Have you ever been invited to the house with the column at the entrance to differentiate guests as welcome o unwelcome ones? Have you ever met a poet who to publish his book and to become famous, declared the false news that he had died falling from the horse? Have you already tasted an Italian sandwich called “tramezzino”? Do you want to know who invented this word? If you want to discover more about one of the most superstitious men in the world who believed only in five sins, come with me… We are going to the shrine of Italian victories at Garda Lake! We are going to visit the villa of Gabriele D’Annunzio, an Italian poet, journalist, playwright, politician, and soldier during World War I!
Hospitality: welcome or unwelcome?
The first thing you see while entering the villa of D’Annunzio, the so-called Prioria, is the column above the stairs and two waiting rooms aside which served to D’Annunzio to differentiate guests. If the owner let you pass on the left side from the column, you were a lucky welcome guest and if – on the right side, you were unwelcome and had to wait hours and hours alone to meet the owner of the villa.
One of the unwelcome guests of D’Annunzio was Benito Mussolini who passed some hours before the owner’s appearance in the mask room. Above the mirror of the room you can see the inscription dedicated to Mussolini:
“To the visitor:
Are you bringing Narcissus’ Mirror?
This is leaded glass, my mask maker.
Adjust your mask to your face,
But mind that you are glass against steel”.
The “great” hospitality of D’Annunzio doesn’t end here… Of course, I’m joking! On the table of the cheli room (khelys means a tortoise in greek), you can see the tortoiseshell of D’Annunzio tortoise died of ingestion. It served as a warning sign for guests not to overeat and to avoid the same end of the tortoise.
And we don’t talk about the guests’ toilette compared to D’Annunzio’s one: neither bidet nor bathtub. The guests were those who were just passing by!
Nevertheless, to host some particular welcome guests as artists, publishers, and writers, D’Annunzio used the left cozy room at the entrance and the world map room. The second one contains a world map globe and the major part of the library left by the previous owner – Henry Thode.
Books, amulets, and religion
Some words regarding books…. The great library of Henry Thode was one of the decisive factors for D’Annunzio first to rent the villa and then, six months later, to buy it. In the following years, D’Annunzio increased the volume of the library from 6.000 items up to 33.000 ones. Be sure, that you will really stay impressed by the great number of books and not only…
What else? D’Annunzio was a “serial accumulator” of amulets, religious symbols, precious magic stones, and metals. Oh yes, I mean something like 10.000 pieces! Despite the fact that his parents were devoted Catholic, D’Annunzio was born in a very superstitious family and in a very superstitious place, at least considered so in the nineteenth century. Moreover, D’Annunzio was keen on astrology and the sacredness of numbers and colors. So, while visiting the villa, please enjoy the vision of numerous corals, swans, tortoises, crocodiles, carlines, sailing ship, elephants, horses, peacocks and more!
Two paintings of Saint Francis and Saint Clare at the entrance, Napoleon’s funerary mask and Dante Alighieri’s xylograph in the world map room, the xylograph of Madonna from Loreto in the Zambracca room, Apollo’s statue in Apollo’s veranda, Saint Sebastian’s statue in the lepper room, the Parent’s portico or loggia outside the villa, dedicated to D’Annunzio’s “parent” – Michelangelo are only some testimonies of the poet’s spiritual idols.
Some testimonies, but not all! D’Annunzio will amaze you once again! It’s sufficient to enter the relique room to verify the point! Here you can admire the so-called idols’ pyramid: a cat with kittens and two Chinese dogs on the basis, a little bit upper – Buddha, then at the most up level – Madonna and 41 statues of angels, saints, martyrs… All these idols and the pyramid itself convey a religious idea of D’Annunzio: “I aspire to the unique God, but look for the sovereign God”.
And what about seven vices?! They are not seven any more! Have you heard the famous motto of D’Annunzio: “Five fingers, five sins”. Obviously, D’Annunzio excluded the lust and the avarice “very uneasy” to him in order to “keep himself far away” from Hell!
Above the entrance of one of the rooms you can see the image of the mutilated hand which has an exact meaning: it was impossible for D’Annunzio to respond to all the letters, in particular, those written by creditors.
D’Annunzio’s workshop or so-called “Officina”
The first thing you come across while entering D’Annunzio’s workshop is the door: to pass through it, you should necessarily take a bow. So you can save your head and honor the poet at the same time! It’s worth noting that there were only a few persons authorized to enter “Officina”. One of them was, for example, the architect and great friend of D’Annunzio – Gian Carlo Maroni.
While writing his books, D’Annunzio used to cover the plaster cast of Eleonora Duse not to be distracted by his memories and to remain concentrate on creating his masterpieces. She was one of the numerous women the poet was strongly addicted to.
Unfortunately, few persons know that D’Annunzio invented some words which were introduced later in the Italian dictionary. For example, have you ever tasted a “tramezzino”, an Italian triangular sandwich? Have you heard the words “velivolo” (means aircraft in English) or “fusoliera” (means fuselage in English)? Have you seen the escutcheon of Italian football – the so-called “scudetto”? All these are the merits of D’Annunzio!
Narcissism and great passion for women
D’Annunzio or Dorian Gray? I reserve the reply to you, but first I ask you to read the following autograph of D’Annunzio: “The Italian poetry starts with 200 verse of Dante and – after a long-time break – keeps going with me”.
Great passion for women… I create you and I destroy you… Some women were refused by own families and husbands, others were sent in madhouses. The insatiable sexual desire of D’Annunzio created enough damages to his numerous lovers. Maria Hardouin, Eleonora Duse, Barbara Leoni, Luisa Baccara, Alessandra di Rudini, Nathalie de Goloubeff are just some names…
Oh, just a moment, one curios fact… In 1922 D’Annunzio fell out of the window from the music room and remained unconscious between life and death for several days. We don’t know the exact reason of what happened, but we supposed that he was pushed from the window either by Luisa Baccara or by Luisa’s sister – Jole because D’Annunzio, as you can just imagine, kept on groping Jole…
Military enterprises of D’Annunzio
As you know, D’Annunzio took part in World War I, although his participation was of a mainly propagandistic character. However, he carried out various dangerous flights. In 1917 he was wounded during the flight, but he managed to land the plane with 134 shots! In the same year, he flew more than 500 km over the sea without references, only with help of the compass and stars. Finally, in 1918 he realized his dream: the flight over Vienna with 7 planes launching 40.000 leaflets. In the Auditorium, you can see the two-seater plane S.V.A. which he used to fly over Vienna.
In 1918 D’Annunzio participated in a naval raid with Mas 96 – antisubmarine motorboat which, no doubt, you can admire in the shrine of Italian victories!
In 1923 Italian Royal Navy donated a cruiser Puglia to D’Annunzio. Almost 20 railway wagons were used to bring it to Garda. Of course, the bow of the cruiser faces the Adriatic sea to honor her captain murdered in Split during the occupation of the Dalmatian coast.
To commemorate 27 Italian victories during World War I, D’Annunzio created the arengo with 27 columns and with the urn containing the soil of Kobarid.
Later life and death
As might be seen, the rooms of the Prioria are very dark. Being wounded to the right eye during the flight accident, the light disturbed D’Annunzio’s vision. Moreover, he was convinced that the light was a distractive element for the writing and creative process.
He spent his later years avoiding public appearances: he was not so appealing anymore. So he passed the major part of his time in the Zambracca room where he died on the 1st March 1938.
According to his testament, his corpse was firstly placed in the lepper room (the so-called room of birth and death) for private family visitors and then – in the hall of casts for official public visits.
In the park, you can visit also the theater. In 1931 the architect Gian Carlo Maroni went to Pompei to study the structure of the Great Theater. Unfortunately, the construction works ended in 1952, so neither D’Annunzio nor Maroni managed to enjoy it. But you can do it! Every summer the theater offers a rich musical program!
What about the park?!! Don’t forget to visit the Dalmata square, the Prioria’s Garden, the Mausoleo, the Dolphin’s fountain and the lake of dances! The park of the shrine of Italian victories is amazing and absolutely worth sightseeing!
Enjoy your visit to the shrine of Italian victories!
*It’s strictly forbidden to take photos inside Prioria. The photos you see in the article were taken from Guida alla visita “Il Vittoriale degli Italiani” Giordano Bruno Guerri, Silvana Editoriale Spa 2016 and postcards with photos of Marco Beck Peccoz