Benvenuto a Verona!
After a long bus ride to our next hotel, we began a historical walking tour of Verona. At first glance, you can already see stark differences with Milan. Where Milan is modern and paved, most of Verona is historic and cobblestone. This city is also significantly smaller than Milan, and is full of small stores rather than large branded mansions like Prada and Gucci. Here there is also no duomo since the Roman influences are more prevalent in the structure of the city. Roman influence and ruins are actually everywhere. Upon walking into the city, you walk through gates left from the Roman walls that used to fortify the area against invasion. The streets are all perpendicular and oriented either north to south or west to east like all Roman cities.
Less than a block through the Porta Nuova by the hotel, stands the original arena, in better shape than the Colosseum of Rome, still hosting shows during Opera week with 72 entrances. Historically, plebeians entered through 68 of those archways into the lowest level of the galleries, patricians entered through two archways into their own galleries, and the gladiators would enter through the remaining two into the sand pit after which arenas are named. Each archway was numbered in Roman numerals on the outer facade of the building, which unfortunately almost entirely collapsed during an earthquake. The people of Verona would use stone tickets to enter the arena and their seats to watch the killing of Roman criminals and the fighting of gladiators. The fate of those who lost were decided by the crowds, who would indicate with a thumbs down that the loser should survive, though they still had to exit in shame through the opposite door to the one from which they came in. This arena is so large that the entire population of Verona was welcomed to watch all spectacles free of charge.
Surprisingly, though, the central city of Verona that existed in these times is very small. Despite the small size, you can find the actual house of the Cappeletti family, where the presumed true story of Romeo Monticoli and Giulietta Cappeletti happened and many years later inspired Shakespeare’s famous play, Romeo and Juliet. You can also see the large tombs of the ruling Scala family. There is also a statue of Dante, the famous Italian author, who lived in Verona for a time, and a lion statue that represents the presence of the Venetians who conquered Verona.
Sprinkled throughout the newer buildings (only 1000 years old instead of 2000 like the arena and Roman ruins) are interesting little plaques that mark a line and a year, forever reminding the people of water levels during the many floods in Verona’s past, which could reach varying levels depending on location in the city and cause of the flood.
A short ways away from the orderly streets of the city and along the river, you can find the large, colorful palace that once housed the powerful Scala family. It was specifically built away from the village itself so that the ruler of the time, who was not particularly loved by the people, could protect himself and escape if necessary. In a twist of fate, he was murdered before completion of the castle, not by a scheming subject, but by his younger brother, who wanted power for himself. The bridge that leaves this castle and crosses the river feeding into the city is impressive and also matches the stone of the palace. Interestingly enough, it looks newer than the stone of the palace because it was washed in the river after the bridge was destroyed by the Germans in World War II. These same bricks were fished out to reconstruct the original bridge, but the time they spent in the fast-flowing alpine river made them cleaner and therefore brighter than the untouched stones of the rest of the structure.
All of this history, evident even in the organization of the streets and squares, has me awed. It gives Verona a very different feel from the international bustle and city atmosphere of Milan. I look forward to spending some time here, eating the local Bigoli, finding flood level plaques, practicing my Roman numeral skills, and exploring the smaller town for more Roman remnants and influences. I hope the weather holds up!
Buona festa della mamma!