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Visitors to Dante’s tomb pay homage with daily readings of his work


Shutterstock | Bill Perry

John Burger - published on 05/26/21

Ravenna is the commemorative ground zero for the 700th anniversary of the death of the Divine Comedy's author.

Dante Alighieri, whose Divine Comedy has taken generations of readers through an allegorical journey of the afterlife, might be the least able person to rest in peace this year. Day after day, admirers come to his tomb in the Italian city of Ravenna, taking turns to read aloud from his most famous work. 

The reading marathon by the tomb may be the most intimate one of hundreds of events commemorating Dante in this 700th anniversary year of his death.

Italy began a year-long celebration, Viva Dante, last September, with events from public readings to concerts to church services in his honor. In addition, institutions around the world are offering both virtual and in-person exhibits, tours and discussions that people can attend to learn more about Dante’s life, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

Giuliana Turati, who first read the Divine Comedy when she was in school in the 1960s, is one of the regulars reading at the tomb, which was recently renovated for the anniversary. For Turati, the epic poem never gets old.

“There is always something new,” Turati told the Associated Press. “Even if you have read and reread it, Dante always has something new to tell us.”

“Reading Dante is perhaps the truest and most profound homage that we can offer,” said Francesca Masi, secretary general for Ravenna’s Dante 700 organizing committee

As if to encourage that, near the tomb are copies of the Divine Comedy in 60 languages, available for foreign tourists to read. 

Dante died in Ravenna, while in exile from Florence, on September 13, 1321. So this is ground zero for this year’s commemoration. Area museums have special displays, including the San Domenico Museum, near Ravenna in Forli, which brings together 300 works from all over the world to tell the story of Dante through the ages, from pieces that influenced him to ones he influenced, according to AP. 

In addition, just being in Ravenna and visiting places that Dante knew and that inspired his works, is a good way to honor the poet. The wire service points out that Dante would have visited the city’s ancient Byzantine basilicas (Ravenna was a Byzantine capital) and famed mosaics. There’s a painting of the “Procession of the Virgins” inside the Basilica of Sant’Appolinare Nuovo, for example, which is reflected in a verse from “Purgatory:”

“And they wore white-whiteness, that, in this world has never been.”

From death to life

One of the highlights of the year will be a September 12 performance of a new orchestral piece inspired by Purgatory, to be performed at the city’s annual Ravenna Festival. Written by Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian, the piece will be conducted by an adopted citizen of Ravenna, the conductor Riccardo Muti.

Muti told AP he has found it “a comfort” to live just yards away from the tomb “of this extraordinary soul.”

“I personally feel this closeness to his bones as a privilege, as if from that tomb emerges a sense of honesty, of righteousness, of a good omen for the Italian people from Ravenna to the world,” Muti said.

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