Monday marked the beginning in Italy of celebrations for the 750th anniversary of Dante’s birth – the Florentine poet was born on June 1, 1265. A series of events, including exhibits, concerts, publications, new translations, performances, conferences and readings, will take place throughout Italy, especially in Florence, Ravenna, Verona and Rome, and at Italian Cultural Institutes abroad.
To kick off the celebrations, Italian actor and comedian Roberto Benigni read from the XXIII Canto of The Divine Comedy's Paradiso in the Italian Senate. Benigni, who has hosted live summer readings of the Divine Comedy in Florence’s Piazza Santa Croce for the past few years, said, "The Divine Comedy is a miracle, a work whose beauty takes your breath away. It's not just the high point of Italian literature, but the high point of all literature – consider that, even if it’s more than 700 years old, it's still almost fully understood by everyone."
The event, which included a premiere of part of an opera, inspired by Dante's Vita Nova, by renowned composer Nicola Piovani, was broadcast live on RAI and attended by Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella. In the Senate's adjacent Sala Garibaldi, an exhibition displays ancient reproductions and modern editions of Dante's manuscripts.
Even Pope Francis had a message to deliver regarding Dante, describing him as a "prophet of hope". He also said that Dante was an "artist of the highest universal values who still has much to say and to give through his works, inviting us to find again the lost meaning of the human condition."
On May 14 in Florence, a historic parade will re-enact the day when the statue of Dante by Ravenna sculptor Enrico Pazzi (1865) was inaugurated in Piazza Santa Croce (the statue now stands next to the church).
Events in honor of Dante are scheduled to continue for the next six years until the 700th anniversary of the poet's death in 2021.