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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

10 Italian Literary Hot Spots

My parents are planning a tour of Italy trip. While doing our research, I found a few literary hot spots I would love to visit.

1) Casa di Giulietta (Juliet's Home) - Verona
Perhaps you've seen the movie Letters to Juliet? So powerful is the legend of Juliet that over half a million tourists flock here every year to visit the simple courtyard and home. Many are those who leave behind layer upon layer of graffiti or written notes stuck to the walls along the lines of "Valentina, ti amo!" or who engage in the peculiar tradition (whose origin no one can seem to explain) of rubbing the right breast (now buffed to a bright gold) of the 20th-century bronze statue of a forever nubile Juliet. The curious might want to fork over the entrance fee to see the spartan interior of the 13th-century home, restored in 1996. Ceramics and furniture on display are authentic to the era but did not belong to Juliet's family -- if there ever was a Capulet family at all. The balcony was not added to the home until after 1900. Many stop their tour to pose on it.

2) La Tomba di Giulietta (Juliet's Tomb) - Verona
About a 15-minute walk south of Casa di Giulietta. The would-be site of the star-crossed lovers' suicide is found within the graceful medieval cloisters of the Capuchin monastery of San Francesco al Corso. Die-hard romantics may find this tomb, with its surely posed "sarcophagus," rather more evocative than the crowded scene at Juliet's House and worth the trip. Others will find it overrated and shouldn't bother. The adjacent church is where their secret marriage was said to have taken place. A small museum of frescoes is also adjacent.

3) Keats-Shelley House: Piazza di Spagna, 26 - Rome
The house at the bottom of the Spanish Steps (to the right if looking up at the church Trinità dei Monti) is where the Romantic poet John Keats died of tuberculosis in 1821 at the age of only 25. Keats came to Rome with the hope that the Mediterranean climate would cure him. For a month he enjoyed the city; he walked on the Via del Corso, the Spanish Steps and Monte Pincio. But his sickness soon got the better of him, and Keats died only three months after he arrived. The apartment that Keats stayed in while in Rome has become a small museum devoted to his life and the life and works of other Romantics, such as Percy Bysshe-Shelley and Lord Byron. There are thousands of Romantic texts in the woodworked and glass cabinets along the wall. Keats's death mask and a few other relics from the poet's life are on display. Standing in the room replicated to the condition when Keats died, water can be heard flowing from the Barcaccia fountain in Piazza di Spagna. Perhaps this was the influence for Keats's epigraph carved into his gravestone: "Here lies one whose name is writ in water." Since Keats's death, many poets and writers have made the pilgrimage to his house and grave in the Protestant Cemetery.

4) The Protestant or Non-Catholic Cemetery: Via Caio Cestio, 6 - Rome
After Keats died he was buried in the Protestant Cemetery near the pyramid of Cestius. Back then the cemetery was small, but has since filled up with the graves of painters, writers, and musicians, among others. Keats's gravestone is among the most visited; Oscar Wilde even wrote a poem about it. Turn left after entering, and the grave is in the grassy plot behind the old wall. Seek shade under the trees in summer or sit on a bench in spring when the ground is covered with daisies. Other writers buried in the Protestant Cemetery are Romantic poet Percy Bysshe-Shelley, Italian writer Carlo Emilio Gadda, and the Beat poet Gregory Corso. Be sure check out the tomb The Angel of Grief, designed by sculptor William Wetmore Story for his wife. Copies can be found in cemeteries throughout the world.

5) Alberto Moravia's House: Lungotevere della Vittoria, 1 - Rome
Alberto Moravia was one of Italy's best-known writers of the post-war years. His apartment above the Tiber river, where he lived during the later part of his life, has been preserved as a small museum. The apartment appears as if Moravia has just left for groceries and at any moment will return, sit down at his sturdy wooden desk, put his fingers to his Olivetti typewriter, and begin to write. The books of his personal library fill the shelves. And be sure to check out the kitchen stylishly decorated in the 70s.

6) Antico Caffè Greco: Via Condotti, 86 - Rome
Off the high-end shopping street of Via Condotti is one of the oldest cafès in Italy. The writers and other artists who lived in this area—once known as the "English Quarter"—gathered here. Nickolai Gogol, George Eliot, Hans Christian Anderson, Stendhal, Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe-Shelley and maybe John Keats, to name a few, sipped cappuccinos at its round tables.

7) Monte Pincio - Rome
Located above Piazza del Popolo and besides the sprawling Villa Borghese, Monte Pincio was the place to see and be seen during the evening passegiata (or walk). Henry James would sit on a bench and watch, and maybe seek out some of the characters that populate his novels, such as Daisy Miller, who also takes evening strolls here in the book of the same name. 

8) Goethe's House: Via del Corso, 18 - Rome
During Johann Wolfgang Goethe's 1786-1787 journey to Italy, he stayed in the painter Johann Tischbein's apartment above the Corso. Goethe's curiosity in Classic art was immense, and every afternoon he would go out and study some painting or statue that caught his interest. He filled the apartment with plaster casts of his favorites, which were eventually carted back to Germany when he returned. Still inside is a lovely collection of watercolors that Goethe made in the campagna and throughout Rome during his stay. Even after Goethe left, Italy and Rome were never distant from his mind. If you're interested in Goethe's impressions of Italy, pick up his Italian Journey, a surprisingly good and modern read.

9) Harry’s Bar – Venice

Once a refuge from fascism, Ernest Hemingway was a regular here (of course), but other customers included Truman Capote, Noel Coward and Orson Welles. Even today it is often visited by the cultural elite. Harry’s is known for inventing not only the Bellini (sparkling wine and peach) but beef carpaccio (raw beef). Be warned that the bar is known for being overpriced and touristy; when you dine here, you’re dining solely on history.

10) Nikolai Gogol’s House: Via Sistina 125 - Rome
Russian writer, Nikolai Gogol lived in Rome off-and-on from 1838 to 1842. There is but a plaque to commemorate this great writer’s time in Rome and the house where he finished his great work, Dead Souls. At least it’s something to honor he who has influenced the likes of Fyodor Dostoevsky and Vladimir Nabokov, among others.


Kim Van Sickler said...

I wish I knew about Antico Caffe Greco back in the days when I visited Rome! Would have loved to grab a cappuccino and a Nutella-filled pastry there!

Nicole said...

What a cool list! Now, I definitely want to get to Italy some day.

Suzanne said...

So jealous,haven't been back for 7.5 years and I miss everything about Italy so much.
Suzanne @ Suzannes Tribe

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Great pictures and summaries. How I would love to go!!!