the storyteller

“There is no world without Verona walls. But purgatory, torture, hell itself.” The words of Shakespeare, in the theatrical text of the most famous love tragedy in the world, reminders of which are in every corner of the city. In summer, Verona offers, among numerous other events, the impressive spectacle of opera in the Arena. The rest of the year, it welcomes you on the banks of the river Adige, which embraces the historic centre as a lover embraces their partner. So, I’d say you’d better come inside the walls and discover Romeo and Juliet’s homeland for yourself!

Start your itinerary at the courtyard of Juliet’s house, where you’ll see the fake balcony. The ingenious mind of Antonio Avena, historian and champion for the protection of Verona’s artistic and architectural heritage, made this place famous the world over. Inspired by Francesco Hayez’s painting “L’ultimo bacio dato da Giulietta a Romeo” (The last kiss of Romeo and Juliet), in 1920, Avena renovated the entire building, adding an old Scaliger Tomb as a balcony and passing it off as the one described in the Bard’s tragedy.

Arena di Verona - alternative guide
Verona Arena
Juliet’s House
Juliet’s house
Juliet’s House
Juliet’s house

With the balcony behind me, I plunge into the city centre streets. I linger on the doorsteps of the many restaurants that fill the area and decide that the canapés at Osteria Cappello are unrivalled. A good glug of wine from the nearby Valpolicella region and a canapé of cured horse meat sfilacci or sarde in saor are a perfect break at any time of day.

Traces of the Shakespearean tale can be found across the city and in summer it’s not uncommon to run into Romeo and Juliet wandering the streets as part of some outdoor theatre performance. From the area around Via Cappello, it’s time to move to the heart of the Roman city, the Ancient Forum, where you can nibble succulent roasted chestnuts in the cold months. Not far from the Forum, pay a visit to the city’s other meeting place, Piazza dei Signori, known as Piazza Dante after the statue of the great poet, which stands in the centre. Keep an eye out for the whale rib: from the first archway leading from Piazza Erbe to Piazza dei Signori, known as Arco della Costa (Rib Arch), hangs an enormous whalebone. Various urban legends surround the relic. There are those who call it the devil’s rib, those who say it’s a symbol of the crusades in the Holy Land or that it was found in the nearby mountains, left there to protect the people of Verona.

Some people fear that the bone was left by an ancient pharmacy in the Middle Ages, which sold grated whale bones for their healing properties. Finally, there are those who are waiting for the purest man in the world to walk under the arch, whence the rib in question would fall on his head, confirming his innocence. Beliefs aside, not far from the bone is the statue of Girolamo Fracastoro, a renowned 15th-century physician, holding a large stone ball. The sphere, too, is supposedly destined to fall on the head of the bravest gentleman or noblewoman in the land.

Lamberti Tower

If you manage to pass under the two arches unscathed, stay in the area and visit the Scaliger Tombs, the resting place of the ancient lords of Verona. This Gothic funerary complex, one of the most evocative in Europe, tells a story filled with mystery worthy of the intrigues of the television series CSI. Among the tombs, it’s worth mentioning in particular that of Cangrande della Scala, the undisputed head of the family, who died in 1329 in mysterious circumstances, despite the fact that the books say he died of an illness. Since Verona loves a mystery, in 2004, almost 700 years later, the tomb was opened and an autopsy performed. Doctors and experts found that Cangrande was poisoned with digitalis, a very potent poison, but scholars who disagree have continued to fuel the debate unperturbed.

If all that intrigue has left you peckish, all you need to do next is go to the district of Sottoriva and order a good plate of polenta and salami or bigoli col musso (a local pasta dish with donkey meat sauce) in one of its many restaurants or pubs. A curiosity for couples: if you’re in the area at sunset, at certain times of year, including Valentine’s Day, you can enjoy a breathtaking aperitif at 84-metres above ground on the terrace of Lamberti Tower. You can visit the tower, without wine and appetisers, all year round.

Tomb of Cangrande della Scala
Tomb of Cangrande della Scala
Locandina Cappello Verona
Locandina Cappello

Verona isn’t Verona unless you set foot in its symbolic monument: The Arena. Everybody thinks it was built by the Romans, but it appears that this too was the work of the devil! Legend tells of a prisoner who, in exchange for his freedom, had a great theatre built for the citizens of Verona. Hundreds of demons set to work to build the Arena, but, as the work came to an end, the prisoner asked for forgiveness from the Madonna. She sent the angels, who stopped the demons, leaving the outer ring of the amphitheatre unfinished. Only the part of the outer ring that the Veronesi call “the wing” can be seen today. For those who go to Verona in the summer and want to enjoy an opera or one of the many concerts, my advice is to get a seat right underneath the wing. The acoustics there are sublime.

Leaving the Arena late? Then don’t miss out on the university district, where Bottega del Krapfen is open in the evening. Krapfen makes unforgettable delicacies such as “krapken cake”, which is an excellent choice to share between three, or on your own if you’re a real sweet-tooth. Among one of Verona’s iconic delicacies is pandoro sweet bread. You may have eaten some at Christmas, but I’m sure you’ve never seen a giant stone version before! Point your nose to the sky on the side wall of the palace in Corso Porta Borsari, where the tradition of Veronese confectionery appears to have been born, and you may just spot one.

San Zeno
San Zeno
Well of love
Well of love

Continuing on up, go along Corso Santa Anastasia where, once again, there’s a peculiar feeling in the air: in the blind alley of Pozzo San Marco you’ll find Pozzo dell’Amore, scene of another tale of two lovers, Corrado and Isabella. Corrado, tired of Isabella’s reticence, accused her of being as cold as the water from that well. She rose to the challenge and the two of them threw themselves into the waters, but Corrado did not come back to the surface and Isabella followed him out of despair. The legend invites passers-by to throw a coin in for luck. I oblige, throwing in a coin and hoping for a decidedly less unlucky love story.

Beyond the Adige, it’s worth taking a trip on the new funicular railway that takes you to San Pietro Castle, from where your eyes can feast on the whole city in one go. Along the way, don’t miss the old district of San Zeno. You could even borrow a bike from the VeronaBike municipal service, which allows you to rent one using a credit card in one of the stations located throughout the old town centre. Cycling west, you reach the Romanesque Basilica of San Zeno in the square of the same name. It’s worth at least taking a look at the statue of the city’s patron, a bishop of African origin, who smiles blissfully and to whom miraculous mysteries are attributed. Such as that of the porphyry cup inside the church: San Zeno is said to have taken it from the devil, who left his mark here too.
Smiles and mysteries.
Without further ado, I’d like to welcome you to fair Verona!

di Tiziana Cavallo

Shop fronts along Corso Sant’Anastasia

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