Francesco Petrarca, to give him his correct Italian name, was born in Florence, Italy in 1304. From the age of 12 until he was almost 50 he lived mostly in Provence, France. In 1341 he was crowned Poet Laureate in Rome. His humanist works anticipated the Renaissance and his poetic works influenced European writers and major poets such as England's Chaucer.
In a letter to Matteo Longo dated 6th January 1371 Petrarca wrote: In the Euganean Hills I had a small house built, seemly and noble; here I live out the last years of my life peacefully, recalling and embracing with constant memory my absent or deceased friends.
Three-and-a-half years later, during the night of 19th/20th July 1374, the poet fell asleep with his head resting upon his books. He was never to wake.
The village of Arqua is in the Euganean Hills Regional Park, an area of small extinct volcanoes and hot springs. It lies to the south-west of Padua and overlooks the Veneto plain. In early March a walk through the hills will reveal clusters of snowdrops, daffodils, violets, clumps of rosemary and patches of wild garlic among the laurel trees and oaks on the south-facing slopes. The olive groves are at this time of year being cleared of winter debris, the vines are being snipped and tied, and in the ruins of old buildings in the wild brambles the brown lizards are awake. It's an idyllic spot. Truly a spot for a poet like Petrarca.
As summer drifts into being the white water lilies and the yellow-bellied toads will appear in the ponds, the marbled white butterflies will flit amid the downy oaks, the red backed shrikes will shrike (if that's what shrikes do) and the peregrine will zoom below the sweet chestnuts after the mouse running through the monkey orchids. Pure and wonderful nature. Petrarca, in search of peace quiet, wrote that he ran away from the noisy city as if it were a prison.
Today there are no books in the house at Arqua. The bookcase stands idle and empty. The bronze bust of the poet on the shelf has a bullet hole drilled at close range into the top of the forehead. The culprit is said to be an 18thCent. vandal, identity unknown. The true reason is unknown. We can only guess. An anarchist? A drunken soldier? A rival poet? The bust on the impressive marble grave just along the road outside the front door of the village church is but a replacement, a copy.
Above the many times disturbed and stolen bones of the poet (said now to be elsewhere) the large black bell in the angled shadow at the top of the brick tower clangs out the noontime hour which vibrates and echoes through the still air and sends a flurry of pigeons briefly skywards.
By chance the following quotation, which might well apply to Petrarca, was found on a chocolate wrapper at a picnic spot on the hill overlooking Arqua -
the heart has its reasons
which reason does not know
Poet-in-Residence considers the fact that Petrarca's study faced into a garden as he dwells on the mind of the visionary poet who advises us to: standomi un giorno solo a la fenestra (Canzoniere 323 of Canzone delle visioni). It would appear that Petrarca died exactly as he would have wished. The Euganean Hills Regional Park is a wonderful garden. And the house of the Poet of Arqua is at the heart of it.