This afternoon we visited our fourth Italian city, Verona. This city was made famous as the location where Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet takes place, but in fact has a history dating back to the Romans. The city is very different in architecture from Milan because the buildings pick architectural style from all different eras, sometimes all shown on the same building. Like Milan, the city was largely controlled by a single Italian family, in Verona’s case it was the Scaliger family, but the city was ruled by many other governments, most significantly the Republic of Venice. To address the theme of Verona in a global environment, Verona faces the issue of maintaining an appearance for the tourists, upon which much of its economy depends, but environmental factors and economic factors are making it difficult to keep appearance historically accurate.
Because of its geographical location, Verona has developed differently from Milan under the hands of several governing powers. Verona was founded by the Romans at the crossroads of a highway going from Milan to Venice and another highway leading from Rome to the north. The streets of the inner city to this day reflect the checkerboard style of cities founded by the romans. Following the fall of the Roman empire, the city was ruled by the Venetians, the French for a brief time, and the Austro-Hungarians. Unlike Milan, Verona was never the capital of its own city-state, that is it was always answering to a governing state in another location. As a result, the culture of Verona is more varied as it had more influences than Milan. These influences are reflected more clearly in the architecture around the city. Below is a picture from a courtyard; its windows are in Roman, gothic, renaissance, and Austro-Hungarian styles. In Milan, it was common to see modern buildings right next to semi-modern buildings, but in Verona it is easy to see ancient buildings right next to medieval right next to Renaissance. Historically, each ruler of the city would tear down the statues and buildings that offended them, but today it is forbidden to alter the buildings in the city. As a result and unlike Milan, there are no modern buildings, resulting in a more beautiful scene, in my opinion.
Milan, Verona, and Florence are all similar in that they were ruled by powerful families during the Renaissance period. For Florence, the Medici family commissioned artists of the Renaissance and thus encouraged expression and the arts. In Milan, the Sforza and Visconti families controlled the city using their vast wealth, but also gave back to the city with plazas, cathedrals, and statues. In Verona, the Scaliger family occupied the roles of dukes and lords, constructing palaces, plazas, and the like. The mark of the Scaliger family can still be seen in the city, even though Napoleon tried to destroy the Lion sigil of the Scaliger family when he conquered northern Italy around 1800. Thus the major Italian cities all have lasting marks from wealthy Renaissance dynasties.
Verona has several entertainment buildings across the city that were constructed for the populous, and these are still in use for special events. Near the beginning of our tour we saw the colosseum in the Piazza Bra. Our tour guide told us that she used to see bands like Pink Floyd perform in the colosseum when she was younger, and even now pop stars make the Verona colosseum a stop on their tours. Later in the tour we looked across the Adige river to the amphitheater on the cliffside, which too is still used for performances of Shakespeare in the summertime. In Milan, we did not see sites on the scale of a colosseum that were offered by the government to entertain the people. The only thing that came close was La Scala opera house, but this was more for the fortune of the aristocrats than the common people. Thus Verona gives me the sense that the rulers of this city had more care for their subjects than the rulers of Milan did. Furthermore, Verona has taken care to preserve these thousand-year-old constructions for use by the public today.
Addressing the theme of global issues facing Verona, the city is struggling to preserve the historical accuracy of the buildings due to global climate change and private citizens. A result of the Renaissance influence on Verona is fresco paintings of the exterior walls of buildings in Verona. Our tour guide explained to us that many of these frescos are in danger of being lost forever because uninhibited sunlight is causing the colors to fade. Even in the last twenty years or so, as the ozone layer has depleted, sunlight has damaged several of Verona’s frescos beyond restorability. Furthermore, the historical commissions of Verona have imposed rules on homeowners in the city that they cannot alter the exterior of the houses they own. However, many people have altered the insides of these houses resulting in lost art, architecture and culture. Thus private citizens are posing a threat to the tourism economy of Verona. In some ways, Verona needs to balance the needs of its citizens with its requirements to attract tourists, and this is getting harder to do as factors outside of their control, like the environment, begin to affect the art around the city.
Examining the differences between Milan and Verona, it is easier to see why Milan is the business capital of Italy and Verona focuses more on tourism. Each city’s geographical location contributed to the list of governments who controlled each city, and the history of the governments that controlled each city resulted in different cultural influences. Today, Verona must try to preserve its past despite adverse environmental and economic conditions, while Milan continues to build toward a successful future.