Here’s some of what the Lonely Planet – Italy chapter The Veneto has to say about Verona:
“Though Siena was Shakespeare’s initial choice, fair Verona was where he set his scene between star-crossed lovers Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet. As usual, the Bard got it right: romance, drama and fatal family feuds have been Verona’s hallmark for centuries.
Verona was a Roman trade centre beginning in 300 BC, with ancient gates and a grand amphitheatre to prove it – but Shakespearean tragedy came with the territory. Lombard king Alboin took over Verona in AD 569, only to be killed by his wife three years later. After Mastino della Scala (aka Scaligeri) lost reelection to Verona’s commune in 1262, he rallied the troops and claimed absolute control of the city, until his murder by a conspiracy of nobles.
Under Mastino’s son Cangrande I (1308–28), Verona’s influence extended to Padua and Vicenza, and Dante, Petrarch and Giotto benefited from Verona’s patronage and protection. But Mastino’s great-grandson Cangrande II (1351–59) was a tyrant whose murder by his brother was not widely mourned – but after yet another fratricide, the Scaligeri were run out of town in 1387.
Verona was claimed by Milan and then Venice in 1404, which controlled Verona despite Scaligeri-backed uprisings until Napoleon took over in 1797. The city was passed as a war trophy to Austria and to Italy in 1866 and became a Fascist control centre from 1938–45, a key location for Resistance interrogation and transit point for Italian Jews sent to Nazi concentration camps.
The city survived its tragedies to become a Unesco World Heritage Site, and today is reprising its role as a cosmopolitan crossroads.”
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
After winding up our self-guided tour of the lake district of northern Italy, we found we had some additional time on our hands before we had to return our rental car to Milan. We’d already visited Venice on a previous trip to Italy, so I suggested to Anil that we take in a few of the smaller cities in the region southeast of Lago di Garda. Franco Zeffirelli’s film version of Romeo and Juliet has always been one of my top 5 favourite films, so why not explore Verona and Mantua, towns that figured so dramatically in Shakespeare’s play.
We arrived in Verona with almost no pre-conceived notions about the city, and were completely surprised to find a grand amphitheatre situated in the heart of the old town. It was quite magnificent, and I was pleased to see it still being used for cultural performances of all kinds. The streets around the amphitheatre have all been converted to pedestrian-only lanes and most of the former shops and residences now host up-scale boutiques and elegant restaurants.
We liked the description of one particular restaurant written up in our guide book, but by the time we reached it, a couple was just being seated at the last available table, and we learned that lunch would be finished shortly and they wouldn’t be taking any more guests. I was really disappointed because the food others were eating looked amazing. I shouldn’t have been surprised; it was after 2:00pm when we arrived at the town centre.
We ducked into a very small eatery and shared a sandwich and a cold drink and then set off to explore the old streets. When we wandered down a lane and came upon a large crowd struggling to get into a small courtyard, I learned that people were squeezing in to see a second-floor balcony that is a ‘stand-in’ for Juliet’s. Of course, the star-crossed lovers are a work of fiction, but that doesn’t stop people from wanting to stand on the balcony and have their photo taken.
I had to wait for quite a while to be able to take a photo of the said balcony without anyone on it. Anil didn’t want to see it, so he waited for me out on the street. He had no illusions whatsoever about this tourist trap, but I wanted to be able to say I’d seen what all the fuss was about. I didn’t know anything about the bronze statue in the courtyard, but it seems to be quite common for people to like to touch such statues in the hopes of improving their luck in life.