As I hit Autostrada Serenissima – less romantically known as the A4 – on my way to Verona, I was looking forward to my day out, courtesy of Walks of Italy. I had been invited to participate in their latest offering: a day in Verona exploring most of the major sites.
Verona is a wealthy and beautiful city in the Veneto region of northern Italy. Situated along the banks of the River Adige, it was originally colonised by the Romans in 89 BC and is most famous today as the setting for Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet”. Verona is also well known for its huge amphitheatre, the Arena, which hosts an annual open-air opera festival in summer and various concerts throughout the year.
The city is great for shops too; its wonderful pedestrianised area is home to all the top designer outlets, which, coupled with its Roman monuments and stylish restaurants makes it an idyllic destination.
Parking my tiny Fiat 500 in the Arena carpark, close to the city-centre, I hailed a taxi to take me sharply uphill to Piazzale Castel San Pietro in order to meet the group of visitors who were being brought to Verona by coach from Venice, where they were staying.
Having greeted my guide Luca and the other six members of our walking tour and having photographed and admired the stunning view from Colle San Pietro, we began our walk downhill to Ponte Pietra.
This bridge, which dates from Roman times in the first century BC, was painstakingly rebuilt in the 1950s after having been damaged during WWll. As we crossed the bridge over the powerfully flowing River Adige, we looked upriver where we could see the church of San Giorgio in Braida and the Santuario Madonna di Lourdes.
Passing the Palazzo di Vescovane (Bishops’ Palace)….
…..we arrived at the mellow old church of Saint Elena where we entered the tranquil cloisters between it and the Duomo next door.
The interior of Duomo Santa Maria Matricolare is a 12th century Romanesque extravagance with lots of painted trompe l’oeil effects. It is also home to a wonderful Titian painting of the Assumption (1535-40).
Progressing to the Gothic Basilica of Sant’ Anastasia, the largest church in Verona, I thought it absolutely spectacular with its holy water fonts featuring realistic figures of beggars – i gobbi – a lavish representation of the Virgin Mary and a multitude of frescoes.
As we walked the streets, we arrived at the extravagant tombs of the Scaliger family in front of the little Santa Maria Antica church.
Luca then drew our attention to the remains of the ancient Roman street, which was quite a few feet lower than the existing one on which we were standing.
Next stop on our itinerary was Piazza dei Signori, a beautiful square ringed by Renaissance palazzi, which has in the middle a statue of Dante who was given refuge here by the Scaliger family when he was exiled from Florence in 1302.
Strolling onwards we arrived at Piazza Erbe – the original medieval herb market – which is now a busy square ringed by art galleries, boutiques and several caffe/restaurants.
At this point, we broke for an hour and a half at leisure, which for me meant a visit to the wonderful shops a stone’s throw away, followed by a delicious plate of spaghetti con aglio, olio e peperoncino – a big favourite of mine.
Meeting up again after our break, we made for the busy, crazy, touristy venue which comprises “Juliet’s balcony.” Having visited this before, many years ago, I knew what to expect: a throng of visitors wanting to touch Juliet’s bronze breast and covering the walls with graffiti. Not really my sort of thing, to be honest. It is now possible to pay extra to stand on Juliet’s balcony, which was constructed in the 18th century and bears no relation to the original, even if this were possible given that the story is actually fiction.
Passing under the amazing Porta Borsari which was built by the Romans in the first century BC…….
…..we progressed to the Arena, where I noticed a poster advertising a concert by “Adele” coming shortly.
This huge Roman amphitheatre, known as the Arena, is the third largest of its kind in Italy, after Rome’s Colosseum and one at Capua near Naples. It was built of marble in the 1st century AD, damaged in an earthquake in the 12th Century and is now the city’s famous open-air opera venue which can seat up to 30,000 people.
A stage for a concert was in the process of being built and some of us climbed to the top of the steps for a panoramic look at the scene below. The Arena is slightly oval in shape and we were told by Luca that the acoustics are so good that no microphone is necessary during a performance on stage there. Not only that, but nothing can be heard in the piazza outside.
The Arena overlooks Piazza Brà, one of the largest squares in Europe. It is a large graceful square, paved in pink marble, with lots of open-air restaurants and bars. I have had lunch here a couple of times and love to sit under an umbrella admiring the Arena and general bustle.
In the middle of the square is a bronze statue of the first ruler of a united Italy: King Vittorio Emanuele II (1820-1878).
Reluctantly leaving behind Piazza Brà and its inviting outdoor caffes, we stopped to have a look at Arco dei Gavi, an ancient Roman triumphal arch built by the noble Gavi family in Roman times. It was used as a gate in the walls straddling the main Roman road into the city and Luca pointed out the ancient tracks of the chariot wheels scored into the granite paving beneath. It was demolished during Napoleonic times and rebuilt in 1932.
Our last port of call was Castelvecchio, a huge castle overlooking the River Adige. It was built in the 1350s but badly damaged during WWII bombing raids. It was rebuilt by architect Carlo Scarpa and is now, mainly, a museum and art gallery.
We strolled through the courtyard and onto the Ponte Scaligero.(1354-76).
Finishing our wonderful walk on this beautiful Scaliger bridge and pausing to take a quick shot of photogenic Ponte della Vittoria and the Basilica of San Zeno close by…..
…..we all said goodbye and I walked back to find my tiny white car, which took a little time without my guide.
I then joined the truly manic traffic on the Autostrada Serenissima and headed back to the Euganean Hills and home after a truly memorable day out.
For full details of this tour, and other tours organised by Walks of Italy, click HERE