An invitation to Verona
Welcome to Verona! To start familiarising yourself, set off from piazza Bra. This square is the biggest in the city centre. We would advise you to enter the square from the southern side where there are two crenellated arches beneath a huge clock, which the Veronese people call the “Doorway to the Brà”. Once you are through the “Doorway” look straight in front of you, and, on the left you will see multi-coloured buildings and palaces of every shape and size, all overlooking a wide red stone pavement. This is called the Liston, a great sidewalk where soldiers used to come into alignment as guard of the city.
The Veronese people are very attached to this area, and every year, on the 13th December, Santa Lucia market is celebrated here. The Liston is always full of people, and you too can stroll along here and even sit down at one of the many tables and enjoy the sight.
Before stopping though, I would suggest that you follow us- Come and see the beautiful monuments in Piazza Brà and discover some curious and interesting things about them! To the right of the “Doorway” you will find the Gran Guardia palace. It was built in 1600 to house a military garrison, while on the other side of the road you can see Barbieri palace, another important 19th century building which looks rather like a Roman temple, and which nowadays is the City Hall. Just next to the Barbieri Palace there is the Arena, which is the most famous monument in Verona.
The Arena is the biggest Roman amphitheatre in the world after the Colosseum in Rome. But even in ancient times it was one of the most capacious in the whole Roman Empire as it could hold about 30.000 spectators! To give you an idea of what it must have looked like in its prime you should walk round it until you get to the small remaining portion of the outer perimeter, called the Ala or “wing”. As you can see, this external wall of the Arena is made up of three rows (one above the other) of arched apertures.
Each one of these external arches corresponds to an opening in the internal wall. Do you know how many apertures there are in each row? Count them as you make a complete circuit of the Arena to find the answer!
Here in the Arena, as in all amphitheatres, the games the Roman people loved so much took place; there were fights between the gladiators, against ferocious animals from far-off lands and, perhaps even sea battles.
After the fall of the Roman Empire the Arena was used for entertainments of every kind; funfairs, tournaments, jousting in Medieval times; sporting competitions, performances with animals and even hot balloon ascents during the following centuries.
In 1913 a lyric opera was presented here for the first time - the Aida by Giuseppe Verdi - and from then onwards countless shows and operas have been held here every summer, making it the biggest open air lyric opera theatre in the world. If you are curious to see what the Arena looks like inside then come on in with us! If, on the other hand you want to stretch your legs and run around for a bit then the gardens in the middle of the square shaded by ancient trees are all yours!
You can climb up on to the pedestal base of the statue of Vittorio Emanuele II or run around the fountain (the “little island” in the middle of the fountain represents the Alps, and was a gift to Verona from the Bavarian city of Munich). If you like to do some shopping, or even just a bit of window shopping, then try going down the most “elegant” street in Verona which begins just beside the Arena and is like a continuation of the Liston. It is called Via Mazzini, a long, old and narrow pedestrian area, famous throughout Europe and flanked by beautiful buildings which house some of the loveliest shops in town. It is almost always crowded both with tourists and local Veronese people who meet up here, show off a bit and chat together. The oldest inhabitants still call it by its original name of Via Nuova (New Street).
As you are walking along Via Mazzini take a look at the pavement which was completed a few years ago using a local stone that is known worldwide by the name of “pink Veronese marble”. Try going down one of the side roads which cross this thoroughfare at regular intervals and where you can discover other great shops, old buildings and friendly bars where you can have something to drink. If you look carefully then you will realise that all the roads that cross Via Mazzini do so at right angles, as do most of the streets in the historical centre, forming a kind of “chessboard”. This is because they still follow almost exactly the same pattern as the streets in Roman times! If you want to have a better idea of what the streets looked like in Roman times then look for the bronze slab that you will find at the far end of Via Mazzini just before you get to Piazza Erbe (Herb Square). Here you will find a plan of the city centre as it used to be during the 1st century b.c.!
Just a few more steps and here we are directly in piazza delle Erbe. Carry on down to the left and stop in front of the huge crenellated building called the Domus Mercatorum which used to be the commercial centre during the Middle Ages, and even then if anyone tried to cheat….. they were thrown into jail! Look all around you…the square is a long narrow shape and more or less corresponds to the ancient Roman forum. Some of the overlooking buildings are really beautiful and two towers rise defiantly amongst the rooftops. To your left there is the Gardello Tower, built for Cansignorio della Scala in the second half of the fourteenth century and made of terracotta bricks. Once upon a time it used to contain an extraordinary bell which now can be seen close-up in the Castelvecchio Museum. On the right of the tower there is the Maffei Palace “born” in 1668 and proudly showing off its sculpted decorations and the row of statues that crown its high wall. Just in front is the really tall column bearing the winged lion who is reading a good book…and whom you will surely recognise as being the Lion of Saint Mark reminding the Veronese of their long period under the Venetian dominion. The other, higher and more imposing tower in the square is the Lamberti Tower which belonged to an ancient Veronese family. If you have time then you can climb it (it’s 84 metres high!) and enjoy an incredible view over the city. The tower is built of alternating red bricks and white stone, and its mighty clock tells us to “hurry up, it’s late!” every time its sonorous chimes ring out. Let’s go back now to the middle of the square where we can find the monument that, for many local people is the symbol of Verona: the Madonna Verona fountain once again commissioned by Cansignorio della Scala at the end of the fourteenth century .
Why don’t you close your eyes for a moment and try out an experiment. If you are lucky, and there’s no traffic noise, then see if you can hear the same gurgling of water, the voices and the sounds that animated the square in 1300 and in the following centuries. Plenty of famous poets and painters have tried the same experiment and then produced amazing results...first of all a painter, Angelo Dall’Oca Bianca and his friend, the poet Berto Barbarani…
While you’re still in the square, there are plenty of other interesting and curious discoveries to be made: there is a pillory, or the stocks to be found; also a kind of marble structure that was used in the inauguration celebrations for the city governors or podestà. A little bit further down you can find the “market column” which was raised in 1401 and surmounted by an aedicule which carried the Verona coat of arms. If you look carefully you can see the Veronese commercial measures marked in lengths on some steps and columns, such as the paving stones in the central part of the square (toloneo), which are roughly one metre long and were used to measure exactly how much each stall should pay according to space they occupied. If you like you can try to work out some of the rents, and then you could ask the present-day stall owners how much it costs nowadays. One thing you can’t possibly miss if you take a last look around the square is the amazingly beautiful coloured frescoes on the walls of the Mazzanti houses, and which serve to remind us that in 1500 Verona was famous for being a “painted” city as almost all the dwellings had their front walls brightly painted with frescoes that passers-bye could see and admire.
Nowadays you can get an idea of what it must have been like by visiting the Fresco Museum (Museo degli Affreschi) at Juliet’s tomb. Now, what about leaving the square, passing under the Costa Arch: here you will be astounded to see a whalebone rib hanging above you. The Veronese inhabitants are used by now to seeing this bizarre decoration which, over the centuries has become part of the urban “furniture”. Once it was the sign of the activity of the “speziali” (ancient chemists) who worked in that area. You will also be surprised at the difference between the lively noise and bustle in Piazza Erbe and the silent elegance of the Piazza dei Signori where it almost seems as though you are going into some important person’s private sitting room. A lot of the buildings around here are crenellated, and the walls have the by-now-familiar typical alternating red brick and white stone which was so popular in Medieval times. Do you feel as though you are being watched? If you raise your eyes you will discover that many of the statues are eying you up from above, while, to the left and above another archway there is the statue of Girolamo Fracastoro holding a globe in his hand which, tradition says, he will let fall on the first honest man who walks beneath!
The beautiful building to the right, called Frà Giocondo’s Loggia was built at the end of the fifteenth century and is surmounted by five statues, representing illustrious Veronese celebrities from ancient Roman times who luckily seem to be fairly lost in their own thoughts and not much inclined to play tricks on anyone. In the middle of the square there is a cloaked and thoughtful figure who seems to be asking himself: “What will become of us?” It is Dante Alighieri the great fourteenth century Florentine poet. Dante had good reason to be grateful to Verona as, after being forced to flee from Florence he was welcomed and protected by the powerful noble lords of the della Scala family who actually lived here in this square, and dominated not only Verona but also the nearby cities. Thanks to his close friendship with Cangrande I, whose palace was at the far end of the square, Dante is shown still “strolling” here. (If you wish to find out more about Cangrande I then go to the itinerary 2). This traffic-free square is also an ideal place to go for a good run – there are plenty of great hidden places to explore…
First thing then is to identify the ancient Roman road that runs beneath Piazza Dante (at right angles to the crenellated Scala tower) which you can actually walk along for a short distance, and is then visible through the viewing panel in the road above. Both the courtyard of the Comune Palace containing the magnificent monumental “Staircase of Justice” to climb up, and the courtyard of the nearby Tribunal Palace can be reached through Piazza Dante. Here you will find another viewing pane which allows you to get a glimpse of the several-metre-deep archaeological area excavated about twenty years ago.
The Roman, Longobard and Medieval remains that were found were so interesting that the authorities decided to create a special “time travel trail” open to the public. If you want to find out more then go in to the Scala Excavations (Scavi Scaligeri) where you can see the ancient remains at close quarters and, at the same time enjoy one of the many photographic exhibitions that this site houses during the year. Today’s programme together ends here….. We will leave you to rest in the shadow of a secular Gingko Biloba tree in the nearby Piazza Viviani which was once a huge garden belonging to the della Scala family. We are waiting for you to spend another day together to discover Verona…Arrivederci!
The Verona For Kids project of the Municipality of Verona is dedicated to those who travel with children. Visit the website to discover the other itineraries and games designed specifically for children. But it's not over: go to the Tourist Office and you'll find all that you need to go treasure hunting.
An invitation to Verona
Via Leoncino, 61 ( Directions )
Tel: +39 045 8068680
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