The three major challenges of The King’s Agent take place in locations that resemble and symbolize the three canticles of Dante’s Divine Comedy…Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. We begin, of course, in Hell.
Dante Alghieri’s descriptions of his allegorical locations of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise are considered, to this day, to be among the greatest ever written. So great, in fact, that visual artists, including the great Salvador Dahli, have been inspired by them since their inception. The illustration here shows the specific nature of Hell lying below a mountain top palazzo.
Though obviously fictional as I’ve depicted it, the Palazzo Prato, in actuality a sixteenth century palace, fits not only the geographical location perfectly but also provides the quintessential structural image befitting the worst level of Dante’s Divine Comedy. The Prato area of Italy (see map) is an ancient one, prehistoric in fact, with evidence of life since the Paliolithic times and later colonized by the Etruscans. Today it is a communal city and the Capitol of the Prato Provence. Between Dante’s words and the images found, it was an explosive combustion for my imagination to turn it into the setting for the Inferno.
From the burning depths of Hell, we can but hope to earn our way to Purgatory, and such was the journey of Battista and Aurelia, the protagonists of The King’s Agent, so it is to Purgatory we now go. From the language and imagery of Dante’s Purgatory, I found my mind’s eye picturing an almost infinite cave maze. How astounded I was when I found the Caves of Pastene, in Italian, Grotte di Pastena.
Baron Carlo Franchetti discovered the caves in 1926 within the Ausoni Mountains and people began touring them less than a year later. The area in which they are located is considered one of the most picturesque of Ciociaria, where the inclemency of the geological events led to the formation of atypical landscapes…where bizarre forms of erosion and karst plains related to ancient lakes. The marvels of this underground world include beatific formations of stalactites and stalagmites, columns, lakes, thunderous waterfalls, and draperies of calcite. The room depicted in the picture, The Hall of the Weeping Willow, was especially awe inspiring as well as perfectly constructed to illustrate Dante’s words. The name of this hall was extracted from the center shape of a column vaguely resembling a willow created by a peculiar union of a stalagmite and a stalactite.
For those worthy, for the best of us, the belief contends that Heaven awaits. But there too, Battista and Aurelia found a challenge. Therefore, my task was to find a place of great yet nonetheless imposing beauty. The Dragon Castle was the archetypal location.
The Castello della Dragonara is located on an islet of land in the province of Genoa, in the town of Camoglia. Though it has been the object of much study, even today its exact dates of construction are undetermined. Built into the side of the cliff at the center of the village, the castle was no doubt originally intended as a lookout and was certainly smaller than its current size.
Through the centuries the castle was used for defensive purposes as well and, as far as the validity of the documents allow, appears to have been enlarged and reinforced on numerous occasions. It was attacked on an equal number of instances, the most notable of which were conducted by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, the duke of Milan, and Nicolo Fieschi, both in the 14th centuries. The powerful fortress often served as a place of refuge for the villager during the many pirate attacks. Twice it was destroyed and twice it was rebuilt; always it rose up from the very tip of the shore, from the very edge of the cliff, to rise up to the heavens above it. When not in use as a stronghold, Castello della Dragonara was utilized as a governmental meeting house, not only by the rulers of the town, but by the government of Genoa.
I won’t, of course, reveal how Battista and Aurelia fair on this magnificent journey, that you’ll have to discover for yourself, but I can tell that these three amazing locations are not the only stops on their journey. There is the beauty of Mantua, the magnificence of Florence, and no Italian adventure would be complete without a stop in the glory that is Rome (and with Michelangelo as guide no less).
Yes, this book took me on a greater journey in a sense than any other I’ve written before. I am delighted to have shared some of the highlights with you. Buon viaggio e buono fortuna (safe journey and good luck)!