Petrarch and His Hilltop Retreat

The 19th century portrait of Petrarch by Stefano Tofanelli.

The 19th century portrait of Petrarch by Stefano Tofanelli.

In nearly every period of history there has been one individual who has single handedly pushed the envelope, dramatically impacting and advancing mankind as a whole. One such maverick was Francesco Petrarca, universally known as Petrarch.

A 14th century Italian scholar, writer, poet and priest, Petrarch multitasked his way across Europe building an impressive resume along the way.

Petrarch was born in Arezzo, in the old Republic of Florence, in 1304, to parents exiled from the city for political reasons. The family moved to Carpentras near Avignon, France, the seat of the papacy, where his father was employed in the papal curia. In his early years, Petrarch was educated in Latin grammar and rhetoric and was in touch with the cultural life of Avignon.

He studied law at Montpellier and Bologna but rejected the field. After his father’s death he turned to his true interests, the literature of classical antiquity and Christianity. A discovery of Cicero’s orations and letters energized Petrarch’s interest in the revival of antiquity and he began to envision Rome as the cultural and spiritual center of a renewed Italy.

As Petrarch gained stature from his writings, he was welcomed by secular and religious leaders and was sustained by their patronage. He was crowned poet laureate in Rome in 1341 for his achievements in Latin literature and he served as a roving ambassador-advisor to a prince, a pontiff, a king and an emperor. The works of the Italian scholar were emulated by poets throughout Italy and beyond.

Considered the “father” of both Humanism and the Renaissance, Petrarch’s writing style was the foundation upon which the modern Italian language was formed. The poetic genius can easily be mentioned in the same breath as Homer, Dante, Shakespeare and Goethe.

More than just a scholar, the wise Petrarch knew how to mix business with pleasure and is considered one of the first-known tourists, as he traveled extensively just for leisure. After amassing countless safe-passage papers documenting his extensive travel, Petrarch said goodbye to his journey days and left Rome behind to take up residence in a medieval hilltop village nestled among the Euganean Hills in Veneto, known today as Arquà Petrarca.

The Italian scholar decided to settle in Arquà after a wealthy friend gifted him a house. Petrarch decided to transform the building, raising part of the first floor and adding on a study where he would spend the final days of his life organizing his sonnets and letters and transcribing more deep thoughts to transform the world.

Petrarch’s home still survives today, fronted by a small garden surrounded by a high stone-and-brick wall. Visitors to Arquà can take a tour of the abode and wander through the various rooms, named Metamorphosis, Venus, Cleopatra and Visions. The rooms contain well-preserved friezes depicting seven scenes from Petrarch’s Song of Visions. In addition, guests can peek inside the glass-enclosed study where Petrarch wrote and meditated, or visit the small museum on site to learn about the Italian great.

Arquà is one of only 206 locales in Italy designated as a “Borghi più belli d’Italia,” or “The Most Beautiful Villages of Italy,” and one of only 199 that waves the prestigious Bandiera Arancione, or Orange Flag of the Touring Club of Italy. If you ever decide to visit this lovely little village, be sure to stop by the home of Petrarch and catch a glimpse into the life of an ingenious Italian man who single-handedly rewrote history.

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