Sunday, December 14, 2008

A City of Star-Crossed Lovers

December 15, 2008

While London was my last big trip, I still had one place in Italy left to go: Verona! So Sunday I hopped on the train to spend the day in the city best known as Shakespeare's setting for Romeo & Juliet. The city was absolutely beautiful! It's small size and character just make it such a charming place. It's full of beautiful churches, bustling piazze, tall towers, and lovely gothic buildings. All in all I really enjoyed my day in Verona, I just wish I had had more time to explore the city!
My first stop was the huge Piazza Bra', filled with the countless stalls of a Sunday market selling food and goods. However my eye was instantly caught by a strange, modern, white arc sculpture ending in a pointy starburst. Bordering the piazza on one side is the grand columned Palazzo Barbieri, Verona's City Hall, and adjacent is the magnificent 1st century A.D. Roman Arena, one of the most important and best preserved Roman ampitheatres ever built. It's actually in incredible condition, inside and out, and resembles a mini Coliseum. In fact, during the summer months world famous operas are performed there. My first sign that Verona is a city for lovers was found actually found here ; someone had wrote "Ti amo principessa" in the sand in the middle of the arena : ) Here I also bought a VeronaCard for 10 euro, which covered the entrance fee to all the places I went that day! From the piazza I walked through the narrow cobbled streets to my first chiesa of the day, San Fermo Maggiore. The church, built in the 11th century, is quite unique in that is has both an upper church, in gothic style, and an older, lower church in Romanesque style. The upper church has a great ribbed vault wooden ceiling, while the lower, almost underground church has frescoed walls and columns but is a little less ornate. Also of some interest, the upper church holds the tombs of the last descendents of Dante Alighieri (author of "La Divina Commedia"). Although not breathtaking, it was certainly a unique church. As I mentioned above, Verona is perhaps most famous for its association with Romeo & Juliet, which it is very aware of and has used it to their advantage as a tourist attraction. My next stop, then, was the Casa di Giulietta... Yes, they have turned a building into the house of a mythical character for the sake of tourism : ) Actually, despite all its lack of authenticity, it's actually a fun sight to see. It's just sweet and charming, and really gives off a romantic vibe. The walls of the covered entrance are covered in notes and scribbles by couples declaring their neverending love for one another with that timeless S + M = 4ever formula.
Inside the courtyard is a statue of Giulietta (or Juliet, as she is probably better known as) whose left breast is supposed to bring you luck when you touch it! There's even a balcony, surrounded by green ivy, supposed to be the very same balcony Romeo climbed to when Juliet whispered the famous line: "Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good-night till it be morrow." The house itself was even set up to seem as though it was lived in by the Capulets. Here and there relics from the play, like paintings (including a replication of "Il Bacio" by Francesco Hayez - from my art history class) and costumes, which remind the visitor whose house it is meant to be. The souvenir shops next to the house of course sold a variety of heart-emblazoned trinkets, making me feel as though I'd just walked into a store run by Cupid! One of the stores was actually quite cute and original; it offered a sort of embroidery service in which you could select a blank item, like an apron or towels, and have the sewers personalize them right there on the spot! And of course, many of the available items were heart-shaped : ) After getting my dose of love and romance for the day, I explored the central piazze for a bit. Piazza Erbe was very pretty with statues, Madonna Verona's fountain, the baroque Palazzo Maffei, and surrounded by little restaurants and cafes. In one corner there is also a lovely tower called Torre del Gardello. Normally the square serves as a lively marketplace, but for the Christmas season the stalls moved elsewhere (see next). Walking underneath the Arco della Costa you come to the adjacent Piazza dei Signori, there was a wonderful German-themed Christmas market called Christkindlesmarkt, full of stalls selling yummy treats and Christmas trinkets and decorated with trees! The square also has a couple palazzi, including Palazzo del Capitano with its overlooking tower. In the corner of the square is Verona's famous Torre dei Lamberti, rising from Palazzo del Comune and towering above the nearby brick buildings. Of course I climbed the seemingly neverending stairs to the top and was rewarded with gorgeous views of the city and the bustling piazze below. At this point my remaining daylight was slipping by quickly, so I had to pick up the pace. Next I went to the nearby basilica of Santa Anastasia, which happens to be the largest church in the city. I fact, connected to the main church is another sanctuary, large enough to be its own church! The gothic church, finished in 1481, is quite large, but the highlight for me was the fresco of "San Giorgio e la Principessa" by Pisanello which we studied in my Storia dell'Arte class. It was way high up at the top of an arch so I couldn't see it up close or get a good pic, but it was still pretty cool to see the real thing. The ceiling was also very pretty with a painted pattern spanning its entirety. There was even a cute nativity for Christmas! I kept going with the churches and made my way to the Duomo. Compared to the extremely ornate Duomo in cities like Milano and Siena, this one could be considered plain, but I found its simplicity to be quite pretty. The Romanesque facade features a double level porch, a side porch and apse area, as well as a tower rising in the back. Inside was also nice, with chapels and paintings lining the sides. The altar was interesting in that it was round and surrounded by columns; the dome above the altar also featured lovely paintings. This church feautured 2 paintings I was familiar with from my class, although I had not studied them closely: Tiziano's colorful "L'Assunta" and Liberale da Verona's detailed "Adorazione dei Magi".
The sun was beginning to go down so I decided on my last 2 things to see and was on my way. This time I walked along the pretty Adige River, past the stone Ponte Garibaldi with Colle San Pietro rising up in the background behind it, and Ponte della Vittoria flanked by statues on either end and with Castelvecchio in behind it. My plan was to check out another church, San Lorenzo, but when I got there the gate was locked even though it should've still been open for another half hour.
So I moved along and made it to my last stop for the day, Castelvecchio, a large and impressive stone castle, complete with embattled bridge and moat! Connecting the castle with the opposite side of the Adige River is a unique, wave-like brick bridge, Ponte Castelvecchio. In a small little piazza to the right of the castle is a simple white arch called Arco dei Gavi and benches providing a great place to enjoy the view of the river and bridge. I unfortunately didn't have time to go inside the castle, where there is a museum of Veronese art, but I was at least glad I got to see the exterior. I wish I had had more daylight to check out a couple more things, but I think I did pretty well considering and saw a lot of the city. I'm so glad I was able to fit Verona in at the end, especially now that I know what a charming city it is! So now that my travels are over, the bittersweet feelings about leaving can start to sink in as I run around trying to pack and finalize things. With only a week left, my days are surprisingly full with little down time, which I'm sure will make these last days here go by extremely fast!

Only 5 more days!!!!!!!!!!

Baci a tutti

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