Put your left hand up with your palm facing away from you and your fingers together. Cup your hand slightly and stick out your thumb. Your thumb is the old town of Verona. Imagine the silty green Adige River flowing across your fingertips, down the right side of your index finger, and around your thumb. That cold, fast-moving river comes from the Alps in the Trentino area, slightly north of Verona and just south of Italy’s border with Austria, and it made the city easy to defend throughout the centuries.
As I already mentioned, we went to Verona in early July to see two operas, see the sights, and eat well. Although Verona isn’t very far from the Alps, you’d never know it in the summer, when the weather on the plain is hot, humid, and sticky! It doesn’t matter though—Verona is enchanting in summer, as befits its UNESCO World Heritage Site designation for its architecture and structure, and you can cool off in air-conditioned restaurants, shops, and hotels.
In my Verona post from summer 2011 I talked about the House of Juliet, Piazza dei Signori, and shopping on Via Mazzini (a must!). The main sight in Verona, however, is the pink Roman arena, which was built in 30 AD, is the third largest in the Roman world, and is one of the world’s best preserved ancient amphitheaters. Insight Guides says this (with edits from me): “Unlike many, this amphitheatre has been used as a place of entertainment throughout its life, but the type of entertainment has been varied, from gladiatorial combat in ancient Rome to trial by ordeal and public executions during the early Middle Ages. In 1276 an act was passed making it the city brothel for nearly 250 years, but by 1580 the arena was used for tournaments. The last of these was held in 1716, and after that was a parade of circus and comedy, theatre and dance, horse racing and gymnastics, and even hot-air balloon flights and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.” Since 1913, the arena has hosted the annual Verona Opera Festival and other concerts, including a recent concert by Sting, which we missed by one day (rats!). Although we sat in the arena for three hours on Friday and Sunday, I, a shameless photographer as you know if you read my blog regularly, do not have one photo of the inside of the arena! If you want to see it, click here.
People began congregating in the main market square, Piazza Erbe, in Roman times. To this day, the facades of many of the buildings display beautiful old frescoes. The piazza is filled to the brim with restaurants, as well as stalls selling the usual Italian scarves, hats, and trinkets. Piazza Erbe sports its share of street musicians, including a pianist, who was playing gorgeous opera music as we passed by. Most street musicians stroll around carrying their instruments, but I doubt that this man did! Piazza Erbe is pretty and crazy, but just east of it is Piazza dei Signori, which I find much more beautiful and interesting (and it’s not nearly so crowded).
Just east of Piazza dei Signori are the Gothic 14th-century tombs of the Scaligeri family (CanGrande I —“Big Dog,” Mastino II—“The Mastiff,” Cansignorio —“Mr. Dog,” Albert I, and Giovanni), who ruled the city with an iron fist from the 13th to the late 14th century (like the Medici in Florence). These dog-obsessed rulers passed a law to allow themselves, and only them (and probably their dogs, although I don’t know that for sure), to be buried within the city walls. Everyone else had to be buried outside. Wiki says, “According to a French historian, the tombs are one of the most outstanding examples of Gothic art.” The crest of the Scaligeri family is stairs (le scale), and on one of the tombs, the crests are held up by dogs! Love the Scaligeri!
Saturday we crossed the Adige on Ponte Pietra and climbed up the hill to have lunch at Teodorico Re. Ponte Pietra was built in Roman times but was bombed by the Germans in World War II. The citizens of Verona painstakingly fished the marble chunks out of the Adige to rebuild the bridge. It is one of my favorite sights, and one of the saddest—a 2000-year-old bridge pulverized into the river in seconds. The views from the hill on the east side of Ponte Pietra are spectacular—the red tile roofs of Verona and its eastern neighbor, Veronetta, are beautiful. The Castello San Pietro on top of the hill has a viewpoint and is beautiful itself, if you don’t mind the long climb (you can take a cab if you prefer not to walk).
One of our favorite places in Verona is the Castelvecchio, a castle built in the mid-1300s by the Scaligeri family and now an excellent museum. The museum has beautiful religious statues and many of the rooms are painted in the original frescoes—glorious! We climbed the ramparts for great views of the city, the river, and Ponte Scaligero, which also was destroyed by the Germans in World War II and rebuilt in the 1950s.
In addition to these lovely sights the streets and alleys in Verona have balconies and frescoes that add to the beauty of the city. Verona is one of my favorite cities in Italy. Don’t miss it if you have time!