At age 65 the great Italian poet Francesco Petrarca, Petrarch in English, retired in the Euganean Hills. Throughout his life he had made several trips in Italy and Europe, above all to find ancient manuscripts to study and also to maintain various friendly relations with lords and intellectuals. All these transfers also reflect the constant investigation of his soul, always looking for answers. He decided to stop in Padua because, ad he wrote “in Padua I’m sure to be loved“. The lord of Padua Francesco Da Carrara donated to him a piece of land in Arquà where Petrarch decided to have a house built. In his new home he occupied the time studying, writing and receiving friends and academics. The House of Petrarch in Arquà is a lovely little palace. No wonder if he chose to stop here.
About the house Petrarch wrote:
I built a small house on the hills Hills, dignified and noble; I lead here in peace the last years of my life, remembering and embracing with tenacious memory absent or deceased friends.
Meanwhile his health, already delicate, had deteriorated. His doctor advised him to avoid certain foods and avoid any effort, even writing. He accepted the advice on nutrition but refused to stop writing, saying that for him the pen was not a burden but a relief. He died at midnight on 18 July, the day before turning 70. After his death the house and Arquà became a place of literary and sentimental pilgrimage.
In mid 1500 the owner made some changes to the house of Petrarch: he added the external staircase leading upstairs, the small loggia and he had the walls decorated with frescoes: those of the upper band are based on poems by Petrarch, those of the lower band are inspired to the ancient decoration.
Did you know that…
- It was in Avignon on April 6 1327 (he was 22) that he met a girl he fell in love with, unreciprocated, and to whom he dedicated his best-known work, the Canzoniere (Songbook). In the book she is called Laura. The name Laura was not chosen at random by Petrarch. In Italian it allows in fact different puns. Laura comes from the Latin word laurus, the laurel plant, sacred to Apollo, used to crown the poets. Written “L’aura” it means the air, a vital breeze nourishing him. L’auro is gold, symbol of everything precious. Laurea is the degree, the graduation, the culmination of the studies. So she represents all the ambition of the poet.
- Petrarch family squandered its fortune and he had to find an employment. He opted for the ecclesiastical career. This did not prevent him to have two biological children during his life, Giovanni and Francesca.
- His famous ascent to Mount Ventoux took place in April 1336. He describes the climb to a friend in a letter, telling that the ascent, steep and full of obstacles, was very difficult for him but not for his brother Gherardo. The story actually reflects a spiritual crisis of Petrarch and it is therefore metaphorical. The path was difficult for him because of his attachment to secular goods rather than spiritual ones. In the end he reaches the top of the Mount and, to thank God, he decides to read a passage of the Confessions by Saint Augustine. He opens the book at random and the excerpt says: Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.
- He longed for fame and poetic success. On April 8 1341 he was finally crowned “poet magnus et historicus” (great poet and historian) in Rome.
House of Petrarch – my experience
To reach the house you have to reach the higer part of Arqua following the hand shaped signals.
We arrived at 3.05 pm and a nice lady was welcoming visitors just past the entrance. There is no proper ticket office, so she sold the tickets outside. 4€ each and we went on. Before the house main entrance there’s a small garden with green bushes that create a sort of tiny maze. Quite nice! I warn you, though. As there’s no ticket office, there’s no toilet, no bar, no shop and above all no lifts or ramps for disabled to reach the upper floor.
On the ground floor, as soon as you enter there is a vestibule where is displayed Petrarch’s life (panels in Italian and English). Sadly the back garden can only be admired through the door glass and the windows.
On the right there is a room where you can see a video on the poet’s life in Arqua (only in Italian, but I explained in my post the most important things to know).
On the left there are two other rooms with testimonials about the poet.
The most curious thing in the house of Petrarch is the glass case with the mummified cat, female cat to be precise. In fact in Italian is gatta and not gatto. The poet was very fond of this cat, that kept him company. Until the 1970s the reliquary was upstairs, in the poet’s chamber, therefore called once camera della gatta, cat’s chamber. Actually, it seems that the mummy is not original, but added in the XVII century by the House’s owner of that time. The inscription says:
The Tuscan poet burnt with double love:
I was his greatest flame, Laura the second.
Why are you laughing? If she was worthy of
such a noble lover thanks to her divine beauty,
I was worthy thanks to my loyalty;
if she was an inspiration for his sheets,
I defended them from the wicked mice.
When I was in alive I kept mice away from the sacred threshold,
so that they couldn’t destroy the writings of my master.
And now, despite being dead, I make them fear and trembling:
in my lifeless chest the loyalty of yore is still alive.
UPPER FLOOR (reachable by the outer staircase)
At first you enter in the biggest room, the room of Metamorophosis, adorned by frescoes inspired by a song of the Canzoniere, the Songbook. The most impressive fresco is the one where Laura rips the the poet’s heart off.
Other interesting rooms are on the right the Clepoatra room and the Visions room, on the left the poet’s Chamber and the study.
In the Study you can admire the only original part of the frescoes. The little charming room (which sadly you can only see through a glass) houses also Petrarch’s original chair and his wardrobe/library.
Petrarch’s chamber is very nice, with an astonishing view out of the window and a big fireplace adorned with the fresco of Venus.
On the architrave of the fireplace you can still read an inscription engraved by some Austrian students in 1544. It has been in fact an habit for centuries to leave messages and verses to remember the poet. The most famous inscription is that of another renowned Italian poet and dramatist, Vittorio Alfieri, who wrote in 1783:
Precious jasper, agate and gold
would be adequate ornament, and barely worthy,
to enfold this noble treasure.
But no: you want to adorn the tomb of a manuscripts
that had a kingdom, and put gems where laurel is inappropriate:
Here is enough the name of that divine genius.
Later he will write about his visit:
There I consecrated a whole day to tears and rhymes, as a mere outburst of my overloaded heart.
Since the end of XVIII century are available for the visitors some registers to leave messages and testimonies. So far 30 volumes have been filled. Among the personalities that have left their written homage are Lord Byron, Giosué Carducci, Ugo Foscolo, Pietro Mascagni, Guglielmo Marconi. These registers are in the Public Library of Padua.
- Real place, no marketing here
- Beautiful medieval house
- Loads of explanations regarding Petrarch’s life (in Italian and English)
- Video only in Italian
- Few furnishings, a little bare
- No additional services, no toilet, no lift to the upper floor
- You can not take pictures of the interiors
Via Valleselle, 4 – Arquà Petrarca (Padova)
www.arquapetrarca.com and www.euganeanhills.com (wonderul photos here)
Full price: 4 €
Reduced: 2 €
From March to October 9 – 12.30 am / 3 – 7 pm
From November to February 9 – 12.30 am / 2.30 – 5.30 pm
Closed on: Monday holidays, 25 and 26 December, January 1, May 1
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For want of strength I cannot face that lady’s light,
nor shelter in dark places, or the hours of night.
Fate forces me to gaze as she appears,
through eyes already injured, half-blind with tears,
knowing too well my true desire, my shame:
to go beyond her light, into her flame.
Ch’ i’ non son forte ad aspettar la luce
di questa donna, et non so fare schermi
di luoghi tenebrosi o d’ore tarde;
però con gli occhi lagrimosi e ’nfermi
mio destino a vederla mi conduce,
et so ben ch’ i’ vo dietro a quel che m’arde.
I really enjoyed this detailed account of Petrarch’s house. I hope to get there someday. It looks pretty impressive for, “a small house on the hills.” Would that we could all retire in such style.
Yes, absolutely. In Italian we would say: “Magàri”, i.e. “I wish” ;). Thanks for your comment, John!