Arquà: Petrarch’s Hilltop Hideaway
Whenever we look back on history — pick a period, it really doesn’t matter — there are always amazing footnotes tucked inside the narrative that credit one individual over all others of the time for singlehandedly pushing the envelope and dramatically turning the page on mankind’s chronology — in other words, shifting the paradigm.
One such maverick was Francesco Petrarca, universally known as Petrarch.
Considered the “Father of” Humanism and the Renaissance, Petrarch’s writing style served as the benchmark for formulating the modern Italian language. He was anointed Rome’s poet laureate, conceptualized the Middle Ages as being totally in the Dark [Ages], and served as a roving ambassador-advisor to a prince, a pontiff, a king and an emperor. He ranks right up there alongside Homer, Dante, Shakespeare and Goethe, and is considered our first-known tourist as he travelled extensively just for leisure.
After a satchel filled with countless safe-passage documents, stamped, folded and presented many times over — not to mention enough kilometers logged to warrant platinum status with a commercial air carrier, had one actually been around back then — Petrarch finally called it quits on his “road warrior” days, hung up his laurel wreath and laid out the welcome mat on his permanent digs in a medieval hilltop village nestled among the Euganean Hills in the Veneto: Arquà Petrarca.
And that’s where we are, on the cobblestone heading up the lane to visit the house where the creator of the sonnet once slept.
When the writer-thinker-diplomat decided to settle in Arquà, he turned in his priestly garb and began in earnest to transform the house, gifted to him by a wealthy friend, raising part of the first floor and adding on a study where he would spend the final chapter of his life organizing his sonnets and letters and transcribing more deep thoughts to shake up the world.
In the 17th century, Pietro Paolo Vandezocco, a nobleman from nearby Padua, dramatically renovated the building and added the small, two-arch loggia that covers the upstairs entryway. Vandezocco is also thought to have commissioned the frescoes that adorn the interior walls.
Meander through rooms named Metamorphosis, Venus, Cleopatra and Visions, with its well-preserved frieze depicting seven scenes from Petrarch’s Song of Visions, and then stop long enough to spy the glass-enclosed study where Petrarch wrote and meditated.
Closed on Mondays and major holidays, Petrarch’s house is open all other mornings from 9:00 – 12:30, and the cost is reasonable at €4.00 ($5.25 USD) for a standard ticket, €2.00 ($2.60 USD) reduced. It’s located at 4 Via Valleselle. For more information, call Ms. Gallo, the custodian, at +39 0429-718294.
Now, before you head back to the parking lot, hop in your ride and drive off, we still have plenty of daylight left and lots more to explore around Arquà, Petrarch’s hilltop hideaway.
The town — one of only 206 around the Bel Paese designated as a Borghi più belli d’Italia (The most beautiful villages of Italy), and one of only 199 that waves the prestigious Bandiera Arancione (Orange Flag) of the Touring Club of Italy — is home to just under 1,900 residents and drips medieval.
Set along the slopes of Monte Ventolone and Monte Calbarina, two of the 84 extinct volcanoes that dot the Regional Park of the Euganean Hills, Arquà has not one, but two piazze (squares): Petrarca, where the poet is entombed, and San Marco, at the very center of the Centro Storico (historic center).
There’s the Vicars’ Lodge, a public space built in the 14th century where heads of families gathered to have private meet-and-greets with the, well, vicar.
Up a steep hill is a small memorial park dedicated to the fallen from World Wars I and II.
And, no matter where you turn you’ll spot an artisan shop showcasing local area products, like superlative wines and outstanding extra virgin olive oil.
It’s lunchtime, and I know just where to go to satisfy our hunger pangs and pass a couple of hours around la tavola: l’Enoteca di Arquà at 9 Via Castello, just between the Vicar’s Lodge and the war memorial park.
Owned by Pino Cesarotto, it’s a wine bar that features a nice selection of grape just waiting to be sampled, along with an assortment of finger food and light, warm or cold dishes that you can savor inside or sip and chew out back on the patio with a great panoramic view.
Try Pino’s signature bruschetti (toasted bread) drizzled with that homemade virgin olive oil and a dash of sea salt, or topped in a variety of mouth-watering ways. Share a wooden platter of locally produced affettati (cold cuts) and cheeses. Or, order one of the primi (first courses) that rotate on and off the daily menu, like today’s specials: Zuppa Borlotti con crostini (a hearty bean soup topped with croutons) and the regional fave Baccalà alla vicentina (creamy cod fish the Vicenza way). Mmmm.
Bellies now replenished, we can waddle back to the car park, fumble with the key fob and somehow make our way safely home.
If you ever find yourself roaming around the picturesque Euganean Hills, make sure you stop in Arquà Petrarca and steal a glimpse into the life of an ingenious, multifaceted man who singlehandedly rewrote history: Petrarch.
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