Romeo and Juliet, opera festival and gnocchi
Verona, is a small town at the foot of the Alps, on the Adige riverbank, in the northeast part of Italy. The city was founded at the beginning of the First BC, as a Roman colony. There was a huge city development, and some of the constructions erected that time – we can still admire today. There are currently more than 260,000 people living in Verona, which makes it the second-largest city in the region.
Most people know Verona thru the most beautiful love story of Romeo and Juliet. It doesn’t matter that both history and its characters are pure literary fiction. Verona lives this story and crowds of tourists come every year to see Juliet’s house, the famous balcony, and the girl’s grave.
However, it is worth noting, that Verona was a city worth a visit long before William Shakespeare wrote his drama. The city is worth visiting due to its many historical monuments, including the arena – Roman Amphitheatre from 1st century BC. In terms of culture, Verona prides itself on organizing numerous concerts and opera festivals, which take place in the world’s largest outdoor opera theatre.
In the city, you will be delighted not only by the magnificent architecture and valuable monuments but also by its atmosphere, old town cobbled streets, and as always – delicious Italian cuisine.
Special attention needs Italian gnocchi dumplings. Legends say that the nearby area is the cradle of these Italian dumplings. However, being in Verona, every restaurateur will tell you that Verona is the capital of gnocchi.
I must admit I did not eat better gnocchi anywhere else, so personally, I believe this story 😊. Do not miss it and try it by yourself!
More to read about the city on www.turismoverona.eu.
Once a year, on the last Friday before Lent – Verona celebrates the carnival. The Festival takes place here in the preservation of 470 years old traditions. The event that Verona celebrates marks the end of the epidemic that spread throughout the city in 1660. During this epidemic, many residents of the city died not only from the plague itself but also from hunger.
Since that time, once a year – the inhabitants of Verona celebrate the tradition of sharing folk food, which is gnocchi. Gnocchi is a simple dish, made of potatoes and flour, served with various sauces.
During the last day of the Verona Festival, colourful parades are passing through the city. The march starts on Bra Square and ends, after 6km – in San Zeno Square. A colourful crowd wearing masks passes through the city dancing and singing. The culmination is when at the end of the parade everybody can taste free of charge gnocchi. That custom is called “The Gran Gnocolada“. This ritual symbolizes the return of prosperity and the abandonment of hunger.
It is also worth knowing that the main character of this festival is Papa del Gnoco. He is an old man with a grey beard and a crown on his head – dressed in a long red coat and with gold decorations. Instead of a sceptre – Papa del Gnoco holds in his hand a large golden fork with a large gnocchi dumpling on it. For many years, Verona citizens can play that noble role during the festival, but first, someone needs to win a casting organized by the city hall. As a reward – on top of the prestige and possibility of being city representative – they also get a bowl of gnocchi in tomato sauce.
Tips and Tricks
- In 2021 – Gnocolada will take place on February 16th. You can read more about the festival and dates for the following years on the www.carnifest.com
Verona – in the footsteps of Romeo and Juliet
It cannot be denied that for many tourists the love story of Romeo and Juliet is the main reason why they decide to visit Verona. As is often the case, however, high expectations and hope to find a romantic atmosphere in Juliet’s house turn out to be only an artificial marketing trick and business.
The house, which is considered as the venue for Shakespeare’s drama, belonged to the Cappello family in the 14th century. Over time, the legend began to grow around the building. The convergence of the Cappello family name with the family name of Juliet Capuleti, could not be accidental. It was believed that it must have once been a family home of a girl.
Crowds of tourists that were visiting Verona in the early 20th century, caused the city authorities to make a tourist attraction out of that house. An additional advantage of this place was the fact that this medieval house was in an excellent location, in the very centre, near the main square of Piazza Delle Erbe.
In 1907, the city authorities bought a part of the tenement house and made it a tourist attraction. Over time, it turned out that the house still did not meet all tourist’s expectations, because there was no balcony. There were voices that in Shakespeare’s history, there was a balcony where Juliet waited every night for her beloved. Therefore, in the place where the usual balustrade was located, in 1940 it was decided to build a balcony. To make it more authentic, marbles from the 14th Venetian palace were used for its construction. And that is how “House of Juliet” was created.
House of Juliet (Casa di Giulietta)
Today – to see the famous balcony, you need to enter the inner courtyard of the building. First, however, you need to squeeze through the bottleneck – that is, the entrance gate. It is a dark and dirty place, whole (up to the ceiling) scribbled with inscriptions and drawings of hearts left in this place by the lovers.
The main courtyard is a small inner yard, where people are crowding all year round. The word “crowding” does not actually reflect what is going on there in the season. Entry only for people with strong nerves and without fear of claustrophobia.
At the height of the first floor, there is a small balcony on which tourists stand all the time. It is almost impossible to take a picture of a building without people on the balcony. The only possibility comes when you wait for a change between going out and entering the balcony because its small size can fit max. 2 people at the same time.
You can also enter the building (paid entrance) to get to the balcony. The interior of the house is a kind of museum with objects related to Romeo and Juliet’s life: furniture, clothes, decorations.
There is also a metal grille on the wall, with pinned heart-shaped padlocks. You can buy them on the spot or in the nearby souvenir shops and leave them signed with your names, as evidence of the “eternal love”.
Tips and Tricks
- Juliet’s House has been recently completely renovated (in 2017), so both the facade and the balcony are in better condition now. In addition, the facade was covered with a special substance, which is to protect the building against its devastation by crowds of tourists.
- Juliet’s House (inside) is open daily. On Mondays from 1.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m., on the remaining days from 8.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. Last entry at 6.45 p.m.
- The home entrance ticket is 6 Euro (6,5 $). Free entrance to the courtyard.
Address: Via Capello, 23
House of Romeo (Casa di Romeo)
In Verona, there is also an old house named: House of Romeo. In fact, it is only an ordinary medieval tenement house. Although in the 15th century this tenement house belonged to the Montecchi family (Romeo came from such a family), certainly Romeo himself did not live there. You cannot enter inside, because it is currently private property. Although passing by it is worth paying attention to the well-preserved facade of the building, valuable due to its age and architectural details.
The House of Romeo is located not far from the House of Juliet (walking distance).
Address: ViaArche Scaligere, 2
Tomb of Juliet (Tomba di Giulietta)
Following the footsteps of Romeo and Juliet, you can also go to the place where the symbolic tomb of Juliet is located. To find this place you have to visit the Fresco Museum “Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle“, which is located in the 13th-century monastery. The tomb is inside the museum.
Julia’s tomb is empty, it is only a symbol that lets you believe that Shakespeare’s heroine could be buried in such a place.
The museum is open daily: Mondays from 1.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday from 8.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. Last entrance at 6.30 p.m.
Entrance ticket: 4.50 Euro (about 5$), combined ticket: museum + tomb of Juliet – 7 Euro (about 7,6$)
Address: Via deil Pontiere
The is one more place in Verona connected with Romeo and Juliet, but I will write about it later below.
Verona – what else worth seeing when visiting the city
The Arena – Roman amphitheatre, is a true tourist attraction and a valuable historical monument. It stands in the very centre of the city, on the popular Bra Square, surrounded by cafes and small Italian restaurants.
The amphitheatre was built in the 1st century BC and was the largest Roman gladiators’ arena in that period. Built of white marble, it could house 25,000 spectators, but when it was needed, even up to 32,000 people could enter it. Until the 3rd century A.D., the arena was outside the city walls. Gladiator fights and wild animals’ fights took place there. In 1117, as a result of the earthquake, the three-story ring of the outer wall collapsed. Only a small fragment of it has survived until today, and it is called “the wing”.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the amphitheatre served as a valuable building block for local investments and was systematically stolen. The arena was then used to carry out public executions and knights’ fights. During the Renaissance, the city decided to preserve this valuable monument and secure it against further demolition.
In 1913, on the occasion of the centenary of Giuseppe Verdi’s birth, Aida was staged in the amphitheatre. Since then, this building serves as a permanent stage for various concerts and as the seat of the opera festival, which takes place in Verona every year.
Today, the arena in Verona is the second one, after the Colosseum in Rome, the best-preserved amphitheatre in Italy and the world’s largest open-air opera theatre. Approximately 15.000 viewers can sit in the audience. However, when extremely popular concerts take place on the main stage, the organizers can set up 22.000 chairs in the audience.
Practical information and interesting tips
- During the theatre season, all large stage decorations are gathered in front of the arena. It is worth taking a look at them because only from a close distance you can appreciate high craftsmanship skills and their size.
- The arena is also used as a venue for concerts of contemporary musical artists. The stage hosted such stars as Pink Floyd, Rod Steward, Elton John, and Muse. In 1946, Maria Callas debuted on that stage.
- The arena can be visited daily. Mondays from 1.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday from 8.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. Last entrance at 6.30 p.m.
- Entrance ticket 10 Euro (about 11 $).
- On those days when there are concerts or the opera festival, the opening hours of the arena may be different. More information on the arena website.
- Address: Piazza Bra
Besides the amphitheatre, there are several other places worth visiting in Verona, valuable due to historical or architectural reasons.
The Scaligero Bridge (Ponte Scaligero or Ponte Castelvecchio)) is a fortified bridge built in 1356, that was leading to the Castelvecchio Castle. It is also called “the most beautiful bridge of Verona”.
The bridge was made of bricks and has three spans, supported by massive tower pillars finished with battlements. The bridge is 120 m long and 6 m wide.
That building was originally a military facility. At the end of the bridge (on both sides of the Adige River) there were two towers, but only one of them has survived to modern times. The second tower was demolished by the French at the beginning of the 19th century.
Unfortunately, the bridge was blown up at the end of World War II by German troops retreating from the city. In the years 1949-51, it was decided to rebuild it, using original materials and construction techniques used in the 14th century.
Castel Castelvecchio and defensive walls
Castelvecchio is a Gothic castle from 1354. The design of the castle was developed by the Della Scala family. In addition to the residential function, the castle was also to be a defensive fortress protecting the Scala family from both external invasions and a popular rebellion. The area nearby the castle was a perfect path for a quick and easy escape from the city: after passing through the fortified bridge, accessible only to a noble family, along the road north along the Adige Valley.
During the construction of the castle, part of the city walls was included in its area.
Over the centuries, with the changing power over Verona – the castle was rebuilt many times, which has made damage to its original architectural shape. At that time, the castle was used for military purposes as a warehouse for weapons and ammunition, and then (in the 18th century), it became the seat of the Venetian military academy.
It was only after 1923 that the castle stopped performing only a military function. It underwent a thorough reconstruction, which restored its look stylized to medieval times. From 1925, the castle became a museum where valuable art collections were placed.
The museum can be visited daily. Mondays from 1.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m., Tuesday to Sunday from 8.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. Last entrance at 6.30 p.m. Entrance ticket 6 Euro (about 6,5$).
Address: C.so. Castelvecchio
Piazza delle Erbe
Herbal Square (Piazza delle Erbe), was once a place where vegetables and herbs were sold. Centuries ago, it was a Roman forum. The square is surrounded by Renaissance and Baroque palaces, which makes this place extraordinary. It is worth visiting the square both during the day and at night. During the day, take a closer look at all the attractions and feel the atmosphere of this vibrant place. In the evening, tenements are decorated with lights, which makes the place magical.
There are numerous small cafes on the square. You can not only drink typical Italian coffee there but also have lunch or dinner.
Being there, it is worth paying attention to the most characteristic places
- The fountain, dating back to 1386, topped with a Roman figurine “Madonna of Verona” (from year 380).
- A column with the winged lion of St. Mark, which is the symbol of Venice. The column stands against the backdrop of a beautiful Baroque tenement house – Palazzo Maffei. On the roof of that house, there are statues of Greek gods
- The pillory dating back to the 16th century, to which merchants cheating on customers were tied (interesting approach to customer service culture)
- Gothic stone lantern
- Lamberti Tower (Torre dei Lamberti), where once there was a medieval town hall. The tower is 84 meters high and was built in 1172. In 1403 a lantern was added to the top of the tower. On one of the tower’s walls, there is a clock that is over 250 years old (1779). There are also two bells on the tower. The smaller one – Marangona signalling fires and indicated individual hours. The larger one – Rengo, was used to call the people to fight or to call the city council for meetings.
Tips and Tricks
- There is one more house on the square that grabs the attention. This is Domus Mercatorum, built more than 700 years ago (in 1301). In this building, there used to be a warehouse and a merchant guild. Today there is a seat of the bank.
- On the square, your attention can be also grabbed by the tower – Torre del Gardello, dating from the 14th century.
- There is also an old Casa Mazzanti building with a colourful facade from the 16th century.
Bra Square is without a doubt the largest square in Verona. Some sources even suggest that perhaps it is also the largest square in all of Italy. There are three characteristic places on it:
- Arena – Roman amphitheatre, built over 2000 years ago (described earlier).
- Barbieri Palace (Palazzo Barbieri) – today it is a seat of the Verona city hall. Built in 1848 in neoclassical style. Designed by Giuseppe Barbieri and named with his name after his death
- Gran Guardia – a palace from the 17th century with a tower dominating over it. Construction of the palace, which was to serve as a shelter for the army stationed in Verona, began in 1610. Unfortunately, due to lack of funds – the investment was not completed for another 200 years. In 1808 there was a budget and a desire to finish the building. Unfortunately, it was only realized 45 years later. Currently, the building is used for conferences and often hosts fairs and exhibitions.
Basilica of Saint Zeno
The Basilica – San Zeno Maggiore is a Benedictine church from 1138. It is considered one of the most significant Romanesque churches in northern Italy.
The first temple stood in this place already in the 4th century, on the grave of St. Zenon – the patron of the city. The temple, which we can be admired today, was expanded in the years 1120 – 1398.
Over the main entrance, there is a portal that is considered one of the finest works made of bronze of the 12th century. It presents fragments of events described in the Bible and the life of St. Zenon. The whole consists of 48 fragments, recognized as a miracle of Italian art of their time.
The interior of the church consists of three levels: the crypt, in which there is a sarcophagus with relics of St. Zenon, church and presbytery with the main altar. In the church, it is worth paying special attention to the Gothic vaulting decorated with frescoes from the 13th and 14th centuries.
Next to the church (on its right side from the entrance), there is a 62-meter belfry. Its construction began in the year 1045 and ended in 1178. The bell tower has six bells (the oldest of them was cast in 1067). Although currently, there are only four of them still operating.
On the left side of the church, there is a Benedictine abbey. It can be accessed directly from the church. The abbey was founded in the 9th century, but most of the buildings were destroyed during the Napoleonic wars. Only original cloisters and a brick tower have survived to this day.
Walk along the Adige Riverbank
Walking through the streets of the old city of Verona, it is worth coming to the banks of the Adige River and looks at the city from a different perspective. Such a walk will also allow you to discover interesting things which are located on the other side of the river.
It is worth starting the walk with the Stone Bridge (Ponte Pietra), which has a similar history as the Scaligero Bridge described earlier.
The Stone Bridge was built in the 1st century BC. The bridge was seriously damaged several times as a result of floods. In the 13th century, a watchtower was built at the entrance to the bridge. As a result of hostilities and after the German army had blown up the bridge in 1945, only the original stone structures of the two pillars have survived to this day. Both are located on the left bank of the river
In 1959, the bridge was carefully rebuilt, and the reconstruction allowed it to recreate its original appearance.
On the other side of the Adige river, there are ruins of a Roman amphitheatre. There is also an archaeological museum and – on a small hill – the castle of San Pietro. Stairs lead up the hill.
Tips and Tricks
- You can also reach the castle hill by funicular – Funicolare di Castel S. Petro. Walking from the Old Town, after crossing the Stone Bridge – the ticket office is located on the left side of the bridge. Follow the Via Fontanelle S. Stefano. The cable car was built in 1939 but stopped driving at the end of World War II. It was forgotten for many years. Restored by the city council recently, only in 2017. The funicular covers a route of 159 meters long and 55 meters up. 25 people can get on board at once, but the 1-way journey takes less than 1 minute.
- The funicular is open daily except 25.12 and 01.01. In the summer months (April – October), it is open from 10.00 a.m. to 9.00 p.m. In the remaining months it is open from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. One-way ticket 1 Euro (about 1,1$), return ticket is 2 Euro (about 2,2$). You can read more about the funicular and its website at funicolarediverona.it
- On the hill, there is an amazing viewpoint, that allows seeing Verona from above. And Verona seen from this place looks beautiful! Local residents say that it is especially worth coming here to admire the city at the sunset.