I went to Certaldo in search of Boccaccio. Phrases turned out to be insufficient currency, as six euro was the price of admission to the town’s three museums, which include the house museum (Casa di Boccaccio), a museum of sacred art, and the priors’ palace. All are conveniently located on the main street, which is not surprisingly named via Boccaccio, and all can be visited in about two hours.
The Casa di Boccaccio is probably where you’re going to find the greatest concentration of the essence of Boccaccio in Certaldo, although some of that essence was lost when the place was bombed in World War II. There is an informative display of written panels on the ground floor, while upstairs the nucleus of the collection is a 19th-century fresco of the artist and a display of various recent objects (medals, books) associated with him. The most interesting thing in the house is surely the library, which is open to the public and contains a good collection of Boccaccio studies and translations.
More than just a museum, the Casa di Boccaccio is also a centre for research, conferences, book presentations and other events associated with the author. This succeeds in stimulating creativity in a town that did not produce any other really notable writers or artists. Recently there was even a video projection for young people called “Travelling with Fra Cipolla”.
The house museum is also the home of the Ente Nazionale Giovanni Boccaccio, which, together with the local Rotary Club and government, has sponsored an annual literary prize since 1982. Beyond the walls of Casa Boccaccio, animated readings of the Decameron are often put on in town by a local group in medieval costume.
Continuing my hunt for relics of the great vernacular author, I visited his tomb in the nearby church of SS. Jacopo e Filippo, though this is not actually his tomb but rather a small marker that indicates the exact location of his remains. Coolly smiling down at visitors from his perch on the wall is an early 16th-century bust of Boccaccio carved by Giovan Francesco Rustici.
In the main square of the lower town, there is a memorial statue of the author commissioned in 1875 for the 500th anniversary of his death.
As mentioned, Certaldo is not much of a tourist town. It maintains the character of a medieval walled city and has resisted opening souvenir shops. Twice a year it holds important events that draw large crowds. The two events reflect my own characterization of Certaldo as being about Boccaccio and onions. In July, there is the medieval festival of Mercantia, with street theatre, artisans’ booths, dance, music, and readings – a real celebration of the arts. Food is the protagonist of the Boccaccesca festival that runs in early October, with tastings of local products and a prize for cooking school students who make the cipolla di Certaldo into a main dish.