26 Apr: The First Mountaineer

The Italian poet Petrarch hiked up Mont Ventoux in Provence on 26th April, 1332 – an event claimed for centuries to be the first time mountaineering for pleasure had been attempted. 

His celebrated letter to Dionigi di Borgo San Sepolcro was the source, revealing Petrarch’s contemplations on spirituality and the human condition amidst the breathtaking views. However, debate persists over the letter’s authenticity and whether Petrarch’s climb was literal or allegorical.

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly explain how, centuries later, Romantic poets revived Petrarch’s tale, interpreting his ascent as a metaphor for spiritual enlightenment and intellectual curiosity; consider how mountaineering in its present form evolved into a mainstream leisure activity; and reveal that climbing Mont Ventoux has become a competitive sport…

Further Reading:

• ‘The Fig and the Laurel: Petrarch’s Search for Self-Knowledge’ (The London Magazine): https://thelondonmagazine.org/article/the-fig-and-the-laurel-petrarchs-search-for-self-knowledge/

• ‘In Provence, Honoring a Poet at 6,263 Feet’ (The New York Times, 2006): https://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/30/travel/30explorer.html

• ‘GW1 – Petrarch: “Ascent of Mount Ventoux”’ (Douglas Parker, 2021):