Verona: Past and Present
One thing I really loved about Verona is how the past still functions in the present. Many of the historic sites or places have been adapted to fit modern needs while still maintaining their "oldness," so to speak, and there are random bits of historical architecture everywhere you look. For example, Roman and medieval portals - entrances to the city - still stand at random points in the street - though you no longer need to pay the toll in order to pass.
Upon entering the city center through one of these portals, you'll see the ancient Roman arena. Built in 30 A.D. on a piece of land that was, at the time, a few miles outside the Roman city center, its first few centuries of existence saw lots of bloodshed. Gladiator battles pitted man vs. man and man vs. animal in Roman times, and public beheadings took place there during the middle ages. Thanks to a newfound appreciation for the arts cultivated during the Renaissance, the arena started to be used for opera performances. This trend continues today, and it has also seen the likes of One Direction, Duran Duran, The Who, and Whitney Houston. The arena can fit up to 25,000 spectators and as everyone knows, is the blueprint for our modern stadiums.
The arena's entrance fee is 6 Euros, but if you have a student I.D. that still remotely looks like you and are capable of mumbling "Sono studentessa/o," you can get in for 4.50. Visitors are free to climb up and all over the seats (the lower half of which have had cushions added to them). But... to be completely honest, I was a little disappointed. When it comes down to it, it's just a massive stone complex, and it lacks the romance and intrigue of a well-known arena like Rome's Colosseum. To be fair, it may well have been the horde of teenagers belting out awful Disney songs in Italian on the stage in the center that tainted my arena experience. Oh, and just a friendly hint: those "gladiators" posing with that poor little boy in the above photo are not affiliated with the arena. They're just a local group that prey on tourists by overcharging for a gimmicky photo. Stay away!
Right outside of the arena is a relatively small, thin column positioned rather randomly in the piazza. 99% of people probably just walk past it without a second thought. It's called a devotional column, and most piazzas had one back in the day (back in the day in this case = middle ages). People would gather around the column to ask for blessings for the market. The one in Verona is still intact, and today people gather around it to gawk at the street performer posted up beneath it, who I strategically did not photograph because I found him frightening.
Speaking of markets and piazzas, Verona's Piazza Erbe is my favorite piazza I've seen so far. You can make absurd statements like "I have a favorite piazza" when you live in an Italian city. A piazza is just a square, and Italian cities have loads of them. Piazza Erbe is probably one of the few that looks very much like it used to centuries ago. It dates back to the Roman times, when it functioned as a forum - a meeting place for politics and law - and of course, as a marketplace. The fountain in the middle of Piazza Erbe has been bubbling for nearly 2,000 years, and the statue of a lion that sits at the northern end has been there since 1405, when Venice conquered Verona.
Today, Piazza Erbe is still home to a market of sorts - vendors line up to sell fruits and vegetables, pastries, handmade leather bags, and a few "I visited Verona!!" t-shirts and keychains. You can also find a plethora of tasty restaurants and gelaterias surrounding the square. Here, I found a deliciously cheap sandwich and the first of
too many gelatos.
Do you see that tower in the upper left corner of Piazza Erbe? It's one of the few remaining from the Middle Ages, back when the town was full of them. Noble families built towers to show off their wealth to one another. If you see a bell tower that either stands on its own or is connected to a smaller structure that isn't a church, you can be almost certain it was constructed by an important family. Torre dei Lamberti, or the Lambert Tower (built in 1172), is another that's still standing in Verona, and for 6 Euros you can climb 245 steps to the top.
Clearly, it's worth the climb. Verona's terra-cotta rooftops seem to go on for miles, and the Italian Alps make for a stunning backdrop. The Lambert Tower sits in the Romanesque Palazzo della Ragione, which is home to yet another beautiful and well-preserved piece of architecture: an outdoor staircase, completely original and intact since its construction in 1447. I stood at the base of the staircase for fifteen minutes to get a photo of it without people strewn all over it. As I watched person after person lay on the banister and pose with freakish arm gestures as if to say, "Yeah, man, look at me! I'm on a staircase, b*tch!" I wondered how many of them even knew anything about what it was they were standing on. In other words, STOP POSING LIKE THAT, YOU'RE DISGRACING THE STONES WHERE VERONA'S ELITE ONCE TROD!! Ugh.
But anyway. Just outside Palazzo della Ragione is Piazza dei Signori, or "The Lord's Square." This little area is a melting pot of architecture; the buildings surrounding it span from the middle ages to the Renaissance. You can easily tell which are from the Renaissance; just look for the frescoes. Like medieval nobles and their towers, wealthy Renaissance families did their bragging with exterior frescoes. I find it pretty remarkable that much of what can be seen today is, for the most part, original and unrestored.
In the middle of Piazza dei Signori stands a somber looking Dante Alighieri. Quick history: this is indeed the Dante behind The Divine Comedy, the self-narrated tale of his journey through hell and purgatory to reach heaven. It was the first literature to be written in something other than Latin, the language of the church. Dante took a hodgepodge of spoken dialects and called the written result "Italian." For this reason, it was accessible by the masses and wildly popular. It also depicted several well known popes and other church figures in less than flattering situations (Pope Boniface VIII buried up to his head in the 8th circle of hell, for example) and for this reason, Dante was exiled from Florence to Verona, where he lived out the rest of his life. As Dante became a literary genius in history's hindsight, Florentines tried to reclaim him as their hero and even built him a tomb in the 18th century. Verona has maintained a tight grasp on him though, and his body lies not in Florence, but in nearby Ravenna where he died.
On the topic of tombs, literally right around the corner from Piazza dei Signori are the Scaligeri family tombs. Remember how Florence had the Medici family, Siena had the Borghese, and Milan had the Sforza? When Italy was divided into kingdoms, Verona and the surrounding area had the Scaligeri. Their bodies still lie in the fanciful tombs created for them in the 15th century, which are surrounded by the original wrought iron fences. Not a bad place to rest for all eternity! Just watch out for what looks to be the first version of barbed-wire, though.
Speaking of resting, this might be enough history for one post. But there's still alot more to see in Verona! Let's spend the night back in Piazza Erbe and pick it up another day, shall we?