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Il Vittoriale degli Italiani: a very curious monument

By Patricia Cleveland-Peck |
Category: Headline

Il Vittoriale degli Italiani (The Shrine of

Italian Victories) is one of the most popular
monuments in Italy. The home of the poet
Gabrielle D’Annunzio who died in 1938, the
nine-hectare site situated on the Gordone
Riviera above  Lake Garda, it is also one of
the most bizarre.

Visitors enter the actual house the Prioria,

welcomed by a Latin inscription which sets
the tone, saying as it does, ‘ I am Gabriel A panoramic view of the site. Image ©
Fondazione Il Vittoriale degli Italiani
who stands before the gods, among the
winged brothers uniquely sighted.” They then make their way via a small lobby with a
room on either side: the Dalmatian Oratory where D’Annunzio greeted friends and
opposite the Room of the Mask Seller, where less welcome guests, including
Mussolini were received. Mussolini had been one of D’Annunzio’s editors prior to
going into politics and in fact he learned much from D’Annunzio but they were never

All the rooms are dimly lit because D’Annunzio had lost
an eye in a flying accident and couldn’t tolerate bright
light. They are also stuffed with strange decorative
items including death masks, Buddhas, saintly icons,
Murano glass, some 30,000 books and a miscellany of
other rare objects. The atmosphere is suffocating and
must have been more so in D’Annunzio’s lifetime as he
kept the temperature indoors at around a stifling 40[25/07/18, 14:09:41]
Il Vittoriale degli Italiani: a very curious monument - Just About Travel

degrees, it is said, so that he could cavort naked with

his lovers.

There is a lot to see including a weird chamber known

as The Room of the Leper which contains a narrow bed
which is both a cradle and a coffin filled with earth from
the studio Fiume in which D’Annunzio wanted to be laid out when
dead; the Room of the Relics which is packed with icons and images of many faiths;
the dining room where the gilded body of his pet tortoise (which died from
overeating) dominates the dining table; his bedroom; which is called the Stanza de
Leda, a reference to Jove’s rape of Leda as a swan.

Each item in these rooms is probably a costly treasure which to D’Annunzio had a
symbolic meaning but I found any potential aesthetic impact buried in the overall
clutter. On top of that, the rooms are surprisingly small and low-ceilinged
considering the size of the house. The only simple, unadorned room is the kitchen
which of course D’Annunzio rarely entered.

Gabriele D’Annunzio was born in Pescara in

1863 to a bourgeois family. He was a
brilliantly clever boy who published poetry
while still at school and at 16 wrote to his
parents in six languages. He launched his
career in Rome by announcing his own
death from a fall from a horse.  He swiftly
became a lauded poet and writer, his ego
growing exponentially with his fame – in
fact he soon claimed to the greatest Italian
writer since Dante. one of three torpedo boats with which
D’Annunzio attacked the Austro-Hungarians
Although he was small and slight, he was
daring and fearless. He loved modernity, fast cars and planes and in WW1 he was
first a mascot and  later in command of a squadron of Caproni bombers, at one time
36 of them, for which he was decorated.  His activities were always controversial; he
relished fighting and gloried in the idea that a great nation was created with the
spilled blood of martyrs.[25/07/18, 14:09:41]
Il Vittoriale degli Italiani: a very curious monument - Just About Travel

One of his best-known campaigns involved

trying to regain the Adriatic city of Fiume
(now Rijeka in Croatia) for Italy. He
proclaimed the ‘Italian Regency of Carnaro’
with himself as overall commander and
made his first broadcast to the world from
Marconi’s ship the Electra. Ultimately
however, his Fiume campaign failed
although in 1924 it did become part of Italy
and D’Annuzio was created Prince of Monte
Nevoso; delighted, he lost no time in having
Gardone Riviera dining room in Vittoriale a new coat of arms designed.

He was a narcissist, a spendthrift, and a cocaine user. On the other hand he loved
flowers, planted some 10,000 roses, designed clothes and made his own perfume. He
had many odd ideas and fetishes. He was obsessed with St Francis – he loved
animals and had horses and dozens of greyhounds and great danes. He was also
obsessed with Saint Sebastian and his arrow wounds. He enjoyed visiting hospitals
and preferred his women pale and ill, for in spite of being described by the courtesan
Liane de Pougy, as “ a gnome with red-rimmed eyes and no eyelashes, no hair,
greenish teeth and bad breath…” plenty of other women fell for him.

He  married but had dozens of mistresses

including the famous actress Eleonora Duse
not forgetting his housekeeper, known as
Aelis who doubled as his domestic
 concubine when no one else  was available.
We know all this because D’Annunzio was an
inveterate note-taker and letter writer and
he wrote very frankly about his most
intimate activities.
the mausoleum
He undoubtedly had enormous charisma
for as well as seducing women with ease he was able to seduce crowds with his
oratory. His vanity and egotism knew no bounds he was self-promotion personified. 
All this is reflected in the Vittoriale  which is effectively a concrete expression of his

I found it quite a relief to get out of the house to explore  the extensive grounds.
These too are also full of oddities, culminating with the fascist-style marble
mausoleum designed by D’Annunzio’s resident architect Gian Carlo Maroni. Amongst
the cypresses. flower beds, streams, and orchards  there is a huge amphitheatre;
seventeen stone pillars to commemorate Italian WW1 victories; a set of stone
benches known as the Arengo, arranged in a circle with a throne for D’Annunzio to
hold court  when dignitaries come to visit and a pets’ cemetery for D’Annunzio’s dogs.[25/07/18, 14:09:41]
Il Vittoriale degli Italiani: a very curious monument - Just About Travel

Then there are the presents from Mussolini;

a plane similar to the one which in which
D’Annunzio flew, a seaplane and lastly the
enormous prow of the battleship Puglia.
This D’Annunzio manned  with sailors and
set sticking out above the rose garden
where it still manages to amaze visitors
today. When D’Annunzio died aged 74, his
body was laid in state on this ship  guarded
part of the Puglia that sits in the garden by soldiers while mourners filed pas to pay
their respects.

Of all the house museums I have visited, this was far from being the most beautiful
but it did come closest to expressing the strange personality of its erstwhile owner
than any other I had seen.

An intriguing place, not to be missed.

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Tags: Gabrielle D’Annunzio, Il Vittoriale degli Italiani, Italy, Lake Garda, Prioria


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