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Municipality of Ravenna

Lord George Byron

Via Camillo Benso Cavour, 54 - Ravenna
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“Sweet hour of Twilight! – in the Solitude
Of the Pine forest, and the silent Shore
Which bounds Ravenna’s immemorial wood,
Rooted where once the Adrian wave flowed o’er,
To where the last Cæsarean fortress stood,
Evergreen forest! which Boccaccio’s Lore
And Dryden’s lay made haunted ground to me,
How have I loved the twilight hour and thee.”
(Don Juan Canto 3 -105, 1821)

Insatiably in pursuit of emotional excitement, the fame of Lord George Gordon Byron, one of the foremost British poets, is due above all to his romantic and intemperate lifestyle, political and literary scandals, heroic revolutionary adventures and brazen womanizing, a number of which were notched up in Italy where, after deciding to leave England never to return, he sojourned from 1816, first in Milan, then Venice and finally from 1819 in Ravenna, following his beloved Teresa Guiccioli.

The pinewood along the Ravenna coast in Classe mentioned in the satirical epic poem, Don Juan (in Italian, Don Giovanni), published posthumously, was for Byron an ideal environment, because it was wild and attractive; highly symbolic as a source of artistic and literary inspiration and a natural mirror of the romantic temperament of Sturm und Drang.

His publisher, Thomas Medwin, reports how during his stay in Ravenna (1818-1821), Byron never tired of exploring the pinewood, on foot or on horseback. Here, as the poet himself writes in the third canto of Don Giovanni, he breathed in the fables of Dryden, the togetherness of the people in Boccaccio’s Decameron and the majesty of prophecy in Dante’s Commedia: “There is something stimulating in this air”, he confesses (Conversations, ed. Lovell, p.25).

Piero Gamba, brother of the beloved Countess Teresa Guiccioli, for whom he had come to Ravenna as a guest at his brother-in-law’s palace in Via Cavour, tells how, at the end of a ride in the forest, Byron declaimed:

“How, raising our eyes to heaven, or directing them to the earth, can we doubt of the existence of God? – or how, turning them to what is within us, can we doubt that there is something more noble and durable than the clay of which we are formed?”


Love and revolution at Palazzo Guiccioli

Lord Byron sojourned periodically at the Hotel Imperiale, close to Palazzo Oriani, now the Library of Contemporary History – a few steps from Dante’s tomb.

But mainly, during his stay in Ravenna, Byron was a guest of Count Alessandro Guiccioli in his palace in Via Conte di Cavour, where he amused himself and courted the young wife of the nobleman, Countess Teresa, and where, with her brother, Pietro Gamba, he dreamt of revolution, gathering weapons to support the Carbonari uprisings. Byron was 33 years old, Teresa 22.

Built at the end of 1600 by the Osio family, the palace was purchased for the Count’s marriage to Teresa Gamba. Guiccioli had walls and ceilings painted for his wife Teresa, contributing to making it one of the most elegant palaces in the city. Later, it was also inhabited by Luigi Carlo Farini, one of the instigators of the Italian Risorgimento; for these reasons, it was chosen as the ideal place to host the Byron Museum and the museo del Risorgimento (Museum of the Risorgimento), which is scheduled to open in 2021.

In 2018 it was decided that Palazzo Guiccioli would also host the Italian headquarters of the Byron Society, designated as a research centre for in-depth studies of the poet’s life and works in Italy.

With the title, Un vaso d’alabastro illuminato dall’interno (An Alabaster Vase Lit from Within) in 2018, Adelphi published a collection of Byraon’s journals, from which we can extract numerous details of life in Ravenna two hundred years ago. The poet spent his days reading or in the company of his beloved Teresa Guiccioli, but his gloomy and melancholic vein prevailed, so much so that he wrote that he preferred solitude more than company. Bored and romantically nostalgic, he recorded in his diary:

“16th January 1821. Read – rode – fired pistols – returned – dined – wrote – visited – heard music – talked nonsense – and went home”.

He describes the city’s climate (“a tremendous humidity that stagnates”), the bad state of the streets (“…with rain and snow, they become pools of mud”), its dangers (“…it’s easy to get robbed or run into a gunfight”).

Byron was also a gourmet, but his entourage prepared traditional English dishes, such as pudding. During his stay he surrounded himself with the animals he had brought with him: cats, a crow, a hawk and even monkeys.

Byron dreamt of revolution and the right moment to take the field alongside the Carbonari, but this never happened. From the Ravenna Journal, Lord George emerges as a young man of considerable culture, but disillusioned and superficial in everyday life.

He himself writes: “The infinite variety of lives conduct but to death, and the infinity of wishes lead but to disappointment. All the discoveries which have yet been made have multiplied little but existence. An extirpated disease is succeeded by some new pestilence; and a discovered world has brought little to the old one”.

And yet, still famous is his testament in verse: “But I have lived, and have not lived in vain”.

Further information

A cura della Redazione Locale

Last edit:18 January 2021

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