Don't under estimate the power of love in this city - it's everywhere.
Significantly placed, Verona was originally established as a settlement at an important intersection of ancient roads. It bears a complex and rather shady past, having been occupied by the Romans, the Venetians, Napoleon, the Nazis and Benito Mussolini's son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano, who was executed on the banks of the River Adige (now Via Colombo) for plotting against the republic in 1944. The Black Death raged through Verona numerous times killing 33 000 people (over 60% of the population) in the worst plague of 1630. But the annuals of history haven't always been black; in 300BC, under Roman rule, a wealth of monuments, bridges and roads were constructed creating a sound infrastructure which still stands today. In the 13th and 14th century, the city was ruled by the powerful della Scala family who invested in structural and cultural development, surrounded Verona with protective walls and boosted its artistic heritage, instilling a love of beauty and art. Beloved Cangrande I della Scala is venerated throughout the city as warrior, prince, and patron of the arts, you'll notice his presence carved into statues. He'd be quite proud of his city's modern progress and fame, in the year 2000, fair Verona received World Heritage for significant historical urban structure and architecture.
While the region's capital is Venice with a population of 256 000 (including surrounding areas), Verona is actually the biggest city in Veneto with 258 000 inhabitants.
"Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,"
- Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, Prologue
There's a reason fair Verona sets the scene for Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet', a tangible theme of love radiates through the city streets in hands held, babies cuddled, lovers kissed and glasses clinked.
A love of romance
Romeo and Juliet are immortal in this city where you can even visit Juliet's house in an awfully romantic pilgrimage of love. Once upon a time, a hap-hazard collection of post-it-notes, etchings and scratchings turned the bare, internal walls of Juliet's quaint courtyard into a piece of world-wide, love-struck graffitied, modern art. Star-crossed lovers would journey to scribble their heart's desires on any space they could find, in the hope of finding love, or sealing it. Effectively, no space was to be found, thus layers upon layers of crammed, ardent messages would immerse the ivy-clad courtyard with a remarkable form of 'undesirable' art. Gazing at every tiny message of love used to bring the enormity of such strong emotion to light, added to the sheer number of visitors that past under this arch every day. I have always found it profoundly beautiful but sadly, the City of Verona has not. Since 2017, these walls have been plastered over with slick, multi-lingual boards stating that the house of Juliet stands as a monument and any defacer of her walls will be fined 3000 euros. Luckily, lovers will always find a way, keep a look out on your rambles and you'll notice little love-locks tucked into odd spaces throughout the City of Love where messages and hope still lingers.
A love of art
Cangrande I della Scala put Verona's art scene on the map in the 13th and 14th century and it has remained a cultural hotspot ever since. Well-known Renaissance artist Paolo Cagliari was born here in 1528 but worked mainly in Venice alongside his contemporaries Titian and Tintoretto and obtained the nickname Veronese, after his birthplace. His father was a stonemason who recognised the undeniable talent in his boy so instead of training him in the family business by the age of 14 Paolo had become apprentice to local artist Antonio Badile. But Paolo itched for more opportunity and soon left Verona for greener pastures, ie. Venice. In 1562, the Black Monks of the San Giorgio Maggiore Monastery commissioned Paolo Veronese to paint an enormous piece, The Marriage at Cana, story of a wedding feast from the New Testament when Jesus performed his first miracle and turned water to wine. Veronese's style, being bright and joyous, transformed the religious rendition into an fabulously colourful feast for the eyes, sneaking a few personalities of the day into the scene; master painter buddies Titian and Tintoretto, Mary Queen of England, Charles V and of course, himself. The masterpiece's beauty was marvelled throughout Europe so much so that Napoleon had it stolen in 1797. The painting allegedly had to be rolled up and smuggled around the country during the Second World War to escape further looting, luckily, now it remains safely tucked away in the Louvre.
A love of Justice
Beside historic Piazza delle Erbe stands a bronze statue of a woman pointing her sword to the sky. Verona is packed with statues, this beautiful gesture is a dedication to the 29 people killed and those injured on14th November 1915 when Austrian planes dropped bombs upon the piazza during market trading hours. She stands as a monument to Freedom and Justice.
A love of opera
Since 30AD, the impressive Arena di Verona has hosted shows and performances with an ancient capacity of 30 000 people, the cool, stone steps have seated many an ancient bottom and continue to do so. With astounding acoustics, it's remarkable to sit there, feeling the stories these worn stones have to tell. Opera season has taken precedence every summer since 1913 but the Roman, limestone structure additionally hosts music concerts with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, The Who and Pink Floyd, who've have all performed there, Zucchero Fornacciari is a regular, because it truly is a magical venue.
As the sun sets and the open sky dots with stars above you, fellow fans gather on the ancient stones, and I often find myself turning to gaze at the magnitude of the scene instead of the stage.
In one word, it's epic.
A love of shoes?
La passegiata is a Veronese ritual. Some people don their finest to amble wide streets in the evening; to casually bump into friends, admire shop windows or stop for an aperitivo or caffè. Verona's elegant, marbled streets seem designed particularly for this affair, most of the centre is pedestrianised, perhaps on account of a cultural love of shopping.
A love of history
Piazza delle Erbe is Verona's beating heart. Underneath it lies the ruins of a rectangular Roman Forum, built smack bang in the middle of the city and double the size of the current piazza. At the head of the forum once lay the main temple of the city, the capitolium, dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva while on the side of the forum, town planning had included a basilica and tabernae - food stalls where you could eat and drink.
2 millennia later, the piazza is lined with Osterie and beautiful restaurants where you can still eat and drink to your heart's content - taste Truffle or Amarone risotto and a glass of Durello, Verona's sparkling white wine. The piazza is abuzz with a daily market, historically selling spices and vegetables, which is where it gets it's name - delle Erbe, of the herbs.
In the exact centre of the piazza sits the Madonna Verona fountain created by the Cansignorio della Scala in 1300 to represent the city. A roman princess with a medieval head, it's a beautiful mishmash of pieces of history, literally and figuratively, incorporating a piece of an ancient roman thermal bath, clearly re-using and recycling even then.
Spend an afternoon stroll, an evening's concert, a weekend of history or 3 days of indulgence; Verona, City of Love, is sure to melt the hardest of hearts. But avoid the busy season, Verona gets hot and crowded. March, April and October are perfect months to visit, unless you are there for a summer concert or Opera which I'd highly recommend, you can check the upcoming shows here.
Veronacard is available to purchase online or at tourist information for 20 euro (24 hours) or 25 euros (48 hours). It grants you access to Juliet's balcony, the Arena and the Lamberti tower (for stunning views) as well as museums and churches. From April to October, most attractions need pre-booking for staggered entries, this website is where you can book your entry time, with your Veronacard or without.
Verona's official site is fantastic for all kinds of information, including guides, sites to see and accommodation, well worth a good looking through.
Have you been to Verona?
Of all the thing to fall in love with, what was your favourite?
Mine has to be a concert at the Arena and a stroll across the Castelvecchio Bridge at sunset, equipped with hazelnut gelato.