A me piace abitar la mia contrada… (I like to live in my area). With these words of the famous writer from Ferrara, Ludovico Ariosto, as an introduction, we would like to spend a day walking around Ferrara with you to discover the places where the poet spent his life, working for the Este court and writing various works, including the famous chivalrous epic poem L’Orlando Furioso.
The route dedicated to Ariosto starts from the Estense Castle, a fortress and the residence of the Este family.
As a court official, first in the service of Cardinal Ippolito and then Duke Alfonso I, Ariosto frequented the castle and was well acquainted with the rooms, where the songs of his epic poem animated the gala banquets organized on the occasion of important events.
Perhaps inspired by the immensity of the building and the meanders of the numerous rooms, the poet, in Orlando Furioso, described the castle of the magician Atlas where the paladins and Saracen soldiers move forward, each following their own dreams and illusions: “Of various marbles wrought with subtle care/ Is the proud palace.../ and here and there in restless rage repairs,/ Till he has seen each bower, each galleried row/ With the same purpose he ascends the stairs/ Having first vainly searched each room below,/ Nor spends less labour, on his task intent, Above, than he beneath had vainly spent. (Canto XII)
The itinerary continues towards the Palazzo Municipale (Town hall) where some verses from Satire VII can be found on a plaque: “E s’io non fossi d’ogni cinque o sei/ Mesi stato uno a passeggiar fra il Domo/ E le due statue de’ Marchesi miei,/ da sì noiosa lontananza domo/ già sarei morto…” (“And had I not been one out of every five or six months to stroll between the Duomo/ And the two statues of my Marquesses,/ Overcome by so irksome a banishment/ I should already be dead...”)
When he wrote these verses, Ariosto was in the distant Garfagnana and ‘two statues of my Marquesses’ are those of Niccolò III on horseback and Borso seated on the throne, which still dominate the town’s piazza today.
The Palazzo Municipale, which was once the ducal residence, the Cathedral and the nearby Piazza delle Erbe, today called Piazza Trento Trieste, were the nerve centre of the political, religious and economic life of the city.
Heading down Via degli Adelardi, once called Via Gorgadello, next to the Cathedral, you come across the oldest osteria (tavern) in Ferrara, Al Brindisi or the Chiucchiolino, mentioned by Ariosto in La Lena: "...gli occhi di cuchiolin più confarebbonsi/ di Sabbatino Mariano e simili,/ quando di Gorgadel ubriachi escono....".
It was the theatrical performances that took place in the nearby courtyard of the ducal residence, which Ariosto had witnessed as a spectator, that gave him the will to become a writer and director of comedies.
Continue along Via Voltapaletto to Via Savonarola, where Palazzo Strozzi is located, now the home to public offices.
The building was the home of Tito Strozzi and Alessandra Benucci, the woman loved by Ariosto, "the fair enchantress/ the sight of whom alone can heal me", whom the poet had known since 1513.
Ariosto dedicated many works to her, but a long time passed before Alessandra gave in to his assiduous court, so much so that in Orlando Furioso he expressed his understanding for the paladin's madness, identifying it with his own:
“..blame it on my enemy/ a lady who has reduced me to the most abject condition/ making me say things I regret” (Canto XXX)
Walking along the characteristic medieval streets you will reach Via Giuoco del Pallone. Two neighbouring buildings, the Magna Domus and la casa di Brunoro, together with the house of Princivalle in Via del Carbone, make up the Case degli Ariosto, which today are all privately owned.
The Magna Domus was the house in which Ariosto lived with his large family (he was the first of ten brothers); the poet's uncle, Bruno, lived in the neighbouring house while his cousin and fraternal friend Pandolfo lived in a beautiful fifteenth-century building in Via del Carbone.
The proximity of the homes of the Ariosto family makes one think of them as a clan, whose members were always ready to help each other.
The itinerary continues to the nearby Biblioteca Ariostea (Ariostea Library). Within the building also lies the poet’s tomb.
Ludovico Ariosto died on 6 July 1533 in his house in the Mirasole district and was buried in the nearby convent of San Benedetto. His remains were moved to the chapel of the church forty years later, but in 1612 a great-grandson had the urn moved and a new sepulchre erected, designed by Giovanni Battista Aleotti.
In 1801, the entire monument and the urn were moved to Palazzo Paradiso, then the seat of the University.
It's now lunchtime and time to stop and taste the cuisine of Ferrara, heir to the delicacies of the Este court: pasticcio di maccheroni (oven-baked macaroni dish) the cappellacci con la zucca (pumpkin-stuffed pasta), the salama da sugo (a typical pork sausage) the typical cakes and pastries such as brazzadela (Bundt cake), la tenerina (chocolate torte) Pampapato (a round sweet cake) as well as the typical bread from Ferrara. These are some of the specialities that can be found in traditional restaurants in the town centre.
We resume the itinerary along Corso Ercole I d’Este and continue along the Addizione Erculea, the great expansion of the city to the north ordered by Duke Ercole I d’Este and built by the court architect Biagio Rossetti at the end of the 15th century.
The long street joins the Castle to the historic Crossroads of Palazzo dei Diamanti and continues up to Porta degli Angeli.
Along the way, Palazzo di Giulio d’Este, headquarters of the current Prefecture, reminds you of the young Este, protagonist with his brother Ferrante of a conspiracy against Duke Alfonso and Cardinal Ippolito. Their plan was uncovered and the two spent their entire lives as prisoners in the dungeons of the Lions Tower of the Estense Castle. Ariosto dedicated some verses in Canto III of Orlando Furioso to these two unfortunate individuals, showing pity for their unhappy fate.
The route continues to the nearby Piazza Ariostea, the Piazza Nova of the Addizione Erculea.
In 1830, the city decided to place a statue of Ludovico Ariosto on the column in the piazza. A number of artists submitted their sketches but the city decided on a project by the sculptor Francesco Saraceni, which was made by the Vidoni brothers.
In November 1833, on the occasion of the third centenary of his death, the statue was placed on the column with great celebrations and still today solemnly dominates the square, which is a place of meeting and relaxation for the people of Ferrara.
The last stop of the itinerary takes us to the home the poet.
“Parva, sed apta mihi, sed nulli obnoxia, sed non sordida: parta meo sed tamen aere domus: Small, but suitable for me, on which no one can claim rights, decent and bought with my own money.
In 1525, Ariosto decided to buy the house where he would spend the last years of his life in the company of his son Virginio and his partner Alessandra Benucci.
The verses of Horace found engraved on the facade of the modest but elegant house reflect his secret aspirations to get away from the boredom of the court: “I fail, I know, with most men to concur/ Who find a grandeur in the life at court/ To which as servitude, I must demur. (Satire III)