Verona, Italy—Cultural immersion in the city of love
|Benvenuti a Verona, Italy—The City of Love. The piazzas dell'Erbe to the left and dei Signoria on the right. Photo: WikiMedia.org.|
In just a few weeks, I depart on a journey of cultural discovery in Italy. It all begins at the Travel Blogger Destination Italy conference, aka #TBDItaly, in Rimini along Italy's eastern shores of the Adriatic Sea. I'll be one of 30 travel writers comprising the Culture Cluster—a company of travel bloggers who thrives on exploring cultural connections in the places we visit. We'll be meeting three additional clusters of travel bloggers recruited for their expertise as well: Food, Fashion and Travel; and together, we'll engage with representatives from all points of the compass.
|An aerial view of River Adige in Verona, Italy. Photo: Martha Jong-Lantink.|
Following the conference, I'll be heading to the City of Love—Verona by invitation of the Council of Verona to explore not only the city of love, but Mantua, Lake Garda and some of the smaller villages in the region as well. Visiting this part of Italy has long been at the top of my bucket-of-dreams list and now the stuff of those dreams will transport me on a journey of cultural immersion beginning in Rimini and ending in Verona. Now that's amore!
Having never traveled to northern Italy, I began to research the city's secrets—the best of Verona. We'll begin our journey in the south at the Arena and travel north to the heart of the city centre, the piazzas dell'Erbe and dei Signoria, and beyond; all the while reveling in my surroundings—cobbled lanes lined with medieval and Renaissance architecture, magnificent cathedrals and towering campanile—truly a feast for all senses from sublime vistas and smiling faces to the pealing of church bells and of course, the epicurean indulgences. Be sure to follow along on all the networks, so to speak, as my adventure unfolds beginning October 8.
A brief history of Verona, Italy
|Understanding Verona's past—only the last four arches of the Arena's exterior wall remain after 2,000 years. Photo: WikiMedia.org.|
To understand the Verona of today, we need to understand its past—where they've been and how they've survived. Founded by the Romans in 49 B.C. and located smack dab in the middle of Milan and Venice, Verona is rich in Roman history of which a plethora of artifacts remain after 2,000 years. Prized by many an invading army through the centuries because of its strategic location along the River Adige, Verona fell under the rule of one foreign power after the next not to mention ruling families as well, chief among them, the Della Scala (Scaligero) family who had a major influence on the city from fortifying it against marauding invaders to patronizing its arts. After the Della Scala family fell from power in 1387, Milan's Visconti family moved in for a brief spell but only until 1405 when Verona was annexed by the Venetians. Venice controlled the city until 1797 when another foreigner moved in—Napoleon followed by Austria a year later. Finally in 1866, Verona bid farewell to foreign powers when they joined the Kingdom of Italy after its unification in 1861.
|The Piazza Brà and 2,000-year-old Arena in Verona, Italy. Photo: Alessandro Caproni.|
|The Arena and Piazza Brà in Verona, Italy. Photo: Gail Keller, WineTrekkerTV.com.|
At first glance, Verona's Arena looks like a miniature Roman Colosseum but believe it or not, it is the largest amphitheatre in northern Italy. Dating back to A.D. 30, it was large enough to accommodate 25,000 spectators, more than the city's population at the time. Built entirely of pink marble, the arena measures 456 feet (139 meters) by 364 feet), and despite the fact that it suffered greatly from the earthquake that struck in 1117, it remains in excellent condition because of the immediate attention by the city. You can still see some of the effects today, just look for the four arches towering above, remnants of an exterior wall that once surrounded the entire structure. Today, this is THE place to see the opera during the summer season.
|Interior view of the Verona Arena. Photo: WikiMedia.org.|
|Ponte Scaligero and the Castelvecchio, Verona, Italy. Photo: Gengish Skan.|
A sprawling medieval fortress that was once home to ruling family Della Scala (Scaligero) who rose to power during the 13th century, the Castelvecchio, completed in 1376, is now an art museum and exhibition hall housing 13th- and 14th-century statuary; paintings by some of Italy's greats—Tintoretto, Gianbattista, Tiepolo—among others.
|Castlevecchio and the River Adige in Verona, Italy. Photo: WikiMedia.org.|
Casa di Giulietta (Juliet's House)
|Juliet's house? Photo: Gail Keller, WineTrekkerTV.com.|
Although the Montagues and Capulets never existed, fans of Shakespeare's beloved play will delight in reading about the histories of Montecchhi and Capellis, two political factions whose origins may or may not have been tied to actual families (a complicated story), but nonetheless, fascinating. If you're still curious, check out the report from Ohio University, However, don't tell the hoards of visiting tourists who converge upon what now has become Verona's top attraction—Casa di Giulietta. Hopeless romantics from around the world come seeking Juliet's guidance with their own romantic affairs. Look upon the walls for the evidence.
|Entrance archway into Juliet's House and Courtyard in Verona. Photo: Gail Keller, WineTrekkerTV.com.|
|Don't be fooled by Juliet's balcony, it was added only recently in 1928 by the Verona City Council. Photo: Gail Keller, WineTrekkerTV.com.|
As far as the house, it dates back to the 14th century and was probably an inn. Although Juliet never lived here and certainly has never stepped one foot upon on the balcony added by the city council in 1928, this romantic courtyard southeast of the Piazza Erbe is nevertheless worth a visit if only to rub Juliet's right breast on the bronze statue for good luck.
|Letters to Juliet scribbled on the courtyard wall. Photo: Gail Keller, WineTrekkerTV.com.|
Piazza dell'Erbe and Piazza dei Signori
|Aerial views of the Piazza dell-Erbe to the left and Piazza dei Signoria on the right. Photo: WikiMedia.org.|
The heartbeat of Verona's city centre is its piazzas dell'Erbe and dei Signori, bustling with cafés and souvenir shops, and filled with remnants of the past.
|The heartbeat of Verona is in the Piazza dell-Erbe. Photo: WikiMedia.org.|
Piazza dell'Erbe has been the city's marketplace since medieval times and before that, the site an ancient Roman Forum! Today, it blends the past with the present and quite harmoniously too. Among the cafés that line its northeastern edge, ancient artifacts abound, some of which date back 2,000 years. At the northwest corner stands the Torre Gardello, Verona's first clock tower completed in 1370 and nearby, rising high above the square is the Venetian Lion reminding us of when Verona was part of the Venetian Empire. As we move toward the piazza's center, we find Madonna Verona, a ancient Roman fountain 2,000 years old. Over time, she lost her head and arms but thankfully, a medieval sculptor came along and restored her missing parts and when he finished, she became the Madonna Verona. In the center of the piazza, the four-columned stone canopy marks the location where medieval merchants weighed their goods. So grab a coffee and watch the ebb and flow of humanity through this timeless square.
|Grab a table and watch the sea of humanity pass before your eyes in the Piazza dell-Erbe. Photo: Gail Keller, WineTrekkerTV.com.|
|The Madonna Verona in the Piazza delle Erbe is 2,000 years old. Photo: Gail Keller, WineTrekkerTV.com.|
Linking the Piazza dell'Erbe with the Piazza dei Signoria is the Palazzo della Ragione, a 12th-century medieval town hall built upon the site of an ancient Roman residence. After the devastating earthquake in 1117, the city redeveloped the vestiges of these blocks and erected Verona's town hall—Palacium Communis Veronae—one of Italy's first public buildings.
|Homage to exile. Dante stands proud in the Piazza dei Signoria. Photo: Gail Keller, WineTrekkerTV.com.|
|Close-up view of Dante. Photo: Gail Keller, WineTrekkerTV.com.|
Within the adjacent Piazza dei Signoria, seek out the 15th-century Loggia del Consiglio, the city's introduction to Renaissance architecture, and one place I'll be stopping for sure. In the center of the square, a statue of Dante reminds us of the time when he lived in exile at the Della Scala palazzo. For amazing views of Verona and the River Adige, climb up 245 steps or take the elevator [I vote for the latter] to the top of Verona's tallest tower—Torre de'Lamberti built in the 12th century. And once you're grounded again, follow along the eastern end of the piazza to the Della Scala family tombs (Arche Scaligere).
The Duomo—Santa Maria Assunta
|Verona's Duomo - Santa Maria Assunta. Photo: WikiMedia.org.|
Although the Duomo cathedral is an amalgamation of architectural styles, it's stunning nonetheless. Blending Romanesque architecture with Gothic infusion on its upper story and topped off by a Renaissance bell tower, the cathedral we see today dates back to the early 12th century. Once you're inside, head to first chapel on the left to find the exquisite "Assumption" by Titian. Back outside and to the right as you exit, seek out the Romanesque cloister filled with ancient artifacts, and the remains of Sant'Elena, an ancient fourth-century church including a basilica and Roman baths.
Roman Theatre (Teatro Romano)
|Roman Theatre in Verona is 2,000 years old but only recently discovered in the 19th century. Photo: WikiMedia.org.|
Located on the other side of the River Adige, find your way across the Ponte Pietra, the city's oldest bridge, to the Roman Theatre. Dating back to the 1st century B.C., this ancient theatre was buried beneath medieval buildings until the 19th century.
|A model of the Roman Theatre as seen in the musuem at the top of the amphitheatre. Photo: WikiMedia.org.|
At the top of the amphitheatre is the archeological museum filled with artifacts and a model of the theatre as it appeared in its heyday. But another reason to venture to the top, especially at sunset, is for the spectacular views of Verona and the River Adige. During the summer months, the seats are filled with theatre goers attending the Shakespearean plays performed on a stage that's more than 2,000 years old.
San Zeno Maggiore
|San Zeno in Verona, Italy, is home to the city's patron Saint. Photo: WikiMedia.org.|
San Zeno, the patron saint of Verona, peacefully rests inside on one of the city's most dazzling Romanesque churches built in the beginning of the 12th century. San Zeno Maggiore is the final resting place of an African who became Verona's first bishop in 362. The western façade is decorated in exquisite marble sculptures by Nicolò and Guglielmo depicting scenes of the Old and New Testaments. The main portal's doors are comprised of 48 panels, those on the left dating to the 11th century with those on the right coming a century later.
Inside, the walls are decorated with 12th-14th-century frescoes but pay particular attention to the 15th-17th-century graffiti asking San Zeno for his blessing and protection against the rampant famine and earthquakes. And you'll find Verona's beloved saint to the left of the aspe, just look for the statue a huge smile on his face. Finally, you can visit his tomb by following the middle stairway between those leading up to the altar.
|Stairway leading to the crypt in San Zeno. Photo: WikiMedia.org.|
|Western Portal of San Zeno in Verona, Italy. Photo: WikiMedia.org.|
|San Zeno himself - is that a smile on his face? Photo: WikiMedia.org.|
Papa del Gnocco
|Celebrating Papa del Gnocco! Photo: Verona Tourism.|
Have you heard of Papa del Gnocco? I haven't either until I read about him in a Rick Steves guide to Italy. Every year, the San Zeno neighborhood elects one of its residents to become Papa del Gnocco. Dressed in his royal attire and carrying a spear with a giant gnocco at the end, he parades through the neighborhood paying homage to a prince who lived five centuries ago reputed to have bestowed gifts of gnocchi to the people during the time when Verona was close to starvation. For each of the following Fridays during Lent, it is customary for the Veronese to dine on gnocchi.
|Verona by Night. Photo: WikiMedia.org.|
So this is where I'll start once I arrive in the City of Love and who knows what other discoveries I will make or who I will meet along the way. Regardless, Verona beckons with her secrets.
What's your favorite sight or Verona experience? Do you have any recommendations?
If you go:
The VeronaCard—your key to the city of love. Two options are available for admission to most of Verona's sights:
- 1-day ticket: € 15
- 3-day ticket: € 20