Italy Tour Guide Sarah Cater rides the Dante train from Florence to Ravenna. In the year celebrating the 700th anniversary of Dante Alighieri’s death, she discovers the town where Dante finally settled after years of exile.
The Dante train is an historic D445 train built more than a century ago. It takes visitors from Florence to Ravenna, a city I had never visited before, but knew to be full of history and art. Fundamentally, Ravenna is where Dante was able to finally settle after years of being in exile from his beloved Florence.
The Dante train
Santa Maria Novella in Florence is the starting point for the Treno di Dante. Arriving ten minutes before departure, check-in was smooth with designated carriage and seat.
The carriages are full of character, made entirely of wood. Earphones and headsets were handed out and our train guide introduced to us. She gave us information on Dante, the train and the places we would pass through on the way to Ravenna.
The historic train had 3 carriages and an extra for transporting bikes. It is also called the cento porte (one hundred doors), all of which had windows we could slide down and watch the passing Tuscan country through, unobstructed.
The stretch between Faenza and Borgo San Lorenzo offers a slideshow of landscapes. Vine covered hillsides to olive groves and the wilder areas of Mugello slid past the window. What is also lovely is the reaction of people as the train passes – smiles, waves – they’re clearly proud of this train.
We stopped at a few stations including Borgo San Lorenzo, Marradi, Brisighella and Faenza. Each town has attractions and points of interest in which Dante Alighieri found inspiration and contributed to his masterpiece the Divine Comedy. The stations have information desks with details on the train, its timetable and places to visit within the towns.
Dante’s train and this mode of slow travel is good for the environment and allows visitors the opportunity to visit and stay in places off the usual tourist track. If you want to immerse yourself in the story of Dante, this is a good way to do it. As a bonus, you help spread the economy to parts of Italy often overlooked for the big cities.
In 1318, Dante arrived in Ravenna where he remained until he died in 1321. It was here he completed the Divine Comedy, writing the end of Purgatory and the entire Paradise.
Once the capital of the Western Roman Empire, the Ostrogothic and the Byzantine empire, it is rich in mosaics. With the help of our local guide, Sabrina Lattanzio, whom we met in the main piazza, we were able to understand the symbolism and appreciate, not just visually but also spiritually, the art we saw. Our five hours in Ravenna included timed entrance to the Mausoleum of Galla Placida, the Basilica of San Vitale and San Appollinare Nuovo, plus the Capella Arcivescovile and the Baptistery Neoniano.
Declared a UNESCO heritage site in 1996, the Ravenna mosaics are outstanding works of art. Having an informative and interesting guide helped us make the connection between them, Dante and the Divine Comedy. We saw how the art inspired and influenced his descriptions in various cantos of his masterpiece.
Our last stop before our return journey was to the Basilica of San Francesco and the tomb of Dante. The marble relief depicts Dante with his hand to his mouth looking at the bible, smiling, with his other hand resting on the open pages of his masterpiece.
Looking at the 18th century temple which houses his tomb made me think of the journey I had taken. From Dante’s birthplace of Florence to Ravenna, where he died having contracted malaria whilst returning from a diplomatic mission to Venice, and the places in-between. I had spanned his lifetime, his birth, his exile and his death. It had been a great day and a worthwhile trip.
Tickets and guides
Tickets cost €54.50 for a return ticket, one-way for €29. The ticket provides discounts at named restaurants and free entrances to certain museums.
You can book a guide to take you on a tour of Ravenna through the train company. I opted for a local guide, whom I arranged beforehand.
Book your tickets through the official site iltrenodidante.it