Each year the Italian Tribune brings the Publisher’s Tour to our readers. Buddy and Marion Fortunato have made many visits to Italy and over the next several weeks, we will feature segments of this year’s fascinating tour. With each journey by the travelers, the sights and culture of the places visited are retold. They bring to you reviews of restaurants and places to stay. You’ll learn about historic figures, the cuisine of different regions and gain a greater appreciation for the beauty that permeates the world’s most exciting country.
Following Venice, the next stop on the tour was the city of Verona. Also located within the Veneto region, Verona is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and retains a sophisticated atmosphere coupled with a strong bond to its glorious past. It is often thought of as the city of love, based on Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet,” but the Bard must have liked what he heard about the city because he also set scenes from the play “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” there.
Due to its important role in history, the city and its surrounding area boasts of a large number of castles and palaces, with hermitages, monasteries and old Romanesque parishes only slightly afield. The area of Valpolicella is world famous for its outstanding wines and Europe’s biggest natural bridge, Ponte di Veja, with a span of 164 feet, is located in the province. However, natural wonders in Verona take a distinct backseat to the wonders of the heart. It is within the city that a centuries-old legend comes to life every day – that of Romeo and Juliet, the two lovers whose story continues to touch hearts all over the world. Verona is the ‘city of the love,’ one which has had the power to span the centuries.
With its monuments, ancient streets and the delicate romantic aura pervading it, Verona is a place of refuge for lovers and the symbol of the dream which all lovers experience in the footsteps of Juliet. No matter whether it is truth or fiction, the myth of Juliet still lingers today among the ancient piazzas and the courtyards of the 14th century palazzos and continues to attract and captivate millions of visitors every year.
Verona has many attractions that draw in tourists each year. In the heart of Verona’s historic center lies Piazza delle Erbe. Originally a Roman Forum, it is surrounded by beautiful medieval buildings and towers. The piazza is ringed with buzzing cafes and some of Verona’s most sumptuous buildings, including the elegant Baroque Palazzo Maffei, which now contains several shops at its northern end. If you lived in Verona during the Middle Ages, you would have seen the city dotted with tall towers which were residences of the wealthy and powerful noble families. Today, only a few remain. Just off Piazza delle Erbe is the tallest of Verona’s towers, Torre dei Lamberti, built by the powerful Veronese family in 1172. The tower houses two famous bells, the Rengo and the Marangona. Where the latter was rung to mark the end of the workday, Rengo was usually only rung for emergencies and during funerals for important citizens of town. Today visitors are only permitted to scale two-thirds of its 275-foot-height, but the view of the city from the tower is still spectacular.
Another famous site in Verona is the Duomo. The Romanesque cathedral is a complex of buildings that includes a 12th century Baptistery, the Canons Cloister, Saint Elena Church and the remains of a 4th century Christian basilica. The octagonal Romanesque baptismal font is decorated with carved Biblical scenes and the Baptistery has frescoes from the 13th-15th centuries.
Near the Adige River, remarkable buildings from the Roman and Scaliger periods mark the most influential historical eras for the city: the fortress of Castelvecchio, now site of the Modern Art Museum; the Scaliger Bridge, an outstanding example of medieval architecture and the Scaliger Arches, superb tombs built for the Lords of Verona.
Castelvecchio was built in the 1350s by Cangrande II of the ruling Scala family. Severely damaged over the centuries, most recently by bombings during WWII, Castelvecchio has seen its own renaissance. Today the entire complex is home to a diverse collection ranging from statuary to medieval artifacts. The former parade ground is now an impressive courtyard fronting the museum that takes you through 16 rooms of the former palace, filled with sacred art, paintings, Renaissance bronzes, archeological finds, coins, weapons and armor. After viewing the artwork and antiquities, a walk along the ramparts provide views of the Adige River and old city defenses. Near the river, other remarkable buildings from the Roman and Scaliger periods mark the most influential historical eras for the city, including the Scaliger Bridge, an outstanding example of medieval architecture.
You can admire many of the city’s beautiful palazzos in the area adjacent to Piazza dei Signori. The square is also known as Piazza Dante for the large statue of the Florentine poet, who twice during his lifetime made Verona his home. Within the immediate vicinity is a treasure trove of palaces: Palazzo della Ragione, Cortile Mercato Vecchio, Palazzo del Capitano, Palazzo del Governo, the Loggia del Consiglio and the Domus Nova. Right next to the piazza are the Scaliger Tombs, built by the Della Scala family, who ruled over the city during the 13th and the 14th centuries.
One of the most internationally recognized landmarks in Verona is also one of the oldest structures in the city – the Roman amphitheater located in Piazza Bra. Built in the first century AD, it is still in use today and is internationally famous for the large-scale opera performances and concerts by popular entertainers. It is one of the best preserved ancient structures of its kind and the third largest Roman amphitheater in Italy. In ancient times, nearly 30,000 people might be crowded into the venue. Today the maximum attendance is 15,000 people. If Italy wins the bid for the 2026 Olympic Winter games, the arena is expected to be the site of the closing ceremonies.
For anyone in love, it is obligatory to visit Casa di Giulietta. As testified by the coat of arms on the archway of the courtyard, the house belonged to the Cappelletti family. The building dates back to the 13th century, but was extensively renovated during the last century and features the balcony where Romeo promised his beloved Juliet eternal love in Shakespeare’s famous tragedy. Young couples are still moved by the sight of this house and unmarried girls touch Juliet’s statue in the hopes of finding the love of their life. The interior of the house can be visited and you can even stand on Juliet’s balcony, as well as admire the furniture and beautiful velvet costumes worn by the actors in the Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
In this ancient city, one could fall in love with the legend of Romeo and Juliet or the various monumental beauty laid out across the city. Rich in culture and tradition, Verona was an inspiring place for the Publisher’s Tour travelers to visit.