“For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”
There are a number of theories on why Shakespeare did choose Verona in Italy as the set of the star-crossed lovers story but, it cannot be argued, that the city has a very romantic aura all year long, on a bright summer day as much as on a foggy November evening. There are places waiting to be discovered at every corner, from family run trattorias to piazzas with cafes with tables outside and alleys off the beaten track with colorful houses.
Well served by an International airport and on the main railway line connecting Milan to Venice, the city is best explored on foot; it is a short walk from Porta Nuova railway station to Piazza Bra’. Accessed through a double gate known as Portoni della Bra’ one of the historic gates of the city, Piazza Bra’ is considered the heart of Verona.
Cafes and restaurants line one side of this vast square along the wide sidewalk known locally as “liston” opposite the Arena.
One of the best preserved Roman amphitheatres in the world built in the 1st century AD, the Arena di Verona is still in use today; in the summer, operas are staged there and international and Italian singers make sure to add a date on their tours in Verona to play concerts in an atmospheric setting under the stars.
Other famous buildings on the square are Palazzo Barbieri (Verona’s Town Hall) and the Gran Guardia Palace, now a museum.
Piazza Bra’ is also the site of the main Christmas celebrations in Verona when a giant star is installed in the square and the International Exhibition of Nativity Sets takes place inside the Arena. It is at this time of year when bakeries and patisseries in the city sell the famous Pandoro, the traditional Christmas cake of Verona.
Leading away from Piazza Bra is Via Mazzini the main shopping thoroughfare in the city where all the major Italian designers stores can be found; the bustling square at the other end of Via Mazzini is Piazza Erbe, the site of a permanent market selling everything from fruit and vegetables to souvenir snow globes. The beautiful fountain in the square, built in 1368 is known as Madonna Verona.
On one side of Piazza Erbe is Arco della Costa, an arch with a curious bone-shaped object hanging in the middle of it (a whale or a dragon bone depending which story you believe!). It’s a short walk from there to Piazza dei Signori, also known as Piazza Dante where a beautiful loggia can be seen. A statue of the famous Italian poet Dante Alighieri, who stayed in Verona between 1312 and 1318, has been erected on the square together with the statues of other illustrious gentlemen (Signori in Italian) hence the name of the square.
Nearby the Scaliger Tombs (Arche Scaligere in Italian) can be seen. These elaborate funerary monuments were erected to celebrate the Scaliger family who were the rulers of Verona in the 13th and 14th century.
Palazzo della Ragione facing Piazza dei Signori can be accessed through a courtyard known as Cortile del Mercato Vecchio (Old Market Courtyard) where the beautiful Scala della Ragione staircase can be seen. The palace is now the site of the New Gallery of Modern Art with works spanning from 1840 to 1940; a visit to this beautiful palace would not be complete without viewing the Cappella dei Notai with its beautiful frescoes.
Next to the Palazzo della Ragione is the Torre dei Lamberti (Lamberti Tower), the tallest building in the city; a lift goes to the top from where there are beautiful views over the rooftops of Verona and its squares and monuments.
Back in Piazza Erbe there are two options: walk to Porta Borsari another gate of the city or, follow the hordes of tourists down Via Cappello to the most famous address in town: Juliet’s House.
The walls leading to the small courtyard of the house are covered in graffiti from lovers coming from all over the world declaring their undying love to one another; it is very common to see people proposing to their partners here and newly weds having their wedding photographs taken. The main attraction here is the balcony from where allegedly Juliet was calling out to Romeo; to get lucky in love it is customary for visitors to rub the right breast of a bronze statue of Juliet found in a corner of the courtyard. Fictional or not the star-crossed lovers story lives on and over the years it has been the subject of a number of movies and theatre productions.
Verona is also famous for its churches: the Cathedral (Duomo), San Zeno, Santa Anastasia and Santa Maria Antica to name but a few.
Two castles can also be found in the city: Castelvecchio e Castel San Pietro. Located by the banks of the river Adige, Castelvecchio is the site of a museum displaying sculptures and paintings. Outside, the beautiful Arco dei Gavi can be seen; a Roman arch commissioned by the Gavi family in the 1st century AD it was demolished during the time of Napoleon and reconstructed in the 1930s.
The beautiful Ponte Castelvecchio (or Ponte Scaligero) crossing the river can also be seen nearby offering beautiful views from many lookouts along the bridge.
Castel San Pietro is situated on the top of a hill reached by crossing Ponte Pietra, and walking up stone steps passing the Roman Theatre en route. In recent years a funicular has been built on the side of the hill making the site more accessible.
It is from this spot that photographers hope to snap a picture perfect view of Verona to take home as a memento of their visit to the city. Although Verona makes a perfect city break destination, a longer stay will give the opportunity to visit other locations not too far away like Lake Garda, Venice and Milan.