It’s hard to believe now, but the first overseas vacation Mark and I ever took together was way back in 2006 to Italy! Man, planning that first holiday together was terrifying. I’m sure the arm rests at the AMA office in Edmonton still have my fingernail marks in them. But Italy was a good introductory country to start our adventures in.
We did a group tour (Contiki though – that’s a story for another day) so we had all the accommodations and transportation covered. It allowed us to step out of our comfort zone without undergoing complete culture shock. And, because the areas we visited were so touristy, there was little to no language barrier unless you went off the beaten track.
One of the smaller towns we stopped in was Verona. In ancient times, Verona was an important town, as it was at the intersection of several roads. Today, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The city has numerous interesting sites, and it would be easy to spend a few days here. Unfortunately we only had an afternoon to explore the highlights.
The Scaliger Tombs
We began with the Scaliger Tombs. This is a group of five gothic tombs belonging to the Scaliger family. They ruled Verona in the 13th and 14th Centuries.
Below is the first tomb built, for Cangrande I. It’s built out from the Santa Maria Antica church wall rather than freestanding, like the later tombs were.
This is the tomb of Mastino II:
There are so many interesting things to see here, it’s hard to take it all in!
This statue commemorates Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg (661-1747), a German general. He served the Republic of Venice, and defended the Island of Corfu from the Turks. The memorial also commemorates his descendant, Werner von der Schulenburg (1881-1958), who wrote a biography on Johann.
Verona’s Roman Amphitheater
Although an earthquake destroyed many ancient buildings in 1117, there are still some pre-earthquake structures remaining.
For example, Verona boasts a wonderfully preserved Roman amphitheater. It was built around 30 AD, and is the third largest in Italy, behind Rome’s Colosseum and the arena in Capua. Approximately 25,000 spectators could fill the seats! The amphitheater’s interior remains quite intact, and it’s still used for festivals and musical performances today. Here is a link to the official page for ticket and event information: Verona Amphitheater
But Verona’s real claim to fame is Juliet’s House. You know, that Juliet. Romeo’s Juliet.
Well, okay, there may be some question as to whether Romeo and Juliet were real people that Shakespeare based his play upon. Stories of warring families and star-crossed lovers caught in the middle long pre-date Shakespeare. However, this Juliet’s name was Juliet Cappello, or, in Italian, Giulietta Cappelletti. Kind of similar to Shakepeare’s Juliet Capulet, yes? Hmmm. Makes you wonder….
But, it seems that the story might actually work the other way around. The city of Verona decided that the Cappello name was similar enough to Shakespeare’s Capulet family that they decided to dub this “Juliet’s House.” And, it’s thought that Shakespeare got his idea to write Romeo and Juliet from several sources and other previous tales of tragic lovers.
The house dubbed “Juliet’s House” itself was built sometime in the 13th Century, and may have originally been used partly as a pharmacy. As with many Italian homes of its time, it has a wonderful courtyard:
You can see in the upper right hand corner, the balcony. THE balcony, where Shakespeare had Romeo pledge his undying love to Juliet. Interestingly enough, the actual word “balcony” doesn’t show up anywhere in Romeo and Juliet. (Read it again and see if you can find it!)
There’s another fact that squashes the myth of this being Juliet’s house from Shakespeare’s play. This balcony wasn’t even added to the facade of the house until 1936. In fact, the balcony was actually taken from an ancient sarcophagus and re-purposed to match the Medieval architecture. That kind of sucks the romance right out of the story, doesn’t it?
So there’s a lot of misinformation and twisted history going on here. There is one fact that has a grain of truth to it though: the house was used as a low-class inn between the 17th and 19th centuries. So I’m sure that many of the rooms here saw “romance” in one form or another back in the day. *wink wink*
The interior of the house itself is quite lovely, with walls covered in colorful frescoes and Gothic-style arched windows.
Even the ceiling is remarkably decorated. My photo is a bit dark, due to the rule of no flash photography allowed, but I love the ceiling’s undulating curves!
The house also contains the original bed and costumes used in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet. So they play up this connection from every possible angle, and it works. Even when you know that Romeo and Juliet is just a made up tale of romance and tragedy, coming here makes you want to believe it’s all true.
This is most evident in two areas here: The statue of Juliet, where hopeful romantics and wishful thinkers grope her chest for good luck and true love:
And the infamous love note wall, where people stick their notes and pleas in the hopes that Juliet will help them find their true loves:
The rules around sticking these notes on the brick wall changed a few years ago in order to help preserve the building. People often used chewing gum or tape to stick notes to the wall, which caused unnecessary damage. But, as of 2012, doing this came with a 500 Euro fine. Graffiti was also banned, except on specifically-marked removable panels.
If this doesn’t satisfy your need to express your love, you can also write letters to Juliet, and a group of volunteers called “Juliet’s Secretaries” will pen a response. I just hope they respond in Italian to make the experience a little more authentic.
Address of Juliet’s House: Via Cappello, 23 – 37121 Verona.
Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday 8,30-19,30 – Monday 13,30-19,30.
Although we ran out of time, you can also visit Juliet’s Tomb, located at San Francesco al Corso monastery. The story goes, that this was where the lovely Juliet drank the poison and died. However, the tomb itself lies empty. And since it’s most likely the story of Romeo and Juliet was based on fictional characters…well, you can decide for yourself whether you have the time and interest to add the tomb to your visit!
You may want to look into getting the Verona Card, which gives plenty of discounts, including free entrance to Juliet’s House and Juliet’s Tomb, among many other attractions in Verona.
By car: Verona is at the crossroads of the North/South Brenner to Modena motorway (A22 Brenner – Modena) and the East/West Milan to Venice motorway (A4 Serenissima Milan -Venice).
By train: Verona is connected by all the main Italian railway stations with several types of trains: through trains, Intercity and Eurostar. The main railway station is Verona Porta Nuova.
By bus: The bus terminus is in the square in front of Verona Porta Nuova railway station. The city is linked to surrounding towns vis public buses. For timetables and routes, use the Azienda Trasporti Verona (ATV) Web site.
(Post updated February 2018)