“In the Euganean Hills, I had a small house built, decorous and noble; here, I live out the last years of my life peacefully, recalling and embracing with constant memory my absent and deceased friends.”
(Petrarch, Senili, XIII, 8, Letter to Matteo Longo, January 6 1371).
Francesco Petrarca, one of the first humanists, was a founding figure in the Italian Renaissance, but also the poet who helped solidify modern Italian. He spent his final years tending vegetables in this incredibly old house, which predates even his own residence there. Years later, in the 16th century, the home was turned into a museum by the owner, Paolo Valdezocco, who commissioned frescoes of Petrarca and additions to the modest house, which he felt did not befit such a great poet.
Earlier, in 1369, Francesco Petrarca (Arezzo 1304, Arquá 1374), tired of his continual peregrinations, and by now old and ill, had one of the houses in the Euganean village of Arquà adapted to his requirements, and elected to live in it for the rest of his days. Here he was surrounded by old and new friends and by the members of his family, his daughter Francesca, his son-in-law Francescuolo da Brossano, and his grand-daughter Eletta. Here too, he continued to dedicate himself to his studies. And here he died, his head resting on his beloved books, in the night of July 18-19, 1374.
The house sits overlooking the medieval town of Arquà Petrarca, a town now named for Petrarca himself. When he died, he left his abode in the hands of his son and, later, a number of aristocratic families until it was given to the government of Padua in the 19th century. However, the bulding was not changed in any substantial way, in order to respect the memory of the poet.
One of the most notable of these aristocratic owners was Paolo Valdezocco, owner of the house from 1546 to 1556, a man transfixed with the legacy of Petrarch, who transformed the building completely. During the middle of 15th century he added the small loggia and the outside staircase, still used to reach the first floor.
In addition, Valdezocco had celebratory frescoes painted, depicting the life and the content of some of the works of the poet. The frescoes are attribuited to at least two artists who worked in the area between 1525 and 1550. Who are, however, not yet definitely identified.
The house later changed hands many times. The last private owner, Cardinal Pietro Silvestri, left the building in 1875 to the city of Padua which officially entered into possession on February 6, 1876. Today, with the help of some minor conservation efforts, the home still stands as Valdezocco left it, a relic of Petrarch and his unique position between medieval and renaissance Italy.
Interestingly, in the ground floor, in an ornate Baroque frame, Petrarca’s faithful cat vigilates still today. According to tradition, these are the embalmed remains of beloved poet’s pet and it has always been one of the best-known curiosities of the house!
Author’s notes: The medieval village of Arquá Petrarca is very pretty and well worth a visit, strictly on foot! A few meters from Petrarca’s house there is a small shop / wine shop with delicious local specialties, including the liqueur locally known as “brodo di giuggiole”, “jujube broth”. Other attractions include the “Monte Castello”, so called in honor of the now disappeared fortifications (now, after a short climb, there is a monument to the fallen, as well as a nice view of the Euganean hills), and the tomb of Petrarca himself, in front of the church of Santa Maria Assunta.