Amid surroundings of great beauty, in a northern corner of Italy, with a
huge mountain barrier in the rear, and not far from the Lake of Garda,
is the old city of Verona. Shakespeare called the place “fair Verona,”
and made it the scene of _Romeo and Juliet_, while the city is again the
background of drama in _The Two Gentlemen of Verona_.
Shall we not see, leaning from one of the old balconies, the lovely
Juliet? Do Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio no longer roam these twisted
ancient streets? And where shall we find Julia and Lucetta, and
Valentine, and smile at the pleasantries of Launce, with his dog, Crab,
on a leash? Shakespeare has peopled these courts and cloisters for us
with characters that we knew when we were young. We resent the bare hint
that there never were in Verona a fervent youth named Romeo and a gentle
maid called Juliet. Verona is the home of “Romeo and Juliet”, and for
this we have known the town since we first turned the magic pages of
One wishes that there were a better word than “picturesque.” How
hackneyed seem adjectives and phrases in describing these old towns.
Verona then is very beautiful; it is certainly one of the loveliest
cities of Europe, both in its surroundings and within its confines. You
will not soon tire of the Piazza della Erbe, with the flying lion on its
column, the charming fountain, and the stately Municipio. Here you will
watch the life of Verona of to-day, and reflect that it has not wholly
changed since the time of the Scaligers, the mighty rulers of the city.
There is, of course, the modern note. But the old buildings stand, and
in their shade people in the dress of olden days pass continually. It is
inspiring and a trifle unreal when the moon lights the square, and the
silence of night lends mystery to the scene.
In Verona everyone strives to live and work in the open air. The streets
are thronged on days of market, stalls are set up in the narrow lanes
and in the piazzas, vegetables and fruit come in great store. The
eternal garlic scents the street, but we learn to love its odour. In
Spain a market is quiet and solemn; here the scene is gay and noisy.
Voices are raised, and there is lively bartering of wares. There are
subjects at every turn for the brush of the painter–stern old
buildings, winding alleys, and groups of garishly dressed peasants.
Diocletian’s glorious amphitheatre is the chief wonder of Verona. Few
Roman monuments are so well preserved; the lower arches are almost
perfect, and the stonework has been restored.
Great gladiators fought here during hundreds of centuries. The tiers had
thousands of seats for spectators of all classes; and in later times the
knights of chivalry contended in the circus. There is a fine view from
the highest tier, overlooking the city and the varied landscape.
The structure is of a dull red marble, and signs of decay have been
removed by repeated restoration, for the people of Verona take great
pride in this monument. “The amphitheatre,” writes Goethe, “is the first
important monument of the old times that I have seen–and how well it is
Fra Giaconda designed the Palazza del Consiglio, and his fine arches and
statuary deserve close inspection. The Tribunale and the Palazza della
Ragione, both interesting, should be visited; the tombs of Scaligers in
the Tribunale are Gothic work of great beauty.
There are several important churches in the city. The cathedral was
begun in the twelfth century, and is adorned with a number of exterior
images and reliefs. One of the chief works of the interior is Titian’s
“Assumption.” San Zeno Maggiore has a beautiful façade, with Theodoric
the Goth as one of the carvings, and a doorway of noble decorations. The
interior of this church is very impressive.
The Church of Sant Anastasia dates from the thirteenth century, and is
one of the most striking buildings in Verona. In the Cavilli Chapel are
some old frescoes, and there is a splendid statue of the last of the
Scaliger rulers, Cortesia Sarega, on horseback.
San Giorgio has some famous paintings. Let us inspect first the great
picture of Paolo Veronese, “The Martyrdom of St George.” Paolo Caliari,
born in 1528, was a native of Verona, and came to be known as “The
Veronese.” His model was Titian, and he excelled in colour effects, and
in the brilliance of his scenes. Several of his chief works are in
Venice, but the example in this church is considered one of his
greatest achievements. More of his pictures will be seen in the gallery
of the Pompeii Palace. The art of Paolo Veronese appealed strongly to
Goethe, who admired more than all his work in portraiture.
Jacopo Robusti, called Tintoretto, was the founder of the Venetian
School. Like Veronese, he followed the method of Titian. He was a
prolific painter. Venice abounds in his works, and there are several of
his paintings in Verona. In San Giorgio is “The Baptism of Christ,” and
Goethe refers to one of this artist’s pictures, called “A Paradise,” in
the Bevilague Palace.
One of the finest works of Mantegna is in Verona. This is the altarpiece
“The Madonna with Angels and Saints,” in the Church of San Zeno. The
figures and features of the Virgin are very beautifully presented.
Mantegna was by birth a Paduan, but he worked chiefly in Mantua. His
magnificent cartoons, painted for a palace at Mantua, are now in the
Hampton Court Gallery, England.
In the Church of Santa Maria in Organo there are some fresco paintings
by Morone, depicting a Madonna accompanied by St Augustine and St
Thomas Aquinas. Dr Kugler, in his “History of Painting,” says that there
is a “Madonna” by that painter in a house beyond the Ponta delle Navi in
Fra Giovanni designed the choir stalls in this church, and executed
other decorations during his sojourn in the monastery of Verona.
From Santa Maria we may turn into the beautiful old Giusti Gardens, with
their shady walks, their wealth of verdure, and ancient cypress-trees.
Besides the pictures in the churches, there is a collection of paintings
in the picture gallery of the Palazzo Pompei. Here will be found
examples of Paolo Veronese and other notable artists of his day. One of
the Veronese School here represented is Girolomo dai Libri, who was a
follower of Mantegna. His work is of a deeply religious character, and
merits careful study.
The Church of San Fermo Maggiore should be seen for its handsome Gothic
architecture, both in the exterior and interior.
There are one or two relics of the Roman period in the history of
Verona, besides the splendid amphitheatre. The most noteworthy are the
two gateways, the Arco dei Leoni, and the Porta dei Borsari.
A. E. Freeman, the historian, has admirably described the variety of
interest in this old town: “There is the classic Verona, the Verona of
Catullus and Pliny; there is the Verona of the Nibelungen, the Bern of
Theodoric; there is the mediæval Verona, the Verona of commonwealths and
tyrants; the Verona of Eccelius and Can Grande; and there is the Verona
of later times, under Venetian, French, and Austrian bondage, the Verona
of congresses and fortifications.”
- The Project Gutenberg EBook of Old Continental Towns, by Walter M. Gallichan