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Shakespeare celebrated its beauty without ever having seen it
In the age of Augustus the city was already considered second only to Rome in the whole empire.
Always a trading center, it is still the European hub of major trade networks. It has an irresistible appeal for tourists and visitors thanks to events like Vinitaly, FieraCavalli (the International Horse Festival) and the outstanding season of opera and shows held in the ageless Arena
by Dario C. Nicoli
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Verona. Panorama. Photo by Thilo Weimar courtesy of Archivio Fotografico Provincia di Verona Turismo.

Think of Verona and Juliet appears. As beautiful as Olivia Hussey in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1967 film, as intense as Rebecca Saire in the BBC production directed by Alvin Rakoff in 1978. And beside her, Romeo with the features of Leonard Whiting or Patrick Ryecart, respectively.

It is 14th century Verona, with its family feuds and its duels, that is the background to William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, one of the most heart-rending love stories of all time, which celebrates both the explosive power of life and the triumph of death. It is in the squares and lanes overshadowed by imposing palaces that the tormented story of Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet unfolds, a relationship opposed by the respective families, which ends with the death of the two lovers in the crypt of the ancient monastery of San Francesco al Corso.

Every year at least eight thousand new visitors come to the city that Shakespeare celebrated for its beauty without ever having seen it. It is such an entrancing microcosm that the young Montague, banished by Bartholomew della Scala and exiled to Mantua, says There is no world without Verona walls, But purgatory, torture, hell itself…”. The visitors search for Juliet’s balcony, following a route punctuated by evocative plaques, that guide them in the discovery of the city along the milestones of the Shakespearean drama. From via Cappello to Piazza delle Erbe to Piazza dei Signori, the city’s traditional commercial center, to the Old Market square. One of the seats of power in the city, hemmed in between buildings decorated with earthenware tiles and tuff, lined almost right around with porticos and featuring the majestic staircase dubbed “Scala della Ragione”, this courtyard still retains the austere fascination of that period.

The starting point for the walk is always, for everyone, Piazza Bra, the Lombard clearing dominated by the great Arena, which with the Theater on the shores of the Adige, bears witness to how important the city already was in the age of Augustus. It was in fact considered the empire’s second city in size and splendor after Rome.

Since time immemorial, a crossroads of trade and of the movement of people (legend has it that it was founded by Brenno during the invasion by the Huns in Italy in 300 B.C.), today Verona is still the hub of one of the most modern European commercial networks. Well-known for its International Fair, specializing in horses and for Vinitaly, not to mention its tourist activity which offers unforgettable holidays along the shores of Lake Garda and picturesque walks through hills covered in olive trees and vineyards producing high-quality wines, such as Recioto and Amarone, admired the world-over. Of course there are also the typical dishes of Venetian cooking, especially the tortellini of Valeggio sul Mincio, best washed down with Bianco di Custoza, and the potato gnocchi, whose “father” has been represented in the main San Zeno Carnival mask since the 1500s.

An irresistible attraction is the Opera festival in the Arena which since 1913 has provided spectacular annual open-air shows from June to September. The program in the great amphi-theater, which can seat audiences of over ten thousand, always features Aida, which inaugurated the celebrations of the centenary of Giuseppe Verdi’s birth, and Bizet’s Carmen, works which more than any others gain emotional depth on a large stage. Concerts of classical and rock music, dance and ballet complete the program which, over the years, has brought the greatest stars of the world artistic scene to the Arena, from Maria Callas, who made her debut there in 1947 in the role of Amilcare Ponchielli’s Gioconda directed by Tullio Serafin, to Kiss, the American rock band who have chosen Verona for their only Italian performance on June 11, to celebrate their 40th birthday with a bang.

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