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…"