The Pietra di Bismantova is a wonderful, solitary massif in the Reggiano Apennines, in the province of Reggio Emilia.
Singer-songwriter Giovanni Lindo Ferretti once described the old, flat mountain – a 1,041-meter-high plateau of marl and calcarenite – as a “Cyclopic altar, extended towards the sky.”
Speaking of sky, Dante was the first author to use “Bismantova” as an Italian toponym – in the IV Canto of his “Purgatorio” – when he recounted the difficult ascent up the otherworldly hill where the souls waiting to reach Heaven are temporarily held:
One climbs Sanleo and descends in Noli, / And mounts the summit of Bismantova, / With feet alone; but here one needs must fly.
Here is how Benvenuto da Imola (1330-1388), one of the first to ever comment “The Divine Comedy”, explained these verses:
“Bismantova, like the Purgatory hill, reaches for the sky. It is extremely robust, safe from enemies, made of live rock, and accessible only from a single, circular, very narrow street.”
“Every kind of good is encountered going up the Purgatory Hill: and when a soul has reached the top, looking down gives a glimpse of hell below, just like looking down from the top of Bismantova.”
“Dante’s message is that man can reach the top of the hill on his own, although with outstanding physical effort (“with feet alone”); but on the Purgatory hill he must fly (“one needs must fly”): since men do not have wings like angels, Dante is saying that they can make their own light and fast wings with feathers of dedicated and steadfast will, following Virgil – his guide and hope – like him.”
A mountain of similes and metaphors… and a real satisfaction to climb.