The poet George Gordon Byron was a restless man and a free spirit, and in the spring of 1819 he met Teresa Gamba, the young daughter of a noble family of Ravenna in the drawing room of Countess Benzoni in Venice. Teresa was 19 and had been given in marriage to Count Alessandro Guiccioli, more than forty years her senior, who was also from Ravenna.
Both a strong physical and spiritual attraction grew between Byron and Teresa, and on 09th June of that year the poet arrived for the first time in Ravenna, staying in the hotel Imperiale which rose where the modern Biblioteca Alfredo Oriani (in via C. Ricci) just a few metres from Dante’s Tomb stands today.
Lord Byron returned to Ravenna the next winter and, at a Carnival party in the home of Count Cavalli (via Salara), he presented himself as the “cavalier servente” of Countess Teresa, in other words her official lover. The figure of the “cavalier servente” had already been in vogue for centuries and accepted practically by everyone, husband included. Indeed it was Count Guicciolo who rented the first floor of his Villa in today’s very central via Cavour to Byron.
Byron entered accompanied by seven servants and a true mobile zoo: nine horses, a bulldog, a mastiff, two cats, three peacocks and a duck that was given to him as a gift for his Christmas lunch but which the poet had saved. A short while after, his friend Shelley also remained for a certain period of time.
In Ravenna George Byron passed his time writing, riding in the Pineta di Classe and in the Pineta di San Vitale, flirting with Teresa, but above all plotting with her brother Pietro Gamba for a reason that had ignited his fantasy: the rising Carbonari sect.
Byron was an excellent shooter and in fact became the armsman of the American Hunters, the Carbonari group founded in Ravenna by Pietro and which met to practise shooting in the pine forest. 1821 was approaching, the year in which the Carbonari decided to release the Peninsula and drive out the various lords and powerful people, with the Pope at the top of the list. The revolt, however, failed.
Byron had turned the Palazzo Guiccioli cellar into an arsenal, but this did not please the old Count, who had decided to report the unwelcome guest to the authorities in exchange for a big drop in the taxes that the papal treasury demanded in alternative to the return of its old ground in the times of Napoleon.
In November 1821 Byron, Teresa and Pietro fled to Pisa and then to Livorno; in 1823 the Lord left Italy to join the Greek war.
In two years of life in Ravenna, Byron wrote four great dramaturgical works:Cain, Marino Faliero, SardanapalusandThe Two Foscari, plus some pieces ofDon Juan,The Prophecy of DanteandThe Lament of Tasso.
Some mementos from the love story between the poet and the countess can be seen in the Classense Library, such as letters, locks of hair…
Palazzo Gamba is a private establishment, while Palazzo Guiccioli, now visible only externally, will soon be restored and open to the public.