Verona is famous throughout the world thanks, partly to an ancient love story: the poets tell of how Romeo and Juliet first met in these buildings, in the streets and in the courtyards of this city, and of how they then fell in love…… Let’s try to follow in their footsteps!
Let’s start out from the della Scala Tombs where a group of stone knights “narrate” this intense love story for us. Then we’ll pass by “Romeo’s house”, followed by “Juliet’s balcony” where we will dedicate a thought to her…… We’ll carry on towards the church of St. Fermo, and in the end we’ll reach the Fresco Museum at “Juliet’s Tomb” in the legendary place where our heroine was buried.
Lets meet up in a slightly more mysterious place just as few steps away from the Piazza dei Signori. This is the
This is actually the burial place, in Gothic style of the della Scala Lords. The most ancient graves are just
simple stone tombs
laid on the ground, while the more elaborate ones are made up of sarcophagi, each flanked by its own statue, an awning, and a truncated pyramid with a mounted statue of the prince on top.
The building of the three main mausoleums began after the death of Cangrande 1 della Scala in 1329, and his tomb is the one you can see above the porch of the Santa Maria Antica church, outside the railings. Beside that and inside the gate is the tomb of Mastino 11 della Scala, and this one is both more complex and also more richly decorated. On the opposite corner you will see the tomb of Cansignorio della Scala who really wanted to stand out beside all his relations, and this is why his tomb is literally swarming with famous people and curious features, to such an extent that it almost looks like a children’s merrygoround……. Maybe he overdid it a bit! (take note: the mounted statues of both Cangrande and Mastino are copies: the originals are kept in the Castelvecchio Museum as you will discover in Itinerary No 2.)
You might find it amazing to see a miniature cemetery containing such over-the-top monuments right next door to the windows of the palaces where the della Scala families lived! In fact is very rare to find a burial place right in the centre of a city, in the middle of all the houses. But the della Scala Lords deliberately chose to do this because they wanted to keep the memory of their great power alive in people’s minds even after their own deaths…….. do you think it worked? Works of art never go out of fashion! Unfortunately nowadays it isn’t always possible to go in past the railings so as to be able to see the tombs from close up. But that doesn’t stop you from being able to admire these bizarre constructions, and to appreciate their finer details. The
which surround the Tombs are an authentic masterpiece (refurbished and modernised in some places). The workmanship is called a “free mesh” which means that a series of circular rings are threaded together (embellished with the della Scala emblem and miniscule halberds) without actually anchoring them; much like the chain mail that Medieval knights used to wear. If you look carefully at the details, and also at the overall effect of these monuments then it is very obvious that the della Scala family really wanted to give a “lively” impression here…….. without resigning themselves to anything, least of all to their own deaths! There were other noble families living at the same time, all proudly convinced of their own importance in the city’s affairs, and animated by the same strong, passionate, and often violent feelings, which meant that duels and arguments were always happening. One of these conflicts in particular has made Verona famous throughout the world, and it seems to have occurred during the reign of Bartolomeo della Scala (1301-1304), older brother of Canrande 1: The love story between the beautiful daughter of the Capulet household, and the young son of their rivals, the Montegues. Maybe one of the people sculpted in the stonework there in front of you knows the secret details of this story, and can “narrate” his or her version of the story of
Romeo and Juliet.
Nobody knows whether these characters really existed, but whilst historians are doing their utmost to study the contemporary chronicles so as to discover the truth, the rest of the world is happy to just stop and dream after reading
, ’s magnificent verses, written at the end of the 16th century and telling this tragic story where love and friendship triumph over hatred and vendetta. Let’s leave the solitary horsemen of the burial tombs and, turning right at the corner of the railings we can go down Via Arche Scaligere which is just a bit further on, to the left. Here you will see a magnificent fortified building which, tradition has it, used once to be
Continuing along Via Arche, you will find yourself in Viviani Square; keep to the right and when you get to Piazza Erbe, turn left into Via Cappello…… does this name mean anything to you? A few steps further down and, on the left you will find an arched entrance which opens in to the courtyard adjacent to
Inside this smallish palace the rooms have been restored and furnished in the style appertaining to the epoch in which Romeo and Juliet were said to have lived: while on the outside, covering the walls of the house you will be amazed to see and read the
that all the modern “young lovers” have insisted upon leaving – thousands of messages, layer upon layer over the years…….. But wouldn’t it have been better to have used romantic cards?
As you exit from the courtyard adjacent to Juliet’s house you will find yourself back in Via Cappello. To get to our next stop you should turn left, and while you are walking we will tell you a bit about the road you are walking along. As you can see, Via Cappello is now an uninterrupted vista of fine shop windows, much frequented by both the Veronese and by tourists. What you might not know is that this road dates right back to Roman times when it was called the cardine massimo and was one of the two main streets running through the city. It linked the forum (what is now Piazza Erbe) to the city gate you are about to reach: called the
In Roman times this was one of the two main city gates ( the other one was the Borsari Gate), and it faced in a south-easterly direction where the cardine massimo finishes. Nowadays you can see a part of the façade, and, a bit further on, the foundations of one of the two tall monumental polygonal towers. If you want a more detailed idea of what the gate actually looked like when it was built (during the 1st century a.d.) then you can look at the two explanatory sheets situated inside the
(the arched opening) which show the gate in its original form, and with the surviving parts marked in red.
Porta Leone has always been very much admired, especially during the Renaissance times when it was copied by a number of artists who were all impressed by the harmony of its proportions and by the refined artwork used to decorate it. What do you think? Do you like it? Who knows if Romeo and Juliet stopped to look at it, and maybe even confided their secrets to each other under the shade of this antique arch!
Before we go on, if you’re not too tired, then how about dedicating just a few more minutes’ attention to this gate of ours: we’ll let you in on a secret! If you look at the façade sideways on, then you will be able to see that there is a narrow
that separates the external layer made out of white stone from another older internal façade made out of bricks and white “tufo” stone. The “new” façade was built during the 1st century a.d. and behind it is hidden the much older gate which belonged to the city wall built a century earlier! Here’s a sticky problem for you to find the answer to….. You must certainly have noticed that the Gate is quite a long way beneath the present-day level of the road….. and this means then that the mean level of the city must have risen over the course of the centuries. Can you explain how this could have happened?
Now we can carry on with our itinerary, in search of other clues left by Romeo and Juliet. After the Lion Gate walk on towards the river Adige which flows not far away, and to your right, before you get to the bridge called Ponte Navi (the Ships’ Bridge) you will see one Verona’s most beautiful and most important churches. This is
San Fermo Maggiore.
The part you can see from Ponte Navi (bridge) is actually the rearward side of the church; the opposite end to the façade. St. Fermo is a combination of two quite different architectural styles: the Romanesque (comprising the bell tower, the façade, the lower apse and the underside of the upper apse), and the Gothic. The characteristic feature of the façade is the alternating rows of white tufo stone and red bricks. Can you think of any other Veronese buildings which have the same “zebra-like” stripes?
If you fancy taking a look at the inside of the church then go in through the side door and look upwards at the magnifice
cthat dates back to the first half of the fourteenth century. Notice the important central nave which stands without either supporting columns or pillars, and this is a typical feature of Franciscan churches. There are thousands of details here worth exploring, and we suggest that at the very least you take a good look at the frescos for which the church of St. Fermo is rightfully famous. There are two
(one above the door you came through and the other above the main door), the Scenes, which illustrate episodes in the life of Saint Francis, the Angels giving praise and especially the fresco “signed” by Pisanello, and which surrounds the
funereal monument by Nicolò Brenzoni
: an Annunciation. Look closely at the figures portrayed: a Prophet (in the centre), the archangels Raphael and Michael (each side), God the Father (on high, inside a pink cloud) who is sending the Baby Jesus (in a smaller cloud) down to Earth. There is the Virgin Mary who is hearing the news of her coming maternity from the Archangel Gabriel. If you want to play a game, then you could try counting how many, and which kinds of animals Pisanello has hidden within his painting.
Why don’t you go down just for a quick look at the lower church which is the oldest part of the whole building. The surroundings are far simpler here, and more austere than in the upper church, but it is very evocative!
Now, take a leap backwards into the past and imagine that you can hear the soft footsteps of Juliet; the rustle of her dress. Maybe she stopped here to pray, and perhaps she used to dream of celebrating her marriage to Romeo in a place such as this!
Lets leave the church now and walk all the way along Stradone San Fermo, a wide road that is lined with historic and aristocratic buildings, in order to get to Juliet’s tomb, the last stage on our route. The sarcophagus which, according to the legend contains her body, is housed inside the ancient monastic complex called San Francesco al Corso, and which is nowadays used as a
dedicated to Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle. Once inside the Museum, cross the garden and go down to the small crypt where you will find a small red marble urn……. it is a highly evocative place! Stop here for a moment and allow yourself to be caught up in the atmosphere that has been built up around
If you look carefully at the marble surface, especially on the edges, then you will notice that they are very irregular: Many little fragments have been broken off during the course of the years and taken away as souvenirs, or even good luck charms to be worn in a locket!
Even if Romeo and Juliet didn’t actually exist, yet they have given the world the everlasting myth of a love that could still win through, even against time and death.
Our “pilgrimage” following the footprints of Romeo and Juliet ends here: we advise you to finish your visit to the Fresco Museum by walking up to the upper rooms where you can admire the
which adorned so many of the Veronese houses during the centuries when it was renowned for being the “painted city”. There are also beautiful and important
housed in the former church of St. Francis. Finally, go outside and enjoy a well-earned rest in the peace and quiet of the small
outside the Museum……. we will be looking forward to seeing you for another day together visiting beautiful Verona!