Verona City Guide
Thousands flock to Verona every year to see the place where the events in Shakespeare's tragic tale of Romeo and Juliet took place. It's highly likely that the Veronese families depicted in the Bard's play only existed in his fantasy but so powerful is their story that people seem willing to believe it truly happened. It's no surprise that travellers make the 13th-century house of the Capello family (supposedly the Capulets) their first stop in Verona.
Today this venerable building looks like a graffiti canvas – the result of countless lovers writing their names and vows on its walls over the decades. There's even a corner where people attach their love locks. Singles rub the breast of Juliet's statue in the courtyard wishing to be blessed with luck in love, while couples share a kiss on the balcony from which Juliet listened to Romeo's declarations of love.
Little known is the fact that the balcony was only added to the building in recent times, and given that no Capulets or Montagues might have ever resided here, the historic status of the place seems as fictional as Shakespeare's story. Yet, here it is – one of the most romantic tourist attractions in the world. That timeless romance has brought you, too here, so don't leave Verona without a visit to the house that shows how powerful a story can be.
Verona and its piazzas
Shakespeare might have made Verona famous but it has plenty to prove it deserves its fame. The town is a treasure trove of exquisite Renaissance palaces, medieval castles and ancient Roman sites that have survived the test of time.
Start your day in Verona at Piazza delle Erbe. Once the site of the Roman forum, this historic centre of the town has been the hub of local commercial life over the centuries. The architecture is splendid. A 2000-year-old fountain sits in the centre of the piazza surrounded by ancient monuments, medieval palazzi housing administrative buildings and the Baroque palace that belonged to the powerful Mazzanti family, who were the Medici of Verona.
The name of the piazza literally means Square of Herbs and that's not just a random choice. Browse the stalls of the market held here and you will find lots of aromatic herbs and spices, as well as all sorts of souvenirs to take away home. Before you leave the piazza, look up to one of the arches on its border and you will see a whalebone hanging over your head. It has been there for centuries and according to historians it is the symbol of the medieval guild of pharmacists. There are plenty of wine bars, cafés and restaurants in the vicinity, so you have a choice of places where to recharge.
Piazza delle Erbe has always been the strategic centre of Verona but it's nearby Piazza dei Signori that was the seat of political power in the olden days. The piazza is surrounded by numerous buildings of great architectural significance, more notably Renaissance palaces built by the most powerful Veronese families, like the Scaligeri whose tomb is also located on this splendid square. The rich heritage of the city shows in every building and piece of art in the area, so it might be worth to take a guided tour in order to get a better understanding of the meaning of every monument, or whalebone.
Contemporary events in ancient venues
Many ancient Roman sites have been wonderfully preserved in Verona. One of them is the 1st-century bridge on the river Adige, which you can cross during your visit, and another is the Arena – an amphitheatre with capacity for 25 000 spectators. In the antiquity, the Arena was used for gladiator fights and hunting spectacles, later on for tournaments and performances. Today due to its fantastic acoustics, it is the stage of music events. An opera festival is held here in early summer and that's the best time to visit if you love classical music. The rest of the year you can walk inside for a small fee and enjoy the solitude.
The Castelvecchio (or the Old Castle) is another popular landmark in town. It was built on the river banks by the powerful Scaligeri as a fortification to protect the town from enemies. The on-site museum holds a precious collection of historic artefacts and artwork from the region that paints a vivid picture of the castle's heyday. While the Castelvecchio has been very well preserved, the San Pietro Castle didn't share its fortune and was demolished in the 19th century by Austrian troops who erected a fortification and barracks on its site.
Unfortunately, the current building is not open to visitors. So why visit, you might ask? Climbing the flights of stairs leading up to that hilltop landmark is a bit of an exercise but it's very rewarding. The views down to Verona and the river are spectacular. Now that you have rubbed Juliet's breast and seen the city from the hill, you have ticked all important points on your Verona checklist. Time to wrap up a visit with a hearty Italian meal and wine.