The Admired Beauties of Verona

The perfect distance from which to view an opera

The perfect distance from which to view an opera

It’s most likely that William Shakespeare set the play which is arguably his most beautiful and indisputably his most romantic in the city of Verona without ever having seen the place.

But if you didn’t know that it’s easy to visit this quiet, surreally stage-like setting and understand exactly why Shakespeare decided that Romeo and Juliet had to play out their tragic story in this still very beautiful and preserved city.

That’s partially because Verona trades on the fame of the play and has even successfully nominated one of its balconies as the official site of the famous exchange between the lovers during which Juliet laments that Romeo should be born a Montague while Romeo insists that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

In fact the balcony and requisite house to which it’s attached, fictionally the Capulet family home, is a bit of a letdown taken on its own. Enough visitors have been sufficiently disrespectful that the wall and area is irretrievably damaged by graffiti and the house itself proposes itself as a museum of disconnected artifacts from the Renaissance era and, incongruously, the Zeffirelli movie treatment of the star-crossed lovers. Never-the-less it needs to be on the pilgrimage to Verona along with Romeo’s house and the little piazzas and fountains in between, any of which can stand in nicely in the imagination of the willing tourist for the scene of the fatal clash between Romeo and Tybalt, Juliet’s hot-headed cousin.

Vandals - a curse on both their houses.

Vandals – a curse on both their houses.

The spell is rarely broken in Verona which within its ancient walls presents monuments and churches and residences from the Roman era to rarely later than the Renaissance, the highlight of which is the gently crumbling but still intact and in-use arena. The Roman amphitheatre was completed in the first century AD and it’s been in operation more or less consistently ever since. These days its ideal elliptical shape is employed to stage elaborate operas including; this summer at the end of August and beginning of September; Romeo and Juliet.

To avoid disappointment or having to sit through an entire opera, you might want to do what I did and take in the opera from the piazza in front of the arena into which selected productions are broadcast in the evening. Frankly, a summer evening with a friend who shares a passion for beauty over a Compare and soda, listening to opera from a safe distance while drinking in one of the most beautiful piazzas in the world is, for me, a decidedly larger evening than any opera. Incidentally if you choose to do this note that there’s a risk that you won’t be able to see the arena from the inside — typically visiting hours are restricted during the opera season.

Verona’s persistent place at the crossroads of European history has left it with an enormous architectural legacy, including the Castelvecchio, unmissable because of its dual roles as keeper of the some of the city’s vast trust of art and as multi-tentacled protector of Verona, with ramparts and tunnels and arches and archers’ loopholes and its own bridge over the inner-city Adige river, which affords stunning views of the castle and surroundings.

Internal Verona, like the ostentatiously endowed 12th century Verona Cathedral and the Basilica of St Zeno, is almost its own separate destination and will keep the most energetic tourist occupied for a very satisfying visit. But Verona’s most hypnotic charm is on full display, outside, all the time, in the form of the arena, the Piazza del Erbe and its 14 century tower, the Giardino Giusti renaissance garden of organic and marble art, and the Porta Borsari Roman gate which dates from the 2nd century AD and which you can still reach out and touch. And more compelling and beautiful than any of that, the silent, narrow, echoing streets of fair Verona herself.

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