Verona is for everyone the tragic scenario of the love history between Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare’s play has made the fortune of Verona for sure: a good part of the city’s economy is based on this “romantic tourism,” which finds its perfect ending below the famous balcony of Juliet.
Identifying Verona as the city of Romeo and Juliet, however, has prevented people to enjoy the other beauties of this city. It’s called the “Gateway to Italy“, because it anticipates, to those coming from the north, the characteristics, the beauty, the essence of our country.
Verona is a mix of artistic, historical and cultural testimonies, dived in a suggestive atmosphere made of alleys, squares and traditional food. If you would like to look beyond the balcony, we suggest you an itinerary among its famous places, its typical flavours and its lovely entertainments. You’ll be seduced by the charm of this city. In this page, we suggest 10 things to do and see during a holiday or a weekend in Verona.
1. Piazza Brà
Piazza Bra is one of the largest squares in Europe, dominated by the Arena and made precious by some historical buildings. The square takes its name from the German word “breit”, which means wide.
In Piazza Brà, there is the liston, the pavement in pink marble of Valpolicella, the same one used to build the Roman Amphitheatre. On the liston, people love to meet, walk and chat, before to sit down at a bar for a coffee or an aperitif.
A tradition that goes back in the past because already Goethe, in his Italian Journey essay, wrote “… on the pavement of the Brà a multitude of people used to walk.” In addition to the Arena, in the square you can find the Gran Guardia Palace place for exhibitions and events and Palazzo Barbieri town hall.
2. Verona Arena
The Roman amphitheatre (better known as Arena) is, with Romeo and Juliet, the symbol of this city all over the world. It was probably built in the first century and like all the amphitheatres hosted the gladiator’s shows. It was the third amphitheatre after the Colosseum in Rome, and the one of Capua.
It has a solid and impressive structure made by the exterior face covered of bricks and Veronese marble which create a chromatic effect. The interior with its terraces concentric movement give an effect of grandeur. It takes its name from “rena” (the Italian noun for sand) placed in the central part where shows took place. The Arena could host 30.000 spectators and gladiators who had wide room for their shows. Nowadays the Arena is an important stage for musical events and it continues to preserve its ancient function, although with less bloody shows!
3. Piazza delle Erbe
Piazza delle Erbe is a coloured fruit and vegetable market with its group of sun umbrellas, surrounded by historic buildings and monuments. It’s the principal characteristic of the most ancient square in Verona where the medieval buildings took place of the Romans ones step by step. Here you can see the most popular and energetic side of the city, even if you won’t forget the cultural side of your holiday.
During the market, on Saturdays and Sundays, this square can be considered the living room of the city, where people of Verona meet to do the shopping or for the evening aperitif ritual. In this square, you can find the Town Hall, Torre dei Lamberti, Casa dei Giudici and Mazzanti’s houses. On the smaller side, there is the baroque Palazzo Maffei adorned with several statues of the Greeks gods: Jupiter, Hercules, Minerva, Venus, Mercury and Apollo. Beautiful the house of Mercanti (or Domus Mercatorum), that nowadays hosts the Banca Popolare of Verona. In the centre of the square there is the famous fountain called “Madonna Verona” and an ancient Capital too, also called “Tribuna” or (wrongly) “pillory”. It dates back to the XIII century, when under this capital used to sit “podestà” during the ceremony for their assignment.
4. Romeo and Juliet’s home
Verona was the theatre where the tragic love story between Romeo and Juliet, made famous by Shakespeare’s tragedy, took place. In a building of the XIII century, placed in the city centre, people of Verona recognized the Capuleti’s house: the legend merges with reality, finding some reference points.
A beautiful façade covered by bricks and a Gothic front door: in the courtyard, there’s a bronze statue representing Juliet and the famous balcony protagonist of their love birth. Juliet’s house is an obliged stop, even if a touristic one, for people who want to discover the places that inspired the love story par excellence.
A narrow archway leads into a small courtyard where you can admire the small stone balcony on one of the walls. Visitors leave notes attached to the walls, the notes bear the vow of eternal love made by lovers and the wishes of singles seeking love. Legend has it that if you leave your note here you will stay together with your partner forever. In the courtyard, there is a bronze statue of Juliet and if you touch her right breast you will find your true love.
Exhibitions within the 14th century house show how life would have been in Shakespeare’s day. You can also see the bed used in Zeffirelli’s 1936 movie of Romeo and Juliet and stand on the famous balcony.
Less fortunate was the Romeo’s house, now a private one, close to the Arche Scaligere (point 8). On the gothic façade, you can read an inscription “Oh! Where is Romeo? … I’m not myself. I’m not here. This isn’t Romeo – he’s somewhere else.“(Act 1, Scene 1).
5. Torre dei Lamberti
The Lamberti Tower is the main attraction on Piazza delle Erbe attached to the Palazzo del Commune, next to the tower is the Arco della Costa which will take you through to the Piazza dei Signori. Construction began on the tower in 1172 as part of the Palazzo del Comune’s original four towers of which only the Lamberti tower remains. The palazzo del Commune (Palazzo della Ragione) is Italy’s oldest city hall. The grand building suffered from fires several times destroying large areas of the palace including the other towers.
The tower is 83 meters high; in 1464 an octagonal tower floor was added. The tower’s many renovations and additions have produced a structure with several styles including the alternate bands of tuff and brick-work and additions made by the Venetians in the 16th century. There are four bells in the tower with the most important being the Rengo bell which was used to alert the residence of an imminent attack and the Marangona bell which announced the end of the work day or a fire. The clock face was added in 1779. There are 368 stairs and an elevator within the tower to take you to the top for brilliant views across the city.
6. Piazza dei Signori and Arche Scaligere
The administrative power of Verona has always been focused on this beautiful square surrounded by monumental buildings linked each other by arcades and arches. At the centre of the square you can see the large statue of Dante who found a refuge in Verona after his exile from Florence.
You enter in the square from the Arch of Costa and immediately on the left you can find the Domus Nova façade. If you continue to walk you can find the Loggia del Consiglio and the Palazzo degli Scaligeri, Lords of Verona from 1260 to 1387. There is also Capitano’s Palace with the corner tower that overlooks the square, linked to the Palazzo della Ragione by an arch. From the arch, you can access to the courtyard of the Old Market with the splendid Scala della Ragione. From Torre dei Lamberti there is a splendid view over the square and the rooftops of Verona. The Church of Santa Maria Antica is located in a small square in whose courtyard rises the Scaliger arches. The impressive funerary complex is an outstanding example of Gothic architecture in Italy. Arches were built to host the remains of some of the representatives of the Scala family. Stand out for their monumentality and decorations those of Cangrande I, Mastino II and Cansignorio.
Cangrande II della Scala wanted the construction of this fortress in order to have a protection from exterior dangers, but also from popular riots after internal struggles of Scaligera family. The Scaligero bridge to which it is linked, in fact, is a door beyond the river providing an escape to the countryside
As the bridge, also the Castle has had alternate fortunes. After the fall of the Scaligeri family it was used by the Venetians as a weapons depot and then became barracks during French and Austrian dominion. The restoration of 1926 removed the military elements and inserted late Gothic and Renaissance ones. Castelvecchio has two parts: on the right, there are the main courtyard and the parade ground; on the left the Scaligera mansion where the lords used to live with a narrow courtyard and a double wall. At the centre, the high Mastio Tower which gives access to the Ponte Scaligero over the Adige. It now hosts a museum with works of medieval, renaissance and modern art. The museum is not very big but there are some masterpieces, including Mantegna’s Holy Family, with the Child with Caroto puppet, Female Portrait of Rubens, The Madonna of the Quail attributed to Pisanello, San Girolamo penitent of Bellini and many others.
8. Cathedral of Verona
Verona’s first cathedral Duomo Santa Maria Maticolare dates to 380AD when it was consecrated by St. Zeno and stood north of the present site. The building was expanded in the 5th century and we can still see part of the mosaic flooring from these original structures beneath the Church of St. Elena and Canons’ Cloisters. That structure was destroyed by earthquake and rebuilt in the 8th century on the present site only to be destroyed by the 1117 earthquake. Following the earthquake work began on the structure we see today and it was completed in 1138. Renovations were made over the following years with major remodelling in the 15th and 16th century when the church gained its Gothic elements.
The cathedral appearance displays elements of several periods. The façade portal was designed by Master Nicolo and has intricate bas-reliefs. The church has a white tower which was begun in the 16th century and completed in the 20th century; it displays a range of architectural styles from the different periods. The sanctuary has a beautiful curved choir screen by Sanmicheli and Crucifixion by Giambattista da Verona from 1534. Within the church there are three aisles and several side chapels. The Capella Nichesola has a beautiful altarpiece by Titian. In a different chapel is the Adoration of the Magi by Liberale di Verona. In the Capella Mazzanti is St. Agatha’s sarcophagus from the 14th century, it is elaborately decorated. Visitors can enter the baptistery of San Giovanni and see the octagonal font which was carved out of one solid piece of black marble. In the nearby Chapel of St. Helen there are Roman era floor mosaics.
9. Roman Theatre
Older than the arena, completed in 100BC, the Teatro Romano is now all but a set of ruins, some of which have been partially reconstructed to be functional as a cultural center during the summer period. The site includes the semi-circular seating area which is easily accessible and close to the river, and then a more expansive area of Roman ruins which are set into the hillside behind the theatre itself. The view from the top is of the famous Ponte Pietro bridge as well as the beautiful red-tile roofs of the town. Definitely worth a visit, though there is little or no information given about the ruins; you just have to have a sense of imagination and history as you wander its confines!
10. The Church of San Zeno Maggiore in Verona
The legend says that, during the Adige inundation in 589, the water stopped on the doorway of this church built on the site of burial of Bishop Zeno. Saint Zeno, with its African origins, was the eighth bishop of Verona (about 362-380) and converted the city to Christianity.
This church is one of the most important examples of Romanesque architecture in Italy and its actual appearance seems to date back to the XII century. San Zeno keeps the body of the Saint and it’s rich of paintings and sculptures from the XII to the XVI century. A particular attention deserves the Altarpiece of San Zeno painted by Andrea Mantegna, which is the first example of Sacred Conversation with the Madonna and Child at the center. From left you can see St. Peter with the keys, St Paul with the sword, St. John the Evangelist with roseate dress, San Zeno in Bishop’s dresses, Saint Benedict with the monk’s dress, San Lorenzo with a gridiron, St. Gregory the Great dressed like the Pope and San John the Baptist with the typical dress as a hermit in the desert. You can understand that this is a conversation because the direction and gestures give the impression that the saints are talking to each other.