The One with Verona, Italy

Friday, January 3, 2014

On our 3rd day in Italy we went to the lovely town of Verona!
Romeo and Juliet made Verona a household word. It has been an important crossroads for 2000 years and is therefore packed with genuine history. Two real feuding families, the Montecchi and the Cappellos, were the models for Shakespeare's Montagues and Capulets. Verona's main attractions are its wealth of Roman ruins, the remnants of its 13th-and 14th-century political and cultural boom, and its 21st-century quiet, pedestrian-only ambience. Count us in!
We left early in the morning, found a parking garage, and hit the ground running, pausing to smell the flowers.
 We passed through old city walls to the Piazza Brà - meaning "big open space".
A generation ago this piazza was noisy with cars.

Now it's open to the public and people friendly. This central fountain is called "The Alps." It was a gift from Verona's sister city Munich which is just over the mountains to the north. The cities are on the left and right of the fountain, separated by the Alps between.
With the fall of Rome in the fifth century, Verona became a favored capital of barbarian kings. In the Middle Ages, noble families had to choose sides in the civil struggles between emperors and popes. During this time (1200s) the town bristled with several hundred San Gimignano-type towers, built by different families to symbolize their power. When the Scaligeri family rose to power here in the 14th century they established stability on their terms and made the other noble families lop off their proud towers - only the Scaligeri were allowed to keep theirs. To add insult to injury the Scaligeri paved the city's roads with bricks from the other families' toppled towers. But inter-family feuds made it impossible for the Scaligeri to maintain a stable government and in 1405 the town essentially gave itself to Venice which ruled Verona until Napoleon stopped by in 1796. During the 19th century a tug-of-war between France and Austria actually divided the city for a time, with the river marking the border of each country's domain. Eventually Verona, like Venice, fell into Austrian hands.
This statue in the center of the Piazza Brà is of Italy's first king, Victor Emmanuel II, celebrating Italian independence and unity, won in the 1860s.

The ancient arena looming over the piazza is a reminder that the city's history goes back to Roman times.
Modern art aside (what the heck is that all about???), the Romans built this stadium outside their town walls, just as modern stadiums are usually located outside downtown districts.

We bought our tickets and walked in, marveling at how old this structure is and how it's still (mostly) standing.

With 72 aisles, this elliptical 466-by-400-foot amphitheater is the third largest in Italy! It was originally 50 percent taller. Most of the stone is original. Dating from the first century AD, it looks great in pink marble. Over the centuries crowds of up to 25,000 spectators have cheered Roman gladiator battles, medieval executions, rock concerts, and modern plays, which take advantage of the arena's famous acoustics.
Honestly it's one of the coolest things I've ever laid my eyes on!

We walked as high as we could go. I love roof-top gardens.

A wonderful view of Verona from the top of the Roman arena.
We let the kids run around a bit before heading back out to the Piazza Brà.

Where the street splits is the Devotional Column. In the Middle Ages this column blessed a marketplace held here.

We walked through the street called Via Oberdan and loved seeing all the greenery on people's balconies. Well, at least I did. Not sure about Chris and the kids :)
This is the Porta Borsari - the main entrance to Roman Verona. Back then this gate functioned as a tollbooth (borsarie means purse, referring to the collection of tolls here).

Outside the adjacent Caffe Rialto the stone on the curb is from a tomb. In Roman times the roads outside the walls were lined with tombstones because burials were not allowed within the town itself. Imagine walking down streets lined with tombstones! Eerie!
We walked down Corso Porta Borsari, the Roman main drag, towards the forum. Italian buildings definitely look different than German ones! Both gorgeous in their own distinct way.

We kept walking til we got to the Piazza Erbe. This bustling market square has had pastel buildings corralling the fountains, pigeons, and people here since Roman times when this was a forum.

The Venetian lion hovering above the square atop a column reminds locals of the conquest of 1405.

Left picture: A fountain has been here for 2000 years. The original Roman statue lost its head and arms. After a sculptor added a new head and arms the statue became Verona's Madonna. She holds a small banner that reads, roughly, "The city of Verona deserves respect and justice." Right picture: During medieval times the stone canopy in the center of the square held scales where merchants measured the weight of the goods they sold, such as silk and wool.
If you were standing here in the Middle Ages you would have been surrounded by proud noble family towers. Medieval nobles showed off with towers. 
Meanwhile Renaissance nobles showed off with finely painted facades on their palaces. In the 16th-century Verona was nicknamed "the painted city." It was fun trying to scope out old paintings and old tower remnants.

Then we walked to Juliet's balcony!

The tiny, romantic courtyard is a spectacle in itself: tourists from all over the world pose on the balcony while those hoping for love wait their turn to polish Juliet's bronze breast.
The wall of locks - enabling lovers to prove that their hearts are thoroughly locked up.
Me and my Romeo!
While no documentation has been discovered to prove the truth of the legend, no documentation has disproved it either. Was there ever a real Juliet Capulet? Well, we walked down Via Cappello, the street of cap makers! I believe!

We walked back to Piazza Erbe to continue our walk through Verona.
We found the whale's rib suspended under an arch. It was likely a souvenir brought home by a traveling merchant, reminding the townspeople that there was a big world out there.

We walked under the arches into the Piazza dei Signori - literally the "Lords' Square". This is Verona's sitting room, quieter and more harmonious than Piazza Erbe. The buildings which span five centuries define the square and are all linked by arches.

Locals call the square Piazza Dante for the statue of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri that dominates it. Dante - always pensive, never smiling - seems to wonder why the tourists choose Juliet over him :) Dante was expelled from Florence when that city sided with the pope (who didn't appreciate Dante's writing) and banished its greatest poet. Verona and its ruling Scaligeri family, however, were at odds with the pope and granted Dante asylum.

Then we walked into the Palazzo della Ragione.

The impressive stairway is the only surviving Renaissance staircase in Verona.
You can take an elevator up to the top, but we were happy with our views from the Roman arena and skipped it.

These exotic and very Gothic 14th-century tombs, with their fine, original, wrought-iron protective gates, evoke the age when one family ruled Verona. The Scaligeri were to Verona what the Medici family was to Florence. These were powerful people.
They changed the law so that they could be buried within the town.
They forbade the presence of any noble family's towers but their own.
And, by building tombs atop pillars, they arranged to be looked up to, even in death (high and mighty much?!?)
We walked around the corner to Sant'Anastasia. This church was built from the late 13th century through the 15th century.
Although the facade was never finished (the builders ran out of steam) the interior was - and still is - brilliant.

I rank the interior in my top 5 favorites.

There was a service going on inside the church which was neat because we've been in dozens of churches, but nothing is ever happening in them and if it's Sunday they're closed, but this church was still open to tourists during their mass! We didn't stay long because our kids are rambunctious. We walked back outside to the riverfront.

The white stones of the Ponte Pietra footbridge (pedestrians only) are from the original Roman bridge that stood here. After the bridge was bombed in World War II the Veronese fished the marble chunks out of the river to rebuild it.
More sights of Verona on and around the footbridge.

Apparently I love this bridge :)

Chris and Fox on the Ponte Pietra footbridge.
North view of Verona from the Ponte Pietra footbridge.

South view of Verona from the Ponte Pietra footbridge.
Then we purchased 1 Euro tickets to the Teatro Roman - or Roman Theater. Cheaper than usual because it's undergoing construction and parts are closed.

Dating back from about the time of Christ, this ancient theater was discovered in the 19th century and restored.
Before its construction, two walls were built alongside the Adige River between the Ponte di Pietra and the Ponte Postumio to protect it against floods. Today only remains of the edifice are visible, recovered starting from around 1830. They include the cavea and the steps, several arcades of the loggias, and remains of the stage. Part of the cavea was occupied by the church of St. Siro, built in the 10th century and restored in the 14th century. At the top of the hill there was an ancient temple, built on a series of terraces.
Jane isn't used to wearing boots and tripped a lot. Luckily she had a big puffy coat that padded her from spills.

I found it truly fascinating to have new buildings built right into ancient ruins.

Details from the Teatro Romano.
Wave hi to Chris and Jane and Fox down there!
We meandered through the city streets.
Then we went to the Duomo.

Started in the 12th century, this church was built over a period of several hundred years.

Once again there was a service going on inside, but once again, thankfully, they were still letting tourists in to see the beautiful paintings and architecture.

Entrance / Side door
That was the end of our tour! So we started making our way back to the car. I spotted a pink bike! Love!

We promised the kids gelato so gelato we did eat.

 Next and the last leg of our Italy trip: Padua!


  1. Great post! I thought it was a cool city, especially with all the ancient Roman ruins. Thanks for the great walking tour Rick Steves!

  2. What a great recap, Steve! I mean, Paige. ;-). It's amazing that those old buildings are still standing. I'm so glad you got to see them!

  3. Great photos. Thanks for sharing your trips with us!! I love seeing all of our beautiful pictures. what lens do you use for your scenery photos?

  4. Wow, I love seeing and hearing about all the history! I can't believe all of that is still standing! Love that you got to see Romeo and Juliet too ;)

  5. Just love the fact that you have rambunctious kids who can be bribed with icecream ! Some things are the same everywhere !

  6. I love your history of Verona. We just returned from Verona back to our home in North Carolina and I'm already planning another visit to Verona. I didn't get to see all that you posted images of, so thank you for taking the time to do this. Maybe I'll see you in the Raleigh, NC Temple some day! I'm LDS too. Love...


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