Airiness, lightness, serenity: what other moods could describe this 14th-century village that has been called, in reference to Petrarch, the “town of the vigil,” suitable for those who wish to abandon themselves to nirvana, struck by flashes of inner visions? In fact, the village is vibrant with silence, and it holds within its views, its stone-paved streets, its landscapes, the ardor of youth that melts into melancholy, reflecting like a mirror the moods of Petrarch when he made it his final residence.
But there is also a luminous side, provided by the light-colored stone of its buildings, its churches, its town houses inspired by Petrarch built for rich families from Venice. Along the winding roads climbing from the lower to the upper town, one immediately enters a rural fantasy land, which begins with the first stone houses and continues with the sight of old washing troughs and drinking troughs, just before coming to “Petrarch’s” fountain (which actually existed before Petrarch’s arrival, although the poet surely came here to get water) and ending at the churchyard of the Church of Santa Maria Assunta.
In the middle of the churchyard stands Petrarch’s tomb, built in red marble from Verona six years after his death. The earliest record of the church goes back to 1026; during Petrarch’s time, it had a portico and the custom was to be buried near the church, as the poet had requested for himself in his will. The interior of the church was recently restored, and has frescoes from the Venetian-Byzantine school, a 14th-century polyptych, and an altarpiece by Palma il Giovane.
Arriving at Piazza Petrarch in the upper town, we find Palazzo Contarini, built in the Venetian Gothic style of the 15th century and, next to it, the picturesque “del Guerriero” tavern, now closed. Leaving the square and going down Via Roma there is a Romanesque house with Gothic and 15th-century additions, and a small dwelling with a niche and fresco that had been a hospital for beggars in the early 1300s. Around the corner, after another 13th-century house, stands the Villa Alessi, originally built in the 1300s and restored in 1789.
At the end of the climb awaits the magnificent Oratory of the Santissima Trinità, with the Loggia dei Vicari, once embellished with the coats of arms of the Paduan nobles who governed Arquà for Venice. The gable-roofed Oratory holds a canvas by Palma il Giovane (1626) and the remains of frescoes. Nearby there is a lovely house rebuilt in the 1500s, with a broad balcony facing the surrounding hills. After the column with the Venetian Lion from 1612, we enter Via Valleselle to arrive at the house of Petrarch.
Surrounded by greenery and the gardens that Petrarch himself tended, the house predates the poet; according to tradition, it was given to him by the lord of Padua, Francesco il Vecchio of Carrara. Petrarch lived there 1370-74, and he made it bigger and improved it. In the 1500s, the small loggia and frescoes inspired by his works were added, and additional changes were also made over time.
The fascination of this place, which of course is considerably changed today in its general structure, interior spaces and furnishings from when Petrarch lived there, lies in its evocative power, aided by the landscape unfolding before it, which is more or less the same as that enjoyed by the poet.
The local products
This is the ideal place to “be in jujube soup” – i.e. go into ecstasy – both because of the beauty of the ancient village and the landscape, and particularly because the jujube is the queen of Arquà, which holds a festival in honor of this fruit, which by now has become virtually forgotten elsewhere.
The local dishes
Bigoli with ragù: thick spaghetti made by hand with flour and eggs, put through a “press” and served with a ragù of beef, veal, pork, porcini mushrooms and tomato sauce.