VeronaOne hour West of Venice on the Eurostar train, lies the beautiful city of Verona, nestling on the banks of the River Adige and now given the prestige status of being a UNESCO World Heritage Center. A visit here is a chance to step back in time, to capture the grandeur and splendor of a city steeped in history, with its vast Roman amphitheater, L’Arena, its churches and the Duomo Cathedral and its famous castle, Castelvecchio seized by endless invaders before Verona became a key political and economic center following the unification of Italy. Verona will, however, always be remembered for its tragic love story, Romeo and Juliet, immortalized by William Shakespeare.

Ancient Theater

Roman Ampitheater in Verona.The city itself is compact enough to see everything in a day on foot, and there is a Hop on Hop off bus starting at Piazza Bra that covers all the major sites for those feeling less energetic. Entrance to the Piazza is through the 14th century Portoni della Bra flanked by its unique Pentagonal Tower, which leads to a magnificent square dominated by the Roman amphitheatre, L’Arena.

Dating back to the 3rd century and once dedicated to gladiatorial combat and hunting spectaculars (luti), it now hosts the world famous Opera with 50 performances every season from June to September including La Traviata, Aida, The Barber of Seville and of course, Romeo and Juliet.

If you don’t get chance to indulge in one of these performances and savour an unforgettable experience, at least visit the Arena and try to re-capture its dramatic history. Climbing the steep stone terraces provides not only a panoramic view of the city but conjures up images of spectacular displays. All around the piazza are restaurants and cafes to suit all tastes at prices and well below those in Venice.

Art, Architecture and Shopping

To the west of the piazza is Castelvecchio sitting astride Ponte Scaligeri, with one part providing a fortress and the other the residence and access to the Arsenale. Occupied by the Visconti family, the Hapsburgs and Napoleon’s army, it now hosts the Museo Civico d’Arte with its collections of Tintoretto, Titian and Veronese paintings. Stroll across the battlements, pose with a Roman soldier and take the opportunity to capture the beauty of this city from this wonderful panorama over the Adige River.

Retrace your steps into the piazza and stroll up Via Mazzini, filled with all the best of Italian fashion design further differentiated by the absence of prices in the windows. This leads you up to one of Verona’s most popular areas around the picturesque Piazza delle Erbe built on the site of a former Roman forum. Packed with market stalls during the day and revelers late at night, it is dominated by the Lamberti Tower rising 83 meters above the city and buttressed against the  splendid Palazzo della Ragione.  If you’re feeling energetic, you can walk to the top for the panoramic views over the city. Alternatively take the lift.

Descend and walk through the Arco dell Costa- the arch of the rib referring to the whale bone hanging above it – and enter one of the most important squares in Verona – Piazza dei Signori, renowned for its grandeur and its seat of government in the Domus Nova and its Loggia del Consiglio. This is a welcome retreat from the throngs nearby and provides a chance to reflect on the beauty and history of this city. Dante’s statue dominates the square. If you follow the arch to the south of the square you come to the 7th century Church of Santa Maria Antica and the extravagant and ornate Scaliger Tombs, the last resting place of this the most powerful of Veronese dynasties-the Della Scalas who ruled this city. Beyond it is the equally ornate Tomb of Consignorio.

House of Love

Juliet's Statue in Verona

Having indulged in the history of this city, it is now time to relax and to escape into fiction. Slightly to the south of the Piazza delle Erbe just off Via Cappello and impossible to miss due to the large crowds outside is Juliet’s house,Casa di Giulietta.  Built in the 13th century for the family, Capello, the authorities converted it into a museum to Juliet in 1990 with predictable consequences.

Although the courtyard, the famous balcony and the statue of Juliet still retain some charm, the entrance to the courtyard is festooned with graffiti swearing undivided love between couples from all over the world. Locks hang from the gates with names painted on them and even the entry stones are smothered in an array of mufti-colored inscriptions. Some would argue that this is taking this love affair too far and that many cannot differentiate between fact and fiction.

Rumor has it that Juliet receives 5000 letters a year requesting advice on anything to do with love and an array of volunteers ensure that they are all answered. If  you want to visit, it is best before the crowds gather to rub the bronze statue of Juliet’s breasts as a sign of good luck. For 4 euros you can enter the house and take pictures of your loved one on the balcony.

Wind Down

For the final part of the journey, turn north and take in the Cathedral of Duomo and escape into its quietness, a stark contrast to the cacophony outside Juliet’s house. This took 500 years to build and is home to Titian’s Assumption.  There is a calmness to this place and as you leave, you can pass under a beautiful medieval Chapter Cloister built in 1140. Pass under a vault to the left of the Cathedral to experience its beauty. Finally, end the day with a view over the Ponte Pietra, which is the only remaining Roman bridge in Verona. Stop by a wine bar, sip the local rose wine and take in the remains of the Teatro Romano on the other side of the river.

It is difficult to leave such a picturesque place after just one day and if the opera beckons, stay an extra night. Alternatively, return on the train to Venice, close your eyes and remember the beauty of this place and its magical history.

Originally published on Viator.com

Advertisements