Romeo, Romeo, Where Art Thou….? Adagio in VERONA
March 18, 2016
Stunning architecture, a rich culture, elegant locals, a deep artistic history. What’s not to love? Although most of us think “Venice” when Northern Italy comes up, consider standing out in the crowd, and instead whispering: “Verona”. For this city, located on the Adige River, has subtle beauty that merits an overnight or two…or even three, like we’ll be doing this October. I am going back after many years….18 to be exact. My husband treated me to an outdoor performance of Aida in the Roman theater of Verona for our first wedding anniversary. Those were the days … !
The origin of the name Verona is unknown, but legend says that the founder of Verona first called it “Vae Roma” (Latin “accursed Rome”). Over the centuries this has morphed into “Verona”. Very little is known about the early history of the city, although we have record of Verona’s Roman colonization in 89 B.C. Like other strategically located cities (Bologna comes to mind), Verona’s importance grew based largely upon trade. It is said that Theoderic the Great built a palace in Verona at the outset of his Ostrogothic domination of Italy in the 5th century. Verona was handed down through the generations and, like many other areas of Italy, had scores of rulers. Napoleon finally seized the city in the late 18th century. Alas, on Easter Monday in 1797 the population drove out the French, marking the end of the Venetian Republic. Verona was an important city in WWII, due primarily to its large Jewish population. When taken over by the Nazis, the Santuario della Madonna di Lourdes was used as the Austrian Fort. Nazi forces used this church to incarcerate and torture Allied Troops, Anti-Fascists and Jews. It has since returned to its original designation as a church and offers the best view of the city from a nearby hilltop; reachable from the city center in 30 minutes on foot.
Verona has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Roman Amphitheater, also called the Roman Arena, is the third largest in Italy and serves as the setting for the city’s wonderful summer opera season. Other Roman attractions include the Ponte di Pietra ( or the stone wall bridge). The Basilica of San Zeno Maggiore is a Roman style church, built from 1123–1135. The front towers over the large square, and is flanked with a beautiful 72-meter tall bell tower, which is mentioned in Canto 18 of Purgatory in the Divine Comedy. The weathered Veronese stone gives a warm golden glow, and the restrained lines of the pillars and columns, together with the stunning double windows, render the façade a harmonious masterpiece. Don’t miss the churches of Sant’Anastasia and San Lorenzo, huge edifices built around 1200. Verona also has a huge soccer stadium, with over 38,000 seats, which was used in the 1990 FIFA World Cup.
Traditional Veronese restaurants are called “Osterie”. Although these types of establishments used to be known as humble diners, in the modern post-“boom” Italy they are very upscale. Many Veronese dishes differ from those typically offered in Italian cities of equal size. Verona is known for risotto (of all types — they are amazingly creative!), and Polenta (a thick corn meal dish eaten with cured meat). Yet another rather barbaric dish that we don’t see in America is horse and donkey meat, which is very popular in the Veronese restaurants. Eating this meat dates back to the end of the Roman Empire. Although it might seem strange, give it a try… at least once.
Perhaps best known as the setting for three of Shakespeare’s plays (most notably Romeo and Juliet), Verona is an undiscovered city with much to boast. This includes several small, wonderful places to lay your heads after a full day. Consider The Gentleman of Verona, a chic 3-star. Or, just across from Juliette’s Balcony, splurge at Relais Sogno di Giulietta. We will be staying there this fall, with our own set of keys to Juliet’s Courtyard. Doesn’t get much better than that!