As I’ve spent more time in Florence, I’ve been able to find some places around town that make the city feel more like my home rather than the giant tourist destination it actually is. For me, the best place I’ve found so far is the Church of Dante; this tiny church is located right off of one of the busiest roads in Florence on the quiet street of Via Santa Margherita, tucked away so you’d never know it was there unless you were looking for for it. Its unassuming front doesn’t give away that it’s really one of the most special places in Florence. You can write a letter to Dante’s infamous muse and love Beatrice, asking for advice or protection of your love.
I promise I know but give me a refresher… who’s Dante again?
Dante Alighieri is a Florentine poet who’s most famous for the Divine Comedy, his depiction of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. This poem is widely considered one of the most important literary works in the world, and was groundbreaking for Florence specifically because it’s written in the Tuscan dialect rather than Latin, which ended up establishing that as the standard Italian language (so… he’s kind of a big deal). You might also know him from the action movie named after his depiction of hell with Graham McTavish and Mark Hamill, Inferno, which is fine too. He’s now considered the father of the Italian language, and is Florence’s patron saint of really cool statues (just kidding. But you will be able to find his face in just about every square you visit while you’re here).
Okay cool. So who’s Beatrice and why should I entrust her with my love life?
Beatrice is Dante’s one true love and the object of his affection and inspiration throughout his entire life. In Dante’s Paradiso (the Heaven portion of the Divine Comedy), Beatrice guides Dante through the spheres of Heaven, which was quite progressive for 14th century epic poetry. In La Vita Nuova, he credits Beatrice with having woken his sleeping heart. At the end of that work he also declared to write about Beatrice “that which has never been written of any woman.” Swoon. Boring but necessary details: they only met at most four times and were married to other people before Beatrice died at age 24. They first saw each other when Dante was nine and Beatrice eight, and Dante fell in love immediately. The second time they saw each other was eight years later, when she was walking alongside the Arno, looking so beautiful in all white that Dante literally ran away when he saw her (stars: they’re just like us!). They were never actually in a relationship or, potentially, even a conversation, but Dante continued to write about her for the rest of his life, especially following her death. Dante is known for his love for Beatrice and the two are now symbols of deep, lasting love throughout Florence. This church is the sight of their first meeting and contains Beatrice’s tomb.
There are a lot of churches in Italy. Why should I go to this one?
Compared to other Florentine spots like the Duomo and the Basilica of Santa Croce, the Church of Dante might as well be a random house. In fact, compared to most spots in Florence this church is basically a hole in the wall. If you come here looking for magnificent frescos and hoping to spot a Michelangelo masterpiece, you’ll be gravely disappointed. No, visitors come to this church strictly for ~love~. There’s a small basket beside Beatrice’s tomb where those who love love can write a note asking Beatrice to protect their love (or, ya know, encourage it to exist a little). It’s quiet, away from the hordes of people who normally fill every building that will let them in, because most people get distracted by Dante’s House Museum located next door. Go with your sister, your mom, your best friend, your partner, by yourself, or all of the above- all of those combinations will leave you with a unique experience to reflect on love and happiness and soul mates and all that fun stuff. Linger for a minute if you can, and soak up being in the presence of the woman who got caught looking cute three times and earned herself a featured role in the most important poem of the Middle Ages.