Nor should any one omit to visit the Casa Polentana near Porta Ursicina and the Casa Traversari in the Via S. Vitale, grand old thirteenth-century houses that speak to us, not certainly of Ravenna's great days, but of a greater day than ours, and one, too, in which the most tragic of Italians wandered up and down these windy ways eating his heart out for Florence.
"And I will not withhold from you such aid as I can give, if you like to communicate with me concerning your recollections. I foresee a work which will be a useful supplement to the `Isolario' of Christoforo Buondelmonte, and which may take rank with the `Itineraria' of Ciriaco and the admirable Ambrogio Traversari.
The two great Ghibelline families were the Ubertini and the Mainardi and these at first gained the mastery of the city; but in 1218 Pietro Traversari with the aid of the Mainardi turned the Ubertini out and, what is more, made himself master.
In Ravenna, a very ancient city of Romagna, there were aforetime many noblemen and gentlemen, and amongst the rest a young man called Nastagio degli Onesti, who had, by the death of his father and an uncle of his, been left rich beyond all estimation and who, as it happeneth often with young men, being without a wife, fell in love with a daughter of Messer Paolo Traversari, a young lady of much greater family than his own, hoping by his fashions to bring her to love him in return.
The latter, seeing these things, abode a great while between pity and fear, and presently it occurred to his mind that this might much avail him, seeing that it befell every Friday; wherefore, marking the place, he returned to his servants and after, whenas it seemed to him fit, he sent for sundry of his kinsmen and friends and said to them, 'You have long urged me leave loving this mine enemy and put an end to my expenditure, and I am ready to do it, provided you will obtain me a favour; the which is this, that on the coming Friday you make shift to have Messer Paolo Traversari and his wife and daughter and all their kinswomen and what other ladies soever it shall please you here to dinner with me.
'Nastagio, answered the knight, 'I was of one same city with thyself and thou wast yet a little child when I, who hight Messer Guido degli Anastagi, was yet more passionately enamoured of this woman than thou art presently of yonder one of the Traversari and my ill fortune for her hard-heartedness and barbarity came to such a pass that one day I slew myself in despair with this tuck thou seest in my hand and was doomed to eternal punishment.
Pietro Traversari was succeeded as Podesta in 1225 by his son Paolo, who became Guelf and fought in Innocent IV.'s quarrel against the emperor Frederick II.; Frederick was able to turn the Traversari out of Ravenna in 1240 and to hold the city for eight years, but in 1248 the pope retook it and the Traversari were restored though not I think to the chief power.
He was one of the most profound scholars of his age, more learned than Traversari, the Camaldolese, and if less learned than Andrea Biglia, superior to the Augustinian Hermit in a more natural, easy and cultivated style of composition and in a wider knowledge of the world: acquainted somewhat with Greek and slightly with Hebrew, he possessed a masterly and critical knowledge of Latin which he had carefully studied in his native city, Florence, with the most accomplished Latinist of the day, Petrarch's valued friend, the illustrious Giovanni Malpaghino of Ravenna.
This monastery has suffered many violations, and is scarcely worth a visit, perhaps, unless it be to see the fresco of Andrea del Castagno in the cloister, and to remind ourselves that here, in the fifteenth century, Don Ambrogio Traversari used to lecture in the humanities, a cynical remembrance enough to-day.