One of the most significant highlights of Ravenna is without any doubt the Tomb of Dante Alighieri, who was universally and unanimously considered one of the founders of modern Italian language. After suffering a long exile, the Florentine poet Dante wasn’t able to come back to his home town and he died while being hosted by the Da Polenta family, then sirs of Ravenna, and was subsequently buried here.
The building we can admire nowadays was built between 1780 and 1782 under the orders of Cardinal Luigi Valenti Gonzaga and under the project of Camillo Morigia, a local artist. The result is an exquisite Neoclassical temple built in remembrance of the poets’ presence in the city.
Dante’s remains were found hidden inside the walls of the nearby Convent of San Francesco, where they were kept safe from the Florentines who, guilty of the punishment inflicted on the poet, demanded his remains for their own city. The remains were found in 1865 and since then lay to rest inside the tomb.
The small temple has undergone several modifications throughout the centuries. The marble decorating its interior was added in 1921, the same year the bronzed garland, a gift from the triumphant military returned from World War I, was added in front of the temple.
Among the internal decorations a portrait of Dante, dated around 1483 and beautifully sculptured by Pietro Lombardo, stands out; one of the most peculiar objects is however the small oil lamp, a gift from Julian-Dalmatian cities in 1908, which is filled every year with oil from Florence and constantly burns to illuminate the poets’ tomb.
The space that opens right next to Dante’s tomb is called Quadrarco di Braccioforte and is characterized by the presence, in its central part, of a small “hill” which reminds us of the place where his bones were hidden and treasured during World War II to avoid damages or theft. The “Quadrarco” is embellished with 2 sarcophagi from the 5th century that have been frequently used in the following years. Its name comes from a local legend: two pious Christian men vowed right in this place asking for the protection of “Christ’s strong arm” (“braccio forte” in Italian), of which an image could be seen in this exact point.
Turning back and keeping the tomb behind you, you will notice a sign on one of the walls which recalls how the place you’re standing in belongs to the so-called “silence zone”. This zone comprises Dante’s tomb, the Quadrarco, the Franciscan complex and all the cloisters, and was inaugurated in 1936 by architect Giorgio Rossi who wanted to emphasize how it was mandatory, in a place full of history such as this one, to stop and reflect a few minutes in complete silence.