Verona, Italy - City of Romance and Beauty
Venice is the incomparable city of canals. Rome, the seat of the Empire stretching back into antiquity. Florence is known for its art. Yet there is another city that should be added to this list of Italian stars -- Verona, a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) designated world heritage site. The riches of Verona -- its colorful history, elegant shops, vibrant markets and lively atmosphere make it one of the under-discovered gems of Italy.
Later on, Verona became the site of the free-for-all turf wars that characterized much of Italian (and European) history. These tug-of-war power struggles led to a series of rivalries culminating in the late 1200s with the ascendancy of the della Scalas (also known as the Scaligeri) who added a love of art to their pursuit of power. Their names, after the founding father's Bartolomeo della Scala, had a canine theme. Cangrande I (Big Dog) was the patron of Dante (of Dante's Inferno fame).
Not a family to sit idly, under Cangrande's watch Verona captured several smaller cities. The dynasty was continued by the heirs, Mastino II (the Mastiff) and Cansignorio (Lord Dog). Eventually, fearing the end of their reign, the Castelvecchio was built, perhaps a monument to the family's might and power. The buildings today are among Verona's priceless architectural heritage.
Eventually Verona decided to join the tiny empire of Venice, although that relationship was not without strife. From that point, rulers came and rulers went, including both Napoleon and Austria, until finally Verona become one of the Kingdom of Italy in the mid 1800s.
The Piazza Bra is an stylish area lined with cafes, government buildings and shops but this elegance belies its history as a local livestock marketplace. There is a tourist information office at the southern end of the Piazza near the town hall which may be a good place to start your touring.
From the Bra, enjoy a stroll up the Via Mazzini past the fashionable shops. It's for pedestrians only so take your time and savor the stores, and the people.
The Via Mazzini ends at Via Cappello, the street where Juliet lived and loved Romeo. The house at No. 23 Via Cappello is, as expected, a major tourist stop. There's the famous balcony (which may have been built later on), and a statue of Juliet in the courtyard. The question of whether these famous lovers really existed is still debated, but if you are patient you can wait your turn to stand next to her statue for a photo opportunity. Although the perhaps fictional, perhaps real Juliet has a house and statue, there is much less to show the (possible) existence of her lover, Romeo. A plaque supposedly marks No. 4 Via Arche Scaliger as the house of Romeo.
A short walk going the other way on the Via Cappello will take you to the Piazza Delle Erbe, site of historical (and architecturally fascinating) buildings as well as a colorful fruit and vegetable market. A little further is the Piazza dei Signori, and the pantheon of the della Scala, the Scaliger Tombs. Whether by design or happenstance the feeling of the Tombs is rather forbidding, and certainly adds to the mystique. This whole area is crammed with magnificent buildings, and intriguing history. There's even a place where the old roman road peeks out from under the courtyards and walkways.
Of all the buildings created during the last Scaligeri building frenzy, Castelvecchio (built in the mid 1300s) is the largest and certainly the most impressive. Not only does the Castle guard its section of the Adige river, it projects its own bridge, the Ponte Scaligero, across to the other side. Today the fortress is Verona's top art museum with exhibits arranged in chronological order from works of gold dating back to the 4th through 7th centuries.
There is, of course, an abundance of churches. In particular, visit Verona's Duomo (cathedral), built in the 12th century, on top of a pre-existing medieval church. It has a Romanesque façade and gothic elements. There is much to see there, but don't miss the Assumption by Titian.
Opera performed in a Roman Arena, plays and entertainment in a Roman Theater, restaurants, cafés, shops, history, architecture, a river winding through the city, and a hint of romance. It doesn't get much better. Visit Verona, and fall in love with a city.