Seeing a superb performance of Romeo and Juliet directed by Aaron Posner at Washington DC’s beautiful Folger Theatre took me back to summer days in Verona. Before I went there I really knew nothing about this city beyond its association with Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers. Verona surprised me, charmed me, exceeded expectations in every way. I was anticipating a mini-Disneyland with Romeo & Juliet-themed rides. I found a city rich in history and and points of interest beyond the famed Juliet’s balcony (which by the way is a tourist zoo).
Juliet’s house at Via Cappello 23 (Casa di Giulietta), dating back to the 13th century and owned by the family dell Capello, is usually the first stop on everybody’s Verona itinerary. Never mind that we’re not really sure whether Romeo and Juliet ever existed and that the balcony that overlooks the courtyard was added in the 20th century. Capello apparently sounds close enough to Capulet and that’s sufficient to create a tourist craze.
So don’t expect privacy for intimate moments with your beloved at Juliet’s house – its tiny courtyard is always packed to a degree of unbearable congestion. It took a lot of work to crop the crowd of of my photos =) And most tourists disturbingly rub the right breast of Juliet’s bronze statute for luck – not really my thing. But if you can use your imagination and picture this place empty, there is no more romantic place on earth to ask:
O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name.
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy.
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name, which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
Although Shakespeare defines Verona in literary terms, there is so much more to it. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the city bears prominent evidence of its Roman past: a magnificent Arena built in AD 30 set in the city’s largest square. The amphitheatre is beautifully integrated with the surrounding, later buildings. A boutique Hotel Milano where we stayed was just steps from the Arena, almost making it feel like a neighborhood fixture! In ancient times, the Arena could host over 30,000 spectators. Today it’s home to unforgettable live performances – I have to go back just for that!And then there is Porta Borsari, a stunning Roman gate that once was a part of Verona’s original city wall with the façade made out of local white limestone. Another must-visit destination is Piazza delle Erbe. Once a Roman forum, today the piazza is one of the most atmospheric spots in Italy, surrounded by ornate houses of Verona’s rich merchants and anchored by a white marble column of St. Mark’s Lion, symbol of the Republic of Venice that Verona used to be a part of.
Don’t miss the impressive Castelvecchio, a medieval fortress that used to be surrounded by a moat, sitting right on the banks of the Adige River that snakes through Verona. You can enjoy shade and respite in its spacious courtyard, walk along the fortified walls (that incorporated elements of the Roman city wall), and visit the art museum.Beyond the famous landmarks, my very favorite part of the visit to Verona was simply wandering around its narrow streets and always making unexpected discoveries just around the corner… After long hours of exploring, Osteria Le Vecete (Via Pellicciai 32) is a perfect place to wrap up the day and enjoy a sumptuous meal. Verona’s oldest tavern doesn’t disappoint, especially wine lovers! Verona is a gem in so many ways and I treasure my time there, longing for more. Don’t you? If a trip to Verona on a short notice is not an option but visiting Washington is, let Shakespeare take you across the ocean: the Folger Theatre’s production of Romeo and Juliet is on the stage through December 1!