Verona, Italy is perhaps best known as the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. City officials have taken full advantage of the free marketing, and shops sell everything from love locks and t-shirts to pastries named after the characters. Juliet’s “house” even has a balcony where tourists can reenact the famous scene. But there are much more interesting things to do in Verona. The ancient city is remarkably well preserved, with many Roman and medieval structures still standing. Most impressive of these are a 1st century arena and a 12th century bell tower, both of which you can enter. One day in Verona is enough to explore the major attractions in the UNESCO-listed old town. But the cobbled alleys and colorful architecture are so charming you won’t want to leave!
Arena di Verona
The Verona Arena is a 2,000-year-old Roman amphitheater that is still in use today. Every summer its marble seats are packed for the Verona Opera Festival, which draws some of the biggest names in the industry. (Maria Callas was a regular performer in the 1940s and ’50s.) Performances sell out well in advance so you will definitely need to plan ahead. There is also a strict dress code for the evening shows. It’s much more casual during the day, when visitors can wander around the arena and walk in the footsteps of ancient gladiators. If you want to see what an opera performance here is like, check out this excellent guide by blogger Rossi Writes.
Torre dei Lamberti
Lamberti Tower is an 84-meter-high bell tower that dates back to the 12th century. Its two largest bells were used to summon the City Council and to warn the citizens of dangers such as fire and attack. You can climb the 368 stairs to the top or pay an extra euro to use the modern glass elevator. Once at the top you will be rewarded with 360-degree views of beautiful Verona.
Note that the last admission is 45 minutes before the tower closes. I didn’t realize this and showed up after the ticket sellers had closed up shop. After begging and pleading, the kind ladies let me up because I was holding a Verona Card that could easily be scanned. I don’t always buy these kinds of tourist passes, but in this case it was definitely worth it. And a big “grazie!” to the ladies who took pity on me that day.
Piazza delle Erbe
Lamberti Tower is located in Piazza della Erbe, the historical heart of Verona. Site of the ancient Roman Forum, the plaza has hosted the city’s produce and herb market for centuries. The buildings facing the square include the Town Hall and mansions of once-powerful families. The St Mark’s Lion watches over one end, a monument to the Republic of Venice which ruled Verona for nearly 300 years. Don’t miss the fountain in the center of the plaza. It’s topped with a Roman sculpture called the “Madonna Verona” that dates to the 4th century.
Duomo di Verona
Verona Cathedral was first consecrated in the 4th century but the current magnificent structure dates the the early 1100s. A portion of the original mosaic floor can still be seen today. The interior features pink marble columns and colorful frescoes on the walls. The baptismal font was carved from a single piece of marble and is covered in reliefs depicting biblical scenes.
Basilica di Sant’Anastasia
The Basilica of Saint Anastasia was constructed by the Dominican order in the 13th century. Its unassuming brick facade gives way to a prism of light and color on the inside. The painted ceiling is supported by twelve pink marble columns spread across three aisles. At the entrance, visitors are greeted by two hunchback sculptures bearing basins of holy water. Every detail is exquisite, from the marble inlaid floor to the frescoes and marble reliefs adorning the walls.
Casa di Giulietta
Lastly we come to Juliet’s House, Verona’s tackiest tourist attraction. Juliet Capulet is a fictional character, but that didn’t stop the city from finding the place where she supposedly lived. The house in question once belonged to the similarly named Cappello family and dates to the 13th century. The balcony is a 20th century addition. A bronze statue of Juliet stands beneath the balcony and tourists line up to grab her breast, supposedly for luck. The walls of the courtyard are covered in graffiti and gross pieces of chewing gum that are about as far from romantic as you can get.
There are three places I wish I’d visited instead of Juliet’s House: the Castelvecchio museum, Giardino Giusti, and the Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore. But that just gives me a reason to go back!
Are you ready to spend one day in Verona?
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