Tuesday, August 21, 2007

July 2007 - Verona, Italy - Romantic Enough for Romeo

From Perugia we headed north east into the Veneto region to the city of Verona most famous for being the birthplace of Italian opera and its master Giuseppe Verdi and the setting for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. So our first stop was the alleged home of Juliet Capulet. Local lore says that this is the balcony that inspired Shakespeare's famous scene. Couples from all over the world come here and write their names on the walls of the entrance to this small villa. They also tie locks to the gates to show their undying bonds. Overall the scene was cute but very cliche with Japanese women throwing themselves over the edge of the balcony while their husbands took pictures from below.
From Juliet's house, we headed to Piazza dell'Erbe which is the town's center square housing an open air market and many restaurants surrounded by colorful buildings and medieval church towers.
These stall owners are in a constant struggle with the city's permanent residents who would like to be able to use their square without being overrun by peddlers of tourist trinkets and other over-priced, unauthentic Italian products.
This Piazza dates back to Roman times although the current buildings and fountains are from the Renaissance.
Behind Casandra is a tower which dates back to the Middle Ages and the lion sitting atop the column dates back to 1405 when the Venetians conquered this city and put up the lion as their symbol.
This fountain has bubbled here since Roman times (about 2,000 years) although a sculptor in the Renaissance added a new head and arms and restored the fountain. This is now considered Verona's Madonna. She holds a banner saying, "I want justice and I bring peace."

The Piazza is all geared up for tourists and here you can see a couple dressed like a gilded Romeo & Juliet offering to take pictures for money.

Next to Piazza dell'Erbe is a small piazza dedicated to Dante Alighieri and housing the government buildings.
Here is Dante with Dante and behind them is the yellowish, Romanesque 12th century Palazzo della Ragione used to govern Verona by the della Scala family. Dante's statute stands here because he was granted asylum in Verona after being expelled from Florence for criticizing the Catholic Church in his Divine Comedy. In this courtyard we saw the impressive Renaissance staircase leading nowhere really but it does look amazing in pink marble next to the striped Torre dei Lamberti.
The tower dates back to the 13th century and now houses a museum below and lookout platforms above. Originally, this was part of the government buildings used by the Scala family.

While Piazza Erbe is beautiful and quaint encircled by pastel buildings, Piazza Bra is its big and loud counterpart. These 2 squares add amazing color and romantic feel to Verona making us feel like we had been transported back in time.
Piazza Bra leads to the chic shopping area which connects it to Piazza Erbe.
Piazza Bra also houses the Roman amphitheater discussed below.
This giant theater dominates the huge square and no one can walk by it without taking at least one picture. It really grabs your attention standing in this square just like it did 2,000 years ago.
Piazza Bra has a hustle and bustle about it that we love and expect from large Italian squares. People come to this large square to eat, socialize, nap on the garden walls, wait for buses and admire the theater.

After a hectic day of sightseeing we stopped at a wine bar near Piazza Bra to try some local white wines. We love pinot bianco, tocai and sauvignon from the Veneto region.
We went to the Roman arena located in Piazza Bra to see the opera La Boheme. Summer is opera season in Verona and the arena is packed every night (mainly with tourists and fancy Italians) watching first rate productions primarily composed by Verdi.
The arena is an eliptical 466 ft by 400 ft amphitheater which was the 3rd largest in the Roman world. It dates back to the 1st century and it has been amazingly well preserved and restored many times throughout the years.
The acoustics of the arena are so perfect that the singers do not use microphones and instead rely on their voices loudly and clearly bouncing off the marble theater.
The opera had an enormous cast and they put on a spectacular show with top-rate singing, some pyrotechnics, and a magical orchestra the members of which sit lowered into the floor on cushions in order to provide the audience with the best possible view. The exterior of the arena is covered in a pink marble which gives it an amazing twinkling effect.
After the show we went out for some gelato on Piazza Bra and could not resist taking one more picture of the lit up arena. You can see the pink marble glowing in the background.

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