Verona - Survival guide for non (necro) romantic travellers
Verona dates from prehistoric times. It became a Roman municipium in the 1st century BC. Occupied by the Ostrogoths, the Lombards and Charlemagne, Verona became an independent comune during the 12th century. It prospered under the rule of the Scaliger family until its fall to Venice in 1405. Part of the Austrian Empire from 1797, the city joined the Kingdom of Italy in 1866.
Verona, city of love?
Not a fan of romance, guimauve, fakeness? Avoid the 2 following sites and you will be safe.
Casa di Giulietta
Juliet's House is a pure tourist trap. This gothic-style 1300s house and museum, with a stone balcony, is said to have inspired Shakespeare. Well...it did not. And the original story is not even from Shakespeare.
If you are a wee adventurous, go have a look. If you are allergic to crowd, kitsch, pink and gums stuck on walls, run the other way round.
The house is empty, except if you count the crowd, and the balcony was added in the 20th century. The shop inside the courtyard is hurting eyes, selling pink and cheesy souvenirs. The courtyard is accessible for free and houses a nice statue of Juliet by Nereo Costantini.
Before becoming the property of the City, the house was owned by the Dal Cappello family. Cappello being a bit like Capuleti, it led people to think it was the Capuleti house. It is not. It is the director of the city museums who transformed this "anonymous" house into the home of Juliet less than a century ago.
Here, romantism degenerates into sentimentality.
You might have read it on forums or heard it onsite: "it is too expensive for what it is."
Little seem to know that the ticket gives entrance to the nearby museum of frescoes (see below). Fact is, there are more signs about the fake grave so it is indeed misleading.
Nobody knows which grave it is but it not the one of Juliet. It is only in 1937 that a sarcophagus placed in the courtyard of San Francesco monastery centuries ago was put in the crypt by the then director of Veronese museums. The goal was to attract visitors. It worked, especially with British who were amongst the first to do pilgrimage to Romeo and Juliet's city of love (and death).
Think about it. This really is some kind of necroromanticism. After all, the story of Romeo and Juliet is anything but happy. Veronese do not really understand why many people come only for this story whilst the city has so much more to offer.
And Romeo? Well, the poor lad only has a wall. The house is privately own and cannot be visited.
The is also a well of love somewhere in the city centre.
So, after sentimentalism and necroromanticism, what is left to true romantics? The panorama from Piazzale Castel San Pietro.
If you want to be able to seat while enjoying the sunset, you have to go early otherwise couples won't leave you any seated spot.
Piazzale Castel San Pietro
The view is beautiful but there is a trick, another tourist trap. There are 3 ways to go up there: a car, the very steepy stairs or a funicular. Ok, let's go up by funicular and down by stairs. It is what everybody will think about. Fact is you cannot buy a single ticket for the way up. It is either a return ticket or a single one for the way down. Remember, the stairs really are steep. Pretty smart, right?
I would suggest to go down the hill by stairs because it is a beautiful walk.
Verona, what else?
Now that we have established that the "Verona city of love" is pure marketing, what is Verona really about?
It is a lovely lively colourful little town. I was very surprised to like the city that much. It was crowdy because Christmas markets were already there early November but it stayed a very pleasant city to visit, with many sites and sights. Not to mention the fact that the whole city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Because Verona has developed progressively and uninterruptedly over 2,000 years, it has incorporated artistic elements from each succeeding period. It therefore is a unique fortified town featuring several stages of European history.
In fact, Verona is a real open air archeological and architectural museum, which is remarkable considering the 1117 earthquake, the 1172 fire and the heavy WWII bombing the city suffered.
Tips: Get the Verona Card and avoid weekends. Streets in the old centre are narrow and get VERY crowdy on saturdays and sundays, when locals travel. Italians do visit their own country. If you want to pay the Verona Card by card, go to the Arena. The information centre only takes cash. You have to pay to entre the main churches cloisters and sometimes the church itself but it is worth it. The Verona Card covers it.
Buildings of interest
The impressive neoclassical Palazzo Barbieri was completed in 1848.
Palazzo della Gran Guardia
Originally built for military purpose, the Palazzo della Gran Guardia is open to the public only for exhibitions or other events.
Palazzo della Ragione
The old city hall is known for its famous stairs called Scala della Ragione and the Lamberti Tower. It is surrounded by several beautiful buildings: Loggia del Consiglio, Palazzo del Governo (Podestà), Palazzo di Cansignorio (also known as Palazzo del Tribunale, Palazzo del Capitanio or Palazzo Pretorio), Palazzo Forti (Galleria d'Arte Moderna Achille Forti).
Some of the palaces show a strong influence from Venetian architecture.
This palace is nicknamed Palazzo dei Diamanti because of the diamond-cut stones that decorate its facade. It is a small but peculiar building.
Under the loggia, there is an underground archaeological area corresponding to the criptoportico Capitoline which surrounded the Capitolium on three sides. Unlike other Roman cities, the main sacred temple was not in a hilly position but where Piazza Erbe is now.
The painting of the external facades of noble houses and palaces is very old in Verona. It was so widespread that during the Renaissance the city was nicknamed "Urbs picta", i.e. painted city.
The walls were initially painted to protect them from natural elements. It soon became a precious decorative element.
Located on Piazza delle Erbe, the Mazzanti houses are among the oldest buildings in the city and a wonderful example of ornamental painting of the facades.
Verona is a city of theatres: roman theatre, arena, ... It has a great cultural life.
Originally built in 1837, the Teatro Ristory was an institution until it was closed in 1983 and abandoned for 25 years.
Its restoration lasted a long time and the theatre finally reopened in 2012 to become once again a reference point.
There are some beautiful palaces on Corso Cavour as well.
The Palazzo Canossa was built between 1530 and 1537 by the homonymous family who wanted their mansion to express their power.
During the Cinquecento, it was decorated by the best Veronese painters. It was enlarged during the 17th century and crowned by a balustrade with mythological statues in the 18th century. In the 19th century it hosted some of the most important men in Europe, including Napoleon Bonaparte, Tsar Alexander I of Russia, Austrian emperors...
Arena di Verona
It is the third biggest amphitheatre in Italy after the Coliseum in Rome and the Arena in Capua. Constructed in 30 AD, it is in remarkable condition of preservation. Concerts and musical shows are still held there during spring and summer. If you want to assist to one of these, you must buy your ticket(s) really early because it is very popular.
Warning: IF YOU HAVE VERTIGO OR BALANCE PROBLEMS, DO NOT WALK UP!!! (especially if there is no one to help you). It is very steepy, steps are treacherous and there is no handrail. It took me almost half an hour to be able to go down the stairs.
There are talks about the city council controversial intention to launch a competition for ideas about how to build a mobile roof for the Arena, to protect it from rainfall and of course be able to use it in winter.
Torre dei Lamberti
At the entrance there is a flyer with the bells' schedule. Do have a look at it because once up the tower, you will have the head literally in the bells.
Have 1€ with you if you plan to take the lift, staff is annoying with change.
The view from up there is beautiful.
Fontain Madonna Verona
A Veronese favourite, this fountain is Piazza delle Erbe's most ancient monument. The fountain itself was built in 1368 by Cansignorio della Scala whilst the statue called Madonna Verona is a Roman sculpture dating to 380 AD.
There are obviously many more beautiful monuments in the city.
Arches, gates and walls
Arco dei Gavi
Built during the 1st Century AD, the Arco dei Gavi was once part of the city defences. It was also one of the gates leading to the city centre.
Little remains of the Roman walls that were built to protect the only side of the city not surrounded by the loop of the River Adige but two perfectly preserved gates can still be found.
Walls were built during the Comune Period, in the second half of the 12th century. You can find some impressive remains near the Arena. A section was also incorporated into Castelvecchio.
Finally, the Scaliger built impressive fortifications early 14th century. Running for 9 kms, they include the historic centre, the neighbouring city districts and the surrounding hills.
The Scaliger walls were strengthened by the Venetians and by the Austrians and remain unchanged since then. Designed by the Renaissance architect Michele Sanmicheli, the original gates are still the main entrances into the city.
As for the beautiful two arches Portoni della Brà, it was built by Gian Galeazzo Visconti in the 14th century.
Ponte Scaligero (Ponte di Castelvecchio)
When it was built in the 1400, this bridge was the longest of its kind in the world.
This bridge dates back to the Roman Verona.
Castel San Pietro
The castle is not open to the public but the view from there is beautiful (Piazzale Castel San Pietro panorama above).
Churches & shrines
The Scaliger dynasty rule Verona for several centuries and these Gothic tombs are the last homes of Cangrande I, Mastino II, Cansignorio, Alberto II and Giovanni.
The equestrian statue of Cangrande I is a copy. The original is inside Castelvecchio walls.
The shrines can only be seen from behind the fences during winter.
No Italian city would be trully Italian without many churches, right?
Small, big, huge, Romanesque, Gothic, Neoclassic..., there is something for every taste.
Chiesa Rettoriale Santa Maria Antica
Right next to the Scaliger shrines, this cute little Romanesque church is easily missed. It was the Scalinger's private church.
Chiesa di San Nicolò all'Arena
The construction of the church started in the 17th century but lasted centuries. It lacked the dome, facade and bell tower for a long time because the arrival of Napoleon forced the Theatines who initiated its construction to leave.
In the nineteenth century, there was just enough money to close the dome. The facade was transplanted from the semi-destroyed church of San Sebastiano after WWII.
There is no bell tower because Veronese did not want the view of the Arena ruined by it.
The interior is baroque in all its forms, from architecture to sculpture to painting.
Chiesa di San Giorgio in Braida
The complex was built between the 15th and the 17th centuries. The church houses beautiful works by Tintoretto and Veronese.
Chiesa di San Bernardino
Consecrated in 1453 and completed in 1466, this Gothic church hosts a remarkable collection of Veronese 16th-century paintings.
Chiesa delle Sante Teuteria e Tosca
Consecrated in 751, it is the oldest church in Verona and in the Veneto region. It was destined to be a chapel for the powerful Bevilacqua family.
Chiesa dei Santi Apostoli
Totally rebuilt after the earthquake, the church was consecrated in 1194. Through time, Romanesque details were replaced by Renaissance architecture.
San Zeno in Oratorio (San Zenetto)
Cute little Romanesque church said to have been built on the spot where the San Zeno used to go fishing. The stone on which the Saint used to sit is supposedly still in place.
Chiesa di San Procolo
Completely restored between 1984 and 1988, it is one of the oldest churches in Verona.
Chiesa di Santo Lorenzo
This beautiful Romanesque church features two Norman style towers on its facade, which is rather unique. It takes some of its inspiration from the French Abbey of Cluny, as well as from Lombard and Venetian motifs.
It is also worth noting the galleries overlooking the central nave. Accessed by staircases, they were reserved exclusively for women.
Chiesa di Santa Eufemia
Outside the tourist path, this church is much appreciated by locals.
Built between 1275 and 1450 by the Augustinian friars, it has Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance features.
San Giovanni in Foro
The church has some fantastic mosaics.
The Big Four
Verona is a small city but it hosts 4 big and beautiful churches.
Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore
A bit of the tracks but well worth the 20 minutes walk by the river. Plus the district surrounding it is really nice.
It is considered the main Romanesque masterpiece in Italy.
Do not miss the wonderful bronze door.
In the crypt, you will find the relic of San Zeno, the Saint Patron of Verona.
A pannel explains how it was examined to determine its authenticity.
The complex is composed of the church and an abbey with an arched courtyard and a beautiful cloister.
The 3 other churches are within the old centre boundaries.
Chiesa di Sant'Anastasia
The medieval Basilica of Santa Anastasia is the largest church in Verona and the most important Gothic monument in the city.
The ceiling is splendid. Do not miss the two beautiful stoups supported by hunchbacks. They represent the humble and poor Veronese people who encourage the generosity of the rich with their faith. It is said that touching their humps brings good fortune.
The Pellegrini Chapel houses the Gothic masterpiece from Pisano (Pisanello), Saint George and the Princess.
The Duomo complex houses the cathedral, the Canonicale Museum, Saint Elena church and the baptistery.
Its façade is a unique fusion of Gothic and Romanesque architecture.
Right next to the cathedral, you will find the baptistery, inside Chiesa San Giovanni in Fonte.
Chiesa di San Fermo Maggiore
The church of San Fermo Maggiore is one of the most interesting and original religious buildings of the city of Verona. It is composed of two churches connected and superimposed one to the other. It is a unique example in which the typical Romanesque style of the 10th and 11th centuries blends harmoniously with the Gothic style of the 14th century.
Museo di Castelvecchio
The restoration work of this castle built under the rule of the Scaliger dynasty during the 14th Century was made by famous architect Carlo Scarpa. Scarpa created a facade which looks like a theater stage set. For the municipal museum, he played with architecture and exhibited objects, making them looking intemporal. As for the original equestrian statue of Cangrande, it became a joint between Castelvecchio various parts since it is visible almost everywhere. Scarpa wanted the statue to be visible at all times because it is part of Veronese patrimony.
Inside the museum, you will find romanesque and gothic sculpture, paintings, armors, bells, inscriptions...
It also offers a beautiful view over the nearby bridge.
Museo archeologico & Teatro romano
The museum was opened in 1924 in the former monastery of Gesuati (late 14th c.).
Yes, you can see the ruins from outside the fences for free but you will miss the lovely cloister, the large terrace, and Church of Saint Gerolamo that are parts of the complex, as well a the beautiful Chiesa dei Santi Siro e Libera (Baroque style).
Museo degli Affresci
If there is one underrated museum in Verona, it is this one. People come to see Juliet's grave and leave complaining it was expensive. As said before, the entrance price allows you to visit this small but beautiful museum.
There is obviously many other museums to see.
The Galleria d'Arte Moderna Achille Forti has some beautiful pieces of art whilst the Lapidary Museum is one of the world oldest public museums (1745).
Shakespeare is totally eclipsed by his heroes although he wrote another play set in Verona, The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Although the city has decided to capitalise on only one of them, there is a yearly Shakespearean Festival in Verona.
Ravenna and Florence are fighting over Dante's remains since his death. They even were thought to be lost. If there is a life after death, Dante sure had one!
After being exiled from Florence and before ending up in Ravenna, Dante spent some times in Verona. In fact, he even wrote the third canticle of the Divine Comedy, dedicated to Cangrande, in the Capitular Library.
Even Veronese do not understand why the Christmas markets are already on early November... Fact is, the city is capitalising on them, trying to link them to important cultural events and to make Verona a Christmas city. It works. Lately, Verona has become one of the main Italian destinations for tourists over the Christmas holidays.
The atmosphere is really nice but there is nothing special about it. Stalls all sell the same things, as usual. To say, there were sellers I saw the year before in Modena.
To summarize, Verona is crowdy in summer (cultural events and Romeo and Juliet) and in winter (Christmas markets, Romeo and Juliet, project Verona Minor Hierusalem). But, unlike Florence, Verona still has a soul.