli, a French business consultant – are friends.

Despite the lockdown restrictions this year, March 25th was a day of festivities for Italy. Not only did the country honour Dante, the country also celebrated the ‘floating city’ of Venice as it turned 1,600 years old.

Adriana Urbano contributed to this report from Florence.

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CULTURE

Venice Carnival: What to expect if you’re attending in 2023

After three years of toned-down celebrations, Venice's famous Carnival is finally set to return to its former grandeur. Here’s what you need to know about this year’s edition.

Venice Carnival: What to expect if you're attending in 2023

The historic Venice Carnival – a tradition which dates back to the late 14th century – will be back in all of its splendour this year as the upcoming edition of the festival will be the first one without pandemic-related restrictions since 2019. 

As the undisputed queen of Italian Carnival, Venice will once again put on a full programme of water parades, masked balls, fine dining experiences and street art performances spread over 18 days of sheer carnevale fun.

If you’re planning on taking part in the city’s Carnival celebrations, here’s a quick guide to this year’s main events.

What are the dates?

The Venice Carnival will officially start on Saturday, February 4th with a night parade streaming down the city’s iconic Grand Canal accompanied by music, dance performances and light shows.

READ ALSO: Nine ways to get into trouble while visiting Venice

The parade will kick off two weeks of events, unfolding both in the centro storico (city centre) and on the smaller islands of the lagoon.

As always though, celebrations will peak in the six days between giovedì grasso (‘Fat Thursday’, falling on February 16th) and martedì grasso (shrove Tuesday, falling on February 21st). 

A masked reveller wearing a traditional carnival costume In St Mark's Square, Venice

The 2023 Venice Carnival will start with a floating parade down the Grand Canal on February 4th. Photo by Andrea PATTARO / AFP

The most popular and widely anticipated events of the Venice Carnival are scheduled to take place during those days. However, that will also be the time when the city’s calli and squares will be most crowded. 

What are the main events?

Celebrations will start with the above-mentioned floating parade on Saturday, February 4th, and continue on the following day with another water parade involving traditional Venetian vessels and captained by the beloved Pantegana (a boat shaped like a giant sewer rat).

Apart from that, the Festa delle Marie – a historic beauty pageant during which 12 young local women are dressed up in Renaissance costumes, paraded throughout the city, and then subjected to a vote as to which of them makes the best Maria – will start on Saturday, February 11th. 

The winner of the contest will be announced in Saint Mark’s Square on shrove Tuesday, the final day of the festival. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why Venice has delayed its ‘tourist tax’ – again

Original Signs, a music and dancing show performed on six floating stages set within the iconic Venetian Arsenal (the former seat of the Venetian navy), will begin on Friday, February 10th, with performances running on a nearly daily basis until the end of the festival.

Original Signs will run alongside Original Sinners, a fine dining experience followed by a masked ball at the magnificent Ca’ Vendramin Calergi, a 15th century palace facing the Grand Canal which is also the current seat of Venice’s Casino. 

As with Original Signs, the event will be available to the public on multiple dates.

Masked revellers wearing a traditional carnival costume pose in St Mark Square, Venice

The historic ‘Flight of the Angel’ will not take place this year due to ongoing work in St Mark’s Square. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

Aside from major events, street art performances, workshops, exhibitions and seminars will take place at various venues across the city for the entire duration of the festival. Some of these require booking in advance, which you can do on the Venice Carnival official website

On a rather sombre note, the Volo dell’Angelo (‘Flight of the Angel’), the traditional ceremony in which a costumed woman ‘flies’ down a cable from the bell tower in Saint Mark’s Square to the centre of the piazza, will not be performed this year due to ongoing repair work

How busy will it be?

The 2023 edition of the Venice Carnival is expected to mark a “final return to normality”, according to local media.  

And, with just a couple of days to go until the official start of the festival, it looks like the floating city is about to experience pre-pandemic numbers of visitors – current estimates indicate that around half a million people will visit the city over Carnival.

According to Claudio Scarpa, president of Venice’s Hoteliers Association, local hotels “will soon be all but fully booked for weekends”, though large numbers of bookings are also being registered on weekdays, especially those in “the last stages of the festival”.

Given the expected turnout, local transport operator ACTV will enhance their services for the entire duration of the Carnival to avoid overcrowding on buses and water buses. 

For more details about the Venice Carnival and bookings, see the festival’s official website

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