Verona, Italy

navy blue sky frames a row of 17th century buildings lit up at night facing a large square

Romeo and Juliet? Truth? Fiction? Visiting Verona, I had to keep reminding myself that Shakespeare’s play was fictional. Yet the characters may well have been real. Or were they?

Shakespeare never visited Verona but that doesn’t take from the conviction with which the story was told. But was it even his story? Or was it based on an earlier tale by Luigi da Porto: Historia novellamente ritrovata di due nobili amanti (Newly found story of two noble lovers)? da Porta says he got the story from an archer from Verona named Peregrino. Then Matteo Bandello got hold of it and popularised the story in France (where he was living). He added some bits that tied the story more closely to specific places in Verona. When it got to Britain, it was through the translation by Arthur Brookes. That’s quite the cast of characters. So many people involved. But is the story true?

The two families, Montecchi and Capuleti, actually lived in Verona between the end of the 13th and the beginning of the 14th century. Did they have a son named Romeo and a daughter named Juliet (Giulietta in Italian)? We don’t know. But Dante, who was in Verona in those years wrote in the Divine Comedy that they where feuding for political reason, and because of their feud they became sad.

Signposts around the town directing people to Juliet’s house and grave make you wonder. The statue in the courtyard of the house reputedly owned by the Montagues (Montecchis) is one of Verona’s main attractions. Tourists pay to tour the house and get their photos taken on the famous balcony. I found the life-sized bronze statue of Juliet, with its boobs brightly shining after years of constant groping, a little disturbing. The more modern version of the couple by artist Nag Arnoldi, a Swiss contemporary artist from Lugano, is quite different.

Life-sized bronze statue of a young woman (Juliet Montague) in a courtyard in Verona

Modern bronze sculpture depicting Romeo and Juliet in Verona

Given my choice of all the renderings I saw involving the famous couple, it would be this:

The first-century Roman Amphitheatre (the Arena) famous for its opera, is quite spectacular. The evening we were there, queues of people in various poshness of dress queued for La Traviata. Italians have an innate style that I never get tired of watching. Some day, I’ll come back, with opera tickets booked in advance and a posh frock in my suitcase.

The most solemn monument in Roman Verona, with various orders of tiers of seats and, in the centre, an area or arena for gladiator shows, struggles with wild beasts and other events of a popular nature, was built with well-squared blocks of marble in the 1st century A.D., namely between the end of the empire of Augustus and the empire of Claudius.

Roman collosseum in Verona with pedestrains walking by

Roman amphitheatre at night in Verona

The Adige River runs through the city, flowing underneath the beautiful Ponte Pietra, which was partially destroyed in 1945 but rebuilt using the original material that had fallen into the river – a testament to the foresight of the day – or perhaps it was a needs-must situation, who knows. Two of the arches, those seen in white stone, are original Roman material. The red brick dates to the sixteenth century. Hats off to those lads – they knew how to build to last.

arched stone bridge (Ponte Pietra) spanning the Adige River in Verona set agains a blue sky with a church twoer in the centre background

Across the river Castel San Pietro built by Giangaleazzo Visconti in 1398 overlooks the town. The stone steps up to it looked inviting, but not inviting enough. We didn’t get to see the Museo di Castelvecchio with its accompanying bridge – something for next time.

View across the River Adige of the Castle del Pietro in Verona

Walking by the scarily low waters of the river, we happened upon the wonderful church of San Giorgio in Braida. While we have met a few closed doors, we’ve been lucky this trip in that most of the churches visited were open. Like many churches of its many era, it has passed through various owners. It was commissioned as a Benedictine monastery in the early eleventh century (the twelfth-century bell tower still remains). Later the monks were expelled – they weren’t up to the job and according to the Bishop of the day, they’d kept the abbey “in a situation of spiritual, temporal, and material degradation”. In the twelfth century, Pope Innocent II gave it to the Augustinians. The church itself was built in the sixteenth century; it was auctioned off in the 1600s and taken over by the Nuns of Santa Maria di Reggio,* until they too met their demise in 1806. It spent time attached to Santo Stefano before gaining parish status in 1874.

The church’s attraction has to be Tintoretto’s Baptism of Christ which sits over the main door. I’m a fan and it didn’t disappoint, though in the interest of transparency, finding it was pure luck. Research? Who does research? Still more might see its claim to fame as the six, eighteenth-century bells in G major used to develop the Veronese art of bellringing.

The Baptism of Christ by Tintoretto about a church door in San Giorgio in Braida Verona

All of the paintings in San Giorgio in Braida can be lit up by the push of a red button to their side. It effectively doubles as an art gallery with the bonus of silence and the smell of candle wax. Most remarkable for me, was Francesco Montemezzano’s Noli me tangere. I didn’t know a thing about the painting. I’d never seen Jesus with a spade. I gathered the woman might have been Mary Magdalene but I hadn’t ever heard of Him say to her – Noli me tangere – when she saw him after the resurrection. It translates to ‘touch me not’ though ‘the original Greek phrase Μή μου ἅπτου (mḗ mou háptou) is better represented in translation as “cease holding on to me” or “stop clinging to me”.’ That sits better with me. Given that noli me tangere is a relatively popular Latin construction, you’d think I’d have heard of it.

The nineteenth-century novel** by Filippino author José Rizal or the twentieth-century opera based on his story also bear the name. DH Lawrence used it as a title for his poem in which he satirizes cerebralism. Montemezzo is one of many painters to capture the scene from John’s Gospel. Titian’s version sits in the National Gallery in London. Holbein’s version sits in the Queen’s drawing room in Windsor Castle. Fra Angelico’s fresco of the scene is in Florence. Correggio’s is in the Museo del Prada in Madrid. Graham Sutherland’s twenty-first-century interpretation that caused some controversy hangs in Chichester Cathedral in the UK. While no expert in fine art, Montemezzo’s is by far my favourite.
16th century oil painting showing a man holding a spade looking down on a kneeling woman. An angel is reflect in a window on the right and a couple walk in the background on the left - Noli me tangera by Montemezzano, Verona, Italy

Statues are a source of constant education for me. Curiosity usually wins out and I end up learning something I didn’t know before. One of our party happened to have a criminology degree (as you do) so when we passed the statue of a seated man who reminded me of Mr Miyagi from the Karate Kid, she filled in the blanks.

The Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) devised the now-outmoded theory that criminality is determined by physiological traits. Called the father of modern criminology, he concentrated attention on the study of the individual offender.

Lombroso’s now-debunked theory was quite the hit in its day. He is one of many famous people to have been born in the city of Verona. Excluding Romeo and Juliet.

statue of a seated man with a beard his right arm extended to the side with his hand sitting on a skull

When we found the Cathedral of S. Maria Matricolare, the Bishop was inside concelebrating mass with half a dozen priests. We sat quietly although plenty of people were milling around. Here, too, I learned something I hadn’t known before. I spotted a small marble statue of a man having his hand chopped off. The information block told me it was Angelo Sartori’s eighteenth-century depiction of the Martyrdom of St Arcadia, whoever he was when he was at home. I searched and found – the poor lad had a gruesome end. All of his fingers, toes, hands, legs – everything chopped off one by one all because he refused to denounce Christ.

collage of six photos showing a winged angel made of copper, the frescoed gothic interior of a church, a marble staute of a man with his arm extended and another bringing an axe to bear on his hand, and the exterior facade of a church with a tall bell tower to the right

We didn’t get to look around nearly as much as I’d have liked given that mass was being recorded and I’d have been afraid my mother might see that I wasn’t paying attention. Next time.

Verona, with its plethora of piazzas and impressive architecture, is a gem of a city that warrants a few days to do it justice. It’s as impressive by day as it is by night. It’s got lots going on. The bone suspended from an arch was a curiosity satisfied by Atlas Obscura.


The bone, believed to be a rib, hangs in the centre of the medieval Arco della Costa (Arch of the Rib), the entry point between Verona’s Piazza Erbe and Piazza dei Signori. It’s been hanging there, suspended from an iron chain, since at least the 1700s, though some estimates suggest much longer, possibly since the 15th century.

In the Middle Ages and Renaissance era, the walkway above the arch provided a safe passage for judges and magistrates between the city hall and their living quarters, so that they needn’t associate with the common or “corrupt” people bellow [sic]. This may be the ironic origin of the myth of the whalebone’s magic: It’s claimed that it will fall on the first innocent or truthful person to walk under the archway.

I’m glad I didn’t know all that otherwise I’d have stood beneath it waiting for it to fall.

Whale bone suspended from an arch on an iron chain

Where to eat

If you’ve only time to have one meal then you won’t go wrong with Ostregheteria Sottoriva 23. The young waiter there understands the concept of banter, the food was good, and the prosecco worth waiting for. Sottoriva (under the river) is an old street lined with thirteenth-century houses and worth a wander. It’s not far from Ponte Pietra and after eating, you can cross the bridge, stroll up the river on the far side and cross back over via Ponte Garibaldi. That was our post-prandial saunter. And lovely it was, too.

Note to self for next time

* A Google search to find out more about these nuns led me to a fascinating account of nuns as architects

** Explores the oppression of the local people by priests and the government during the era of Spanish colonization

Statue of a cloaked, hooded man with a with left elbow resting on right wrist and finger under his chin in a thoughful pose


Sign up here to get an email whenever I post something new.

Never miss a post

More Posts

Staying local at Kányavári sziget

We dream of islands in the sun. Exotic places where we can get away from it all. We spend hundreds if not thousands of whatevers

Rönök, Hungary: The iron curtain

I’m easily distracted. Especially if I don’t have a deadline. Driving to Graz, Austria, we watched the slow metamorphosis of the villages as we moved

El Nido, Palawan, Philippines – The holiday I’ve been dreaming about

It has been a month since I got back from my three-week trip to the Philippines. I’m finally getting around to writing more about El

in the foreground, a wooden sign on a post in white paint reads REMETE - hungarian for HERMITGAE. It sits in a field with a forest to the right and blue sky in the background

Nagykapornak, Hungary

Ah, the number of times we’ve driven through Nagykapornak on our way to and from the county seat of Zalaegerszeg. We’d spot the twin domes

Genoa, Italy

There’s an earthiness about the Italian city of Genoa (Genova) that appeals to me. Perhaps it’s because it’s a port city. Maybe it’s because of

4 Responses

  1. Good post.
    Make sure that you do book the opera next time you visit…..very special but make sure that you hire a cushion to sit on. If you have a meal in the piazza in front of the amphitheatre you can watch the elegant people arrive. Don’t miss the Museo di Castelvecchio next time…….well worth a visit. The Romeo and Juliet balcony left me somewhat underwhelmed.

    1. Jostling room only for the balcony – madness. Opera definitely on the cards and I know from the outdoor opera in BP that cushions are a must 🙂 I might have my own by then.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

4 Responses

  1. Good post.
    Make sure that you do book the opera next time you visit…..very special but make sure that you hire a cushion to sit on. If you have a meal in the piazza in front of the amphitheatre you can watch the elegant people arrive. Don’t miss the Museo di Castelvecchio next time…….well worth a visit. The Romeo and Juliet balcony left me somewhat underwhelmed.

    1. Jostling room only for the balcony – madness. Opera definitely on the cards and I know from the outdoor opera in BP that cushions are a must 🙂 I might have my own by then.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: