We Next Play Verona...

From Venice it is north to Verona in search of Shakespeare's most famous play: 'Romeo & Juliet'.

We Next Play Verona...

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Liam Hetherington on February 24, 2007

Verona is a bustling and modern city in the Veneto. However, amongst the plush shops stand relics of its earlier incarnations. The Piazza Bra is dominated by the third largest arena of the Roman Empire, to the west is the (sadly graffiti-stained) Arco dei Gavi, and across the Roman Ponte Pietra to the north-east is the old Roman theatre, with an archaeological museum perching above in an old convent.

The middle ages saw the city come under the command of Pepin the Short's Franks, and then the ruthless Scaligeri clan who invested in the arts. Giotto and Dante were guests, and relics of their time remain, with their tombs (the Arche Scaligeri), palace, the 83m tall Torre dei Lamberti, the stripey duomo, and the Castelvecchio. The town then came under Venetian rule - the lion of St Mark looms over the Madonna of Verona in the Piazza delle Erbe.

Verona's fame chiefly lies in the stories of a certain Mr William Shakespeare though. He set the comedy 'The Two Gentlemen Of Verona' here, as well as his most famous tragedy - 'Romeo and Juliet'. Although the characters were fictional, their families were big cheeses in Renaissance Verona, and a number of sites have been established to try to tie in to the story - principally the Casa di Giulietta on Via Cappello, which has become a shrine for lovers and romantics.${QuickSuggestions} The town's tourist attractions do tend to shut down in the off-season. I went in late November and found the Torre Lamberti and the Arche Scaligeri closed for renovation.

The Piazza delle Erbe is lovely for a browse amongst the stalls. I found that they sold much the same souvenirs as in Venice - but cheaper. The fountain of Madonna Verona in the centre is lovely. You can progress to the frescoed Loggia del Consiglio along a passage over which hangs the rib of a whale. Legend has it that the rib will fall should an adult virgin walk beneath it.

The arena is a must for families travelling with kids, as they can get the energy out of their systems by scrambling over the seating area. The Teatro Romano across the stunning Ponte Pietra is just as beautiful, and the museum holds good exhibits. Best of all, you get the picture-postcard view of the bridge and old town.

Finally, I really would recommend an evening meal at Alla Colonna - unfancy, tasty local food in convivial surroundings and at a rock-bottom price. And as the Veneto is famous for its wines, it really wouldn't hurt to sample a vintage or two...${BestWay} Verona is ideally situated for touring the Veneto of north-eastern Italy. A rail line links - at half hour intervals - Verona with Vicenza, famous for its Palladian architecture, Padova, with its Basilica of St Anthony and the luminous Giotto frescos in the Capella degli Scrovegni, and many-storied Venice. Trains are regular, frequent, clean and cheap - reckon on €6 for each section of the journey.

It is a bit of a trek from the train station up past the Porta Nuova and along Corso Porta Nuova to the main entrance to the medieval town at Portoni della Bra, but easily walkable with a backpack. The heart of the town, enclosed in a loop of the Adige probably only occupies an area of half a kilometer by half a kilometre and is easily walkable. Indeed, a large area is pedestrianised. Across the river it is a steep climb up to Castel San Pietro however.

Trattoria alla Colonna

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Liam Hetherington on February 24, 2007

Recommended in my Rough Guide, I was surprised to find Trattoria alla Colonna empty. My shock was abated before long. Within an hour of my arrival the restaurant was heaving with groups of local friends, all of whom seemed to know each other, with just a few fellow tourists watching the hubbub. Marvelously, although the staff seemed to be on first name terms with half the diners, this did not mean a diminution of service towards the skinny Brit in the corner.

Food here is simple, tasty, and incredible value for money. What the trattoria lacks in frills, it makes up for in atmosphere. For instance take the wine. Verona sits at the heart of the Veneto wine region, famous for its soave, valpolicella, and bardolino. I ordered a carafe of the house white. It came, keg-drawn, in a flower-vase sized carafe. No bottle, no label, but a damn tasty soave. So much so that I ordered a second. Again, take the decor. The trattoria sits in one of the most scenic parts of old Verona. The interior walls have had a mural stencilled on, depicting ivy, columns, and cracked plaster 'revealing' the (painted on) brickwork beneath. However, this artwork can only be seen in patches as the walls groan with assorted trinkets from innumerable years supporting the local football team, AC Verona, in their topsy-turvy strivings (for more info on AC Verona, read Tim Parks' 'A Season With Verona'). This seems typical of the enthusiasm exhibited here.

Looking at the €13 set menu I opted for a starter of penne arrabbiata, the sauce thick and spicy. For my main course I forebore from choosing the donkey (!) and went instead for the veal escalope. This was a good chunky piece of meat, set off well by the veg it was served with. With the meal hardly breaking the budget I ordered dessert. Tiramisu, beloved of all '90s dinner parties, originated in this part of the world, and the wonderful squidgy slice they brought me was oozing with potent marsala. It was also a much heftier slice than I was expecting for the price!

So, all-in-all, I had a ridiculously tasty, unfussy three course meal with wine for about €18 or £12. In Venice the only restaurant that warranted a five-star rating from me was a fancy, high-class, adventurous, expensive one. Here, Verona proves that it can reach those heights with good service, budget prices, and good local cuisine without the garnish!

I arrived at 7:45pm to find the place empty. By 9 it was almost full. Come early or book ahead—it serves until two in the morning. It is closed on Sundays.
Trattoria alla Colonna
Largo Peschiera Vecchia, 4
Verona, Italy, 37121
+39 045596718

Bella Napoli

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Liam Hetherington on February 24, 2007

Bella Napoli reflects the cuisine of Naples in its cuisine if not its location. The pizzeria stretches back deeply from its entrance on a relative backstreet to the west of Corso Porta Nuove. It is not the best place for privacy or intimacy. It is a large hall of a building with only a few columns, and tables are packed in, creating a cafeteria-like atmosphere. The noisy clientele is mostly comprised of locals aged 16-29. The only customers much older were either in family parties, or had American accents.

Not that this should put you off a visit. Here they take their pizza seriously, and have a full menu of varieties you can order. The dough comes in the Neapolitan style, shallow and crunchy, but they do not stint on the mozzarella and other toppings. The ingredients even taste fresh. They have an alcohol license, though drinks run more to beers such as Peroni and Carlsberg than to wines.

One word for the wise. Do not finish your meal and sit back expecting the waiter to catch your eye and bring your bill. Take your receipt to the cash register by the entrance and pay there.

So, to conclude. Bella Napoli is a noisy, heaving barn of a place, popular with the locals. And for a low-cost and tasty lunch you really cannot beat the pizzas served there. Try it; you'll thank me!
Bella Napoli
Via Marconi 11
+39 045 8069182

Caffe Bar Pasticceria Barini

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Liam Hetherington on March 27, 2007

Over fifty years old, the Caffe Bar Pasticceria Barini is the best of both worlds. Want somewhere traditional? The woodwork and steaming coffee machines evoke la dolce vita. Want somewhere modern? Those machines are the height of technology, and their website (www.pasticceriabarini.it) handles Internet and overseas sales. Want somewhere that caters to locals? Check out the sharply-suited patrons enjoying a stand-up shot of espresso on their way into work. Want somewhere that caters to tourists? Their delicious confections are perfect to take home as presents for friends.

Heading up Corso Porta Nuova, the cafe bar Barini is on the left, just before the Portoni della Bra. I was lured in by the hoarding outside advertising their confections, but found the place busy with local office-workers hastily downing coffees whilst they flicked through the papers. With the wooden worktop and gaggias busily percolating in their clouds of aromatic steam it looked, sounded, and most importantly "smelled" like the archetypal Italian cafe.

It was the sweets I had come in for. For the office I bought a mixed bag of 'Baci di Romeo' (kisses of Romeo) and 'Baci di Giulietta' (kisses of Juliet). These were small meringue-type affairs held together by a paste of chocolate and cream (in the case of the baci di Romeo) or chocolate and hazlenut (for the baci di Giulietta). The staff were more than happy to wrap these up in a bag for me to take back home. They sell by weight, charging €11 for half a kilo. And they did go down well in the office, the nut-free Romeos marginally better than the Juliets.

Or if you cannot make it to Verona yourself, you can place orders over the Internet on their (English) website www.pasticceriabarini.it.
Caffe Bar Pasticceria Barini
Corso Porta Nuova 8
Verona, Italy
+39 045 8030449

L'Arena di Verona

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Liam Hetherington on March 1, 2007

Entering Verona through the Portoni della Bra you cannot miss the massive arena that dominates the Piazza. Built during the first century AD this was allegedly the third largest of all Roman amphitheatres (only beaten by the Colisseum in Rome, and that in the Imperial playground of Capua); personally I'm convinced that the amphitheatre ar Djem in Tunisia is larger, but not according to my guidebook! In actual fact the arena seems quite low and hulking at first glance - you need to enter it to truly appreciate its size. And while you cannot miss the arena it is quite easy to miss the entrance - follow the wall clockwise, and not anti-clockwise!

A ticket is €3.10, and is a must if you have children - they will love the opportunity to clamber around the 44 tiers of stepped seating and circumnavigate the arena. Just watch them carefully when you are at the top-most level, as I wouldn't class the precautions against plummeting over the edge as overly secure.

Don't be surprised to find the arena still in use. Nowadays there are no gladiators and wild beasts, the acts that used to pull in around 20 000 bloodthirsty spectators. Instead an opera festival takes place here every July and August. The bill may vary, but there is always a production of Verdi's Aida. www.arena.it should be able to give you an idea of what is in store. At other times of the year they often have other theatrical performances - and maybe even the odd Shakespeare! (The other principal site for drama is the Teatro Romano across the Adige to the north-east).

You can also get some fabulous views from the top of the arena over the old town's roofs towards the scaffolding-swathed Torre Lamberti, and the mountains beyond).
L'Arena di Verona
Piazza Bra
Verona, Italy, 37121
+39 (045) 8003204

Area Archeologica del Teatro Romano

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Liam Hetherington on March 1, 2007

Crossing the spectacularly scenic Ponte Pietra, with the River Adige foaming beneath, takes you to the area of Veronetta. Built into a hill crowned by the Austrian Castel San Pietro is a wonderfully-preserved Roman theatre, a more cultured alternative to the baying mobs that frequented the arena. The theatre is a focal point to the area and can be best admired from the walkway along the parapets on the far side of the river.

€4 allows access to the theatre and the archaeological museum above it. From the ticket office (tucked away just around the corner on Redentore - careful crossing the busy road), you enter into the 'orchestra,' the semi-circular area at the base of the seating. Coloured marble flooring still remains. The stage is to your left with the river and the medieval town beyond forming a beautiful backdrop. Originally the stage was framed - a pit remains which held the winches that raised and lowered the curtains. The theatre dates from the first century BC, predating the arena by a century. However, during the middle ages the theatre was built over with houses and churches, and it was not until the area was bought by a merchant in the 19th-century that demolition and excavation could take place.

One building that was not removed is the Church of Saints Siro and Libera which overhangs the seating area (or 'cavea') to stage right. Legend has it that the first ever mass in Verona was celebrated in this theatre, whereupon mass-conversions to Christianity took place. The church was founded in the tenth century and remains in good nick, though with more modern (14th century) modifications.

Climbing up through the renovated seating area leads to an elevator in the rock face. This takes you up to the former Gesuati Convent of San Jerome, which has now provided a spaciously laid-out and well-lit archaeological museum. There are boards on the walls which describe what you are looking at - exhibits range from exquisite white statues of aristocrats and gods to smaller funerary and religious tokens, and some lovely mosaic floors. These are all laid out in the former monastic cells and communal areas such as the refectory. For anyone with a passion for Roman history and archeology the museum, though small, is a must.

The museum and theatre complex opens at 8.30am, though when I went in the afternoon it was practically deserted giving me the solitude to enjoy what I was looking at. It closes at 7pm, though the ticket office closes at 6.45pm. On Mondays it is open only in the afternoon. Also, during peak tourist season it often holds plays in the evening. The Two Gentlemen of Verona seems to feature often for some reason!
Area archeologica del teatro romano
Rigaste Redentore, 2
Verona, Italy, 37121
+39 0458000360

Wherefore Art Thou Romeo?

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Liam Hetherington on March 27, 2007

If Verona is famous for one thing, it is the story of the two 'star-cross'd lovers' Romeo and Juliet. Offspring of two feuding families (the Montagues and Capulets respectively) their ill-fated love results in their tragic death, but peace between the two households. If I've given away the ending there, I apologise. The story has influenced many things, and has been represented in the movies in different ways, from the pastels of Zeferelli's production to the kinetic hyperactivity of Baz Luhrman's 1990s version set in 'Verona Beach, California' and to the technicolor dance sequences of Leonard Bernstein's 'West Side Story'.

The man who made the story famous was of course William Shakespeare, a provincial English merchant and playwright. Despite theories that he was a roving spy in the service of Queen Elizabeth there is no evidence that he ever visited Italy. However, this north-eastern corner of the country saw more than its fair share of his plays - Verona has 'The Two Gentlemen of Verona' as well as R&J. Venice has its infamous Merchant, and also features in Othello. Romeo is banished to Mantua. And 'The Taming Of the Shrew' is set in Padua.

Shakespeare was widely-read however, and tended to 'borrow' plots from other writers. The basic storyline of Romeo and Juliet he took from Luigi da Porto, a native of Vicenza just down the road. Maybe it is a sign of the pervasive influence of English / American culture that Shakespeare is commemorated throughout Verona, whilst poor old da Porto barley gets a look in. Indeed the two featured families, the Capuleti and Montecchi, did exist. There is no clear evidence that these two clans did feud, but the internecine conflict in Renaissance Italy makes it possible if not likely. However, the story of Romeo and Juliet (Giulietta in Italian) seems to be entirely fictitious. It is important to bear that in mind if you are touring Verona in the hope of tracking down the sites associated with the lovers.

Yet there is power in a myth. One only has to view the love notes at the 'Casa di Giulietta' (23, Via Capello) to see that. This has become one of Verona's premier tourist attractions. Off a busy shopping street an archway leads into a courtyard. The house did indeed belong to the Capuleti family, and it even has a balcony, so it is no wonder the association was made. However, the traditional version of Romeo hidden in a garden seems more credible than him stood right outside the front door of his mortal enemies, as he would have had to here.

The archway is wallpapered with scraps of paper, prayers from modern-day romantics come here to beg the blessing of the two famous lovers. In the courtyard there is a bronze statue of Juliet. Her right breast has been burnished by the hands of thousands of visitors. The balcony above was fashioned in the medieval period from an even older stone sarcophagus. Now how's that for dramatic irony? You can enter the building for €3.10, though I didn't bother. It is open from 9am to 7.30pm, Tuesday through Sunday, and from 1.30pm on Monday afternoons.

So, if Juliet 'lived' here, what about Romeo? A couple of streets away a private residence at 4, Via Arche Scaligere has been designated as his domicile. As I say, it is private, so other than a sign on the wall there is nothing much to see. But at least Shakespeare was right - there is a plaque on both their houses... (I'm sorry... I'm truly sorry...)

One other location of note is the Tomba di Giulietta (Tomb of Juliet), well-south of the centre in the cloister of San Francesco al Corso. It is closed on Mondays, but otherwise costs €2.60.

For die-hard fans there is one further site you might care to visit for completeness-sake. An hour-away by train is the city of Vicenza. A plaque on the wall of 15, Contra Porti makes the house in which Luigi da Porto died in 1529. On the way to Verona's train station pass under the Portoni della Bra. To the right you might see a musing Shakespeare warning you, in Romeo's words:

"There is no world outside Verona walls,
But purgatory, torture, hell itself.
Hence banished is banish’d from the world,
And world’s exile is death…"


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