Italy’s nickname could be “the land of love stories.” In fact, the cultural heritage is dotted with famous, adorable couples.
It’s the country of Venice and Rome, romantic cities for excellence. And the land of writers and their excruciating Italian love stories.
Paolo e Francesca, the real Romeo and Juliet
If you’re familiar with Dante and his Divine Comedy, you certainly know about Paolo and Francesca, tragic lovers of the fifth Canto. They were condemned to be eternally swept around by infernal winds, just as in life they had been by lust. Dante, clement writer, allowed them to be together in death.
Perhaps they didn’t deserve eternal damnation.
Francesca was the young daughter of Guido Minore da Polenta, Lord of Ravenna and Cervia. In 1275, her family decided to create an important political alliance by offering her hand to Giovanni Malatesta. Malatesta wasn’t a charmer and Francesca’s father feared his daughter would refuse the union if she met him.
So, the two families agreed to trick the girl into marriage. She was introduced to Giovanni’ s youger brother, Paolo, handsome and charming. He pretended to be Giovanni and married her by proxy. When the girl found out, nothing could be done and she accepted her fate. She also became a mother.
Paolo, probably feeling guilty, began visiting her regularly, bringing some joy to her lonely days. The two soon fell for each other. It became hard to hide it, to the point that even Giovanni became suspicious. One day, while Paolo and Francesca were alone, they kissed. That’s when Giovanni entered the room, catching them in the act. Blinded by rage and jealousy, he killed them both.
Dante, who knew a thing or two about ill-starred love, had understanding words for them. Despite giving them a place in Hell. In the end, they were victims of unfortunate circumstances more than of their own lust.
Dante, Petrarca and their “Donne Angelo”
Love and literature are often inseparable. Especially in medieval poetry. Dante and Petrarca had their own muses: Beatrice and Laura. Both Italian love stories had a tragic ending, but they left us sonnets and poets.
Both women were real, although married to someone else. Immense love, certainly, that of Dante for Beatrice and Petrarca for Laura.Bbut entirely spiritual, literary, artistic. Hence the term “donna angelo,” the angel woman. She is an idealized creature, around whom the poets developed their poetry.
Italian love stories: King Vittorio Emanuele II and “La Bella Rosina”
Vittorio Emanuele II, first king of Italy, was a burly man with large mustaches. He loved hunting in the Alps. He spoke Piedmontese during hunting trips and other manly affairs with commoners. Especially in the long rawdy evenings he loved to spend in local taverns.
In 1847, he met Rosa Vercellana. While she was a teenager, he was a young man of 27. Vittorio Emanuele was already married, to Maria Adelaide. People believed the relationship with Rose was juts a fling. History proved them wrong.
Rosa conquered Vittorio Emanuele with her simplicity and her love for the outdoors and country life. The affair wasn’t a secret, not even to the queen. When Maria Adelaide died in 1855, the king was free to remarry. But, instead of marrying into another influential family, Vittorio Emanuele stayed with Rosa. The couple had two children and Rosina gained the title of countess of Mirafiori and Fontanafredda.
Eventually, they married. But their children couldn’t inherit the Savoias’ titles or possessions. So, she wasn’t a queen. And her children weren’t rightful heirs. When her Vittorio Emanuele died, she sent flowers to his grave, anonymously. When her time came, too, she was buried in Mirafiori, where she had lived and loved her king the most.
Love to the end: Claretta Petacci and Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini was a latin lover. Sure, he was married to Rachele. But didn’t stop him from having tumultuous affairs. A few names are still recorded. Like Ida Dalser (from whom he had a son), Leda Rafanelli Polli, and journalist and art critic Margherita Sarfatti. However, one name remains etched in the memory of all Italians: Claretta Petacci.
She was born in 1912 from a wealthy Roman family. Small and curvaceous, Petacci was 20 years old and married with Riccardo Federici, lieutenant of the Italian Air Force. The two eventually separated in 1936. Claretta sought Mussolini with determination. In fact, he had just ended his long relationship with Sarfatti. But Claretta’s gentle insistence and beauty conquered the Duce.
Petacci‘s love was real. She accepted to remain a mistress and never asked him to leave his wife. Up to 1943, Claretta‘s role could well be considered glamorous. She was, in the end, the most envied woman in Italy. But things turned for the worst after the fall of the Fascist Régime.
She was arrested on the 25th of July 1943 and released only on the 8th of September, when the Armistice was signed. From then on, she remained always with her man. Until April 1945, when the couple was arrested. She refused to leave, even when the partisans of Italy gave her the option. She was shot dead with Mussolini. Mussolini may have been the wrong man. But Claretta showed her love was sincere and, indeed, endless.
Paolo and Francesca, Dante and Beatrice, Petrarca and Laura, the Italian love stories are full of passion and struggles.