Vittoriale degli italiani

Gabriele D’Annunzio, the leading writer of Italy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, found his most pleasant place to live in Gradone Riviera, on the southwest bank of Lake Garda.  What we calld Vittoriale is a complex of buildings, streets, squares, an outdoor theater, gardens and waterways erected by the poet with the help of the architect Giancarlo Maroni, between 1921 and 1938, celebrating the “inimitable life” of the poet-soldier and businesses of the Italians during the First World War. Soon, the Victory Monument of the Italians became his obsession.

The main building of the complex, which he called the Priory, a reference to the asceticism of monks (which he admired but most certainly did not practice), is replete with strange and symbolic motifs. For example the entrance to his study, which he called officina, was preceded by three steps but the lintel was not raised proportionately, so that visitors entering the room would have to bow before him. One day, distracted by one thing or another, even though he was only 5’ 5’’, he forgot the height of the door and banged his own head on the lintel. His bedroom in the Priory, keeping with his own brand of monasticism, is unsettling. Called the Leper’s Room, it features a very narrow bed, unadorned, and made in the shape of a crib, looking much like a casket. D’Annunzio intended it to be this way to symbolize that the beginning of life (the crib) and death (the casket) are part of a continuum. The room also contains a painting showing the poet, dying of leprosy, being held in the arms of St. Francis of Assisi. The ceiling is frescoed with images of female saints, whose faces, however, are those of some of his lovers. D’Annunzio was 58 when he moved to the future Vittoriale and 75 when he died. The closets and furniture drawers, left exactly as they were when D’Annunzio died in 1938, contain his personal effects and clothes: 73 pairs of silk underwear, ivory in color and monogrammed, more than 300 pairs of boots and shoes he designed himself, 30 nightshirts, including one with a round hole below his waist, decorated in gold thread, baby doll pajamas, made to order, that he had his lady visitors wear when they came to see him, small boxes with his lady visitors’ pubic hair.

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Today, the Vittoriale is a foundation open to the public and is visited every year by about 180,000 people.

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