The Accademia della Crusca

To say that everyone in Italy speaks Italian would not be entirely true, or at least it wasn’t true in the past. Also, those who claim that it was television which actually taught the Italian language to the Italian population are not all that far from the truth as a lack of political power and control across the Peninsula greatly hindered the country’s education of their national language. As a result, the mother tongue of many Italians remained their local dialect as opposed to standard Italian. However, this does not mean that, over the course of the century, there has not been much work put into standardising the rules, formation and grammatical structure of the Italian language. On the contrary, much effort has been put into the standardisation of Italian, the most important, famous and significant taking place at the Accademia della Crusca.

The Accademia della Crusca was founded towards the end of the 16th century by a group of literary academics who, by using works written by great Florentine writers from the 14th century, proposed to free the Italian language of all imperfections (almost like refining grain ready to be used for the production of bread). Eventually, the Accademia della Crusca did, in fact, in this way manage to publish the first ever dictionary of the Italian language, which set the standard rules for the spelling of Italian words to be applied to any subsequent words.

The members of the Accademia della Crusca consisted of not only literary academics but also those scholars who were more involved in the study of other intellectual areas, such as the sciences (the most famous probably being Galileo Galilei). Each member had to choose a name (these were generally taken from verses of the Divine Comedy) and their own symbol. Their chosen name, symbol, and also a motto, were then carved onto a pala (a wooden tool used to put the bread into the oven to be cooked) possessed by each academic which would serve as their own emblem. They chose to use the pala as a general emblem because it links in with the meaning of the word Crusca, featured in the title of the academy, which is also associated with the production of bread (as it refers to the part of the grain which is used to make the dough).

Today, the Accademia della Crusca is still dedicated to the study and research of the Italian language, however now it tends to concentrate on more recent developments and trends of the language. The academy was founded in Florence and its main office is still located there today within the very beautiful Villa Reale di Castello. It is an elegant building with a courtyard, whose original parts were built right back in the 12th century whilst the rest was built under the order of the Medici family after they purchased it in 1477. In order to reach the villa you must follow a tree lined avenue, which is particularly beautiful during spring and autumn, or even on a nice winter’s day. On the first floor, you will find the library and various offices (of the academy and also of the Opera del Vocabolario Italiano, a department of the National Council of Research which is an organisation that publishes dictionaries containing old Italian), and on the higher floors there are apartments for all the academy’s employees and researchers.

When visiting the Accademia della Crusca, one thing that is a definate must-see is the Sala delle Pale, situated on the ground floor where you will also find numerous showrooms which are decorated with superb frescoes. Here the pale belonging to the academy’s members are displayed for all to see, as well as their long meeting table with its seats for each member, called gerle (baskets) because they were made from baskets which were originally used to contain bread. However, the most important thing to see at the Accademia della Crusca is the garden. It is a huge garden with a terrace which is one of the oldest of its kind (dating back to around the 1540) and was designed by famous architects such as Il Tribolo and Il Bonarroti. In fact, Il Vasari described it as The richest, most magnificent and well-decorated garden in Europe. The garden is open every day except Monday.

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