Verona is an important tourist destination and visited by more than three million people every year to see its artistic and architectural wealth, the opera and theatre performances and, above all, because it is the home of Shakespeare’s tragedy “Romeo and Juliet”.
The area where Verona stands was inhabited back in the Neolithic era, when it was probably just a village on the banks of the River Adige, near to a river crossing. In fact, the remains have been found of houses belonging to the ancient village. In Roman times, the first contacts between the Empire and Verona were around 300 B.C. and they formed an alliance. In 49 B.C. Caesar granted the town Roman citizenship and it became a city hall and was granted an agricultural area of 3,700 square kilometres. The municipal district was given the name of Res public Veronensium. During the Republican era, Verona developed its economy further and strengthened its position, the town was extended and modernized. It gained strategic importance as it was used as a temporary base for the legions. It reached the height of its splendour during Vespasian’s reign. In 100 A.D. the large Arena amphitheatre was built to give the 25,000 inhabitants of the town somewhere to watch the spectacles. Verona was also hit by the barbarian invasions as it was the first city they came across as they descended from north Europe. To defend themselves, in 265 A.D. Emperor Gallieno extended the walls to incorporate the Arena. First the Lombards and then the French were the new town magistrates until 1136 when the municipality was formed. Almost two centuries of battles followed between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, and in 1405, exploiting the widespread discontent and continuous uprisings in the town, Venice entered with its army, after which Verona surrendered to Venice and then enjoyed a long period of peace that ended, not due to war, but the terrible plague epidemic which was carried to Italy in 1630 by the German soldiers. The town was overflowing with bodies, which were burnt or thrown into the River Adige as there was no space on land. More than half the population died. Economy began to recover in the XVI century and the construction began of some impressive churches and palazzos.
Verona is one of the leading Italian art cities, owing to its important artistic and historic wealth. There are two walls which accentuate the division between the Roman and modern parts: on one side the Roman walls around the historic centre, the other inner circle with renaissance fortifications. Red brick is widely used in the old part of the town in the gothic palazzos, together with white ancient Roman marble. Thus the urbs marmorea was created, and a magnificent example is Piazza delle Erbe, with the white marble paving and the Madonna di Verona fountain, which was built with materials taken from the ancient Roman baths.
The central Arena has to be visited, the symbol of Verona together with Romeo and Juliet. It is the third largest amphitheatre in Italy and the best kept, still used today for the famous opera festival and numerous concerts. The actual year of construction is unknown, but somewhere between the I and III centuries.
The Basilica of San Zenois one of the masterpieces of Romanic construction in Italy. Built on three different levels, with the current structure defined in the X-XI century. It conserves numerous works of art, including the famous San Zeno Altarpiece by Andrea Mantegna. The crypt in the basilica dates back to the X century, and since 921 the body of San Zeno has been conserved there in a transparent sarcophagus, with his face covered by a silver mask. The crypt is a complete church inside the basilica. According to tradition the marriage between Romeo and Juliet was celebrated in Shakespeare’s famous work.
The Cathedral of Saint Mary Matricolareis the Duomo, the most important Catholic church in the city. The current building stands where the first Christian church was built in the IV century, probably ordered by Bishop Zeno. In the V century the first smaller church had another built alongside, the larger Ecclesia Matricularis. The work on the new cathedral began in 1120 and was finished in 1187, the same year when it was consecrated by Pope Urbano III. The church has been altered various times over the years and the current façade dates back to 1500, as before it was lower and did not have the rose window and two large side double lancet windows. The current bell tower was built in place of the previous Romanic one in around 1920, but when the first world war broke out the work was halted, and it was never finished and left without the crowning cusp.
From XII – XIV the city continued to grow. The historic centre (in particular Piazza Erbe, Piazza dei Signori and Piazza San Zeno) had various palazzos built during the Seignory, including the Palazzo del Podestà home of the city magistrates. Many illustrious characters were guests there, including Dante and Giotto.
The period of Venetian domain was prolific, especially for private and military construction. The major protagonist of the XVI century was the Veronese architect Michele Sanmicheli, who designed and built numerous palazzos in the city and also the entrance gates to the city itself. Porta Nuova is an excellent example of his style, built between 1535 and 1540 its position created the important Corso Porta Nuova which leads to the entrance to Bra. Porta Palio was then built between 1543 and 1557, which is very interesting artistically: it has a rectangular layout and towards the outer side has three arches with Doric columns, inside there are five arches each with two columns. The external façade is decorated with architectonic characters inspired by the Roman theatre in Verona. In 1542 Porta San Zeno was also terminated, where Sanmicheli represented a triumphal arch on the façade with Ionic columns and several decorations of medals, friezes and stemmas. Red brick and white stone were used in the construction of this gate, typical elements in many Verona buildings. Other palazzos overlooking Piazza dei Signori and Piazza Erbe are the Council Loggia and Palazzo Maffei. The Council Loggia is one of the most important symbols of Veronese renaissance, and is decorated with marble columns, sculptures and frescos. Palazzo Maffei is from the XV century and was extended in 1629 by Marcantonio Maffei. Built in baroque style, it is elegantly impressive formed of three storeys with a splendid and very striking façade. There is a column in front of the palazzo surmounted by St Mark’s Lion, a symbol of the ancient period when the city belonged to the Serenissima.