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Rome Reports

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The world's rarest books now on display through Vatican's Apostolic Library


The halls of the Vatican Apostolic Library house some of the rarest books and manuscripts found anywhere in the world. 

Typically, its doors are only open to academic scholars performing specialized research, but now some of its most precious pieces are on display in an online exhibition, “Travel with Dante,” showcasing the Library's vast collection of books and manuscripts pertaining to the author of the Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri. 

AMBROGIO PIAZZONI
Curator, “Travel with Dante”
"Twenty years ago the Vatican Apostolic Library began the huge undertaking of digitalizing its manuscripts, and of its about 80,000 manuscripts some 20,000 are now online and available for whoever wants to see them free of charge. Once it was decided to put together an exhibition on Dante we started to digitalize all of Dante's writings that we have, including 70 manuscripts."

Dante's Divine Comedy is a classic of world literature for its vivid depictions of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. To commemorate 700 years since his death, the Vatican has organized a committee dedicated to conserving and promoting his works among the faithful and the world.

AMBROGIO PIAZZONI
Curator, “Travel with Dante”
"It is a practice that goes back nearly a century, of popes working to promote the cultural works of Dante Alighieri, since Dante was an extremely important figure not only in the history of Italian literature but in many other respects, in particular for his faith."

Illustrated manuscripts of the Divine Comedy dating as far back as the fourteenth century are now available online for the world to see, providing glimpses into life after death in stunning high resolution. 

AMBROGIO PIAZZONI
Curator, “Travel with Dante”
"There is an edition from the late 1300's and it is the first full commentary on Dante's Divine Comedy. It was written by Jacopo della Lana who began writing his commentary only three years after Dante's death, which shows that right from the start there was an immense interest in this work."

Dante's legacy remains as strong today as it was 700 years ago. Although Italy's summa poeta is now in the afterlife, his poetry and the illustrations they inspired may be the best look into the other side of life here on earth.

JM