Italian Lakes (2013)
From its grand Roman amphitheatre to its elegant medieval and Renaissance palaces, Verona is an enticing city, with some of the finest piazzas and monuments in Italy, and great dining and nightlife.
Casa di Giulietta
Piazza delle Erbe
Torre dei Lamberti
Basilica di Santa Anastasia
Duomo di Santa Maria Matricolare
Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore
Tomba di Giulietta
Forget for a moment the lure of Romeo and Juliet and the appeal of a night at the opera in the famous Arena. Even forget a city that takes food so seriously that its surrounding restaurants have won a clutch of Michelin stars. And ignore the Valpolicella and Soave vineyards on the doorstep. Even without all that, Verona is special, one of the most beautiful cities in Italy.
Verona on a winter’s day.
Verona is thought to have been first colonised by Venetians in the 3rd century BC, becoming a Roman colony in 89 BC. Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths, chose to make his home and capital here in the 5th century, and it remained the seat of power for the Carolingian King Pepin. In the 11th century, it came under German rule and in 1136 became a city state, with the Scaliger (della Scala) family taking control in 1277 and ruling until they were ousted by the Viscontis in 1387. In 1405, Verona voluntarily joined the Venetian Republic, remaining there until 1796 when Napoleon invaded. After his defeat, it came under Austrian rule until independence in 1866 but then sustained heavy damage during both world wars.
Today, all traces of the damage mended, contemporary Verona is an aesthetically pleasing swathe of pale pink stone curling along the banks of the River Adige, its streets paved with precious marble and lined with discreet restaurants and chic designer shops. It has a population of around 250,000 and lives on a mix of tourism and industry.
The much-loved Madonna Verona on Piazza delle Erbe.
Start your tour in the splendidly named Piazza Brà (meaning something big or wide), a huge open space surrounding the Arena 1 [map] (Piazza Brà; tel: 045-800 5151; Tue–Sun 8.30am–7.30pm, Mon 1.30–7.30pm). Built in the early 1st century AD, this amphitheatre was designed to seat 22,000 – the city’s whole population at the time. It is the third-largest in Italy (after the Colosseum and Capua), an ellipse measuring 152 metres (500ft) by 123 metres (400ft), and one of the best-preserved in the world, with two of its three rings of arches intact. Only the topmost tiers of seats have vanished into history, destroyed by a series of earthquakes in the 12th century, leaving the 31 metres (100ft) high “Ala” (wing), a series of four arches to show how it would have looked.
A spectacular production of Aida keeps the audience spellbound.
Glyn Genin/Apa Publications
The Arena Festival
One of the greatest open-air music festivals in the world, in a 2,000-year-old stadium, based on some of the finest music ever written.
There are two hours to go, the doors are thrown open and the first eager opera-lovers begin to climb the worn stone steps to the highest rings of the Verona Arena. Outside, as crowds gather at the café tables in the Piazza Brà, the evening sun streams down onto the Arena, whose arches gleam as red as the blood once spilled on its sawdust-strewn floor. In the lowest tunnel, where lions once prowled in cages and gladiators stood in chains, opera singers stand, waiting to be transformed into Egyptian warriors. With 300 men and 80 women in the cast of Aida , it takes two hours to get them all through make-up.
Aida at the Arena
In the summer of 1913, tenor Giovanni Zenatello and theatrical impresario Ottone Rovato decided to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Verdi in style by staging Aida in the Arena di Verona. To see it now, they would be astonished by what they had started. This is big business – the world’s biggest open-air lyrical theatre festival – with around 550,000 people attending 50 performances each summer and an annual turnover of $500 million. There are 350 permanent staff and 1,400 hired for the season, with talent pouring in from around the world, led by names such as Franco Zeffirelli and José Carreras.
While the Arena could originally seat 22,000, these days numbers are pegged at 14,100 for security. Aida is performed every year, Nabucco every one to two years and Carmen every second year, with the rest of the programme made up of old faithfuls from the Barber of Seville to Madame Butterfly .
The opera festival runs from June to August, but the entertainment continues year-round, with a winter opera and ballet season at the Teatro Filarmonico and a concert season from October to April at the Stagione Sinfonica.
As the evening draws in, candles flicker into life around the arena and the dark-robed chorus slip onto the shadowed stage. Singing is without microphones, and even these superb acoustics struggle a little, but the atmosphere is electric and hours later, as Aida and Radames are walled up into the vault for the 90th season and the last tragic notes die away, the audience forgets the cold stone seats and chilly midnight air and wants it all to start again.
For full details and tickets, visit the website, www.arena.it .
Unlike many, this amphitheatre has been used as a place of entertainment throughout its life, but the type of entertainment has been extremely varied, from gladiatorial combat in ancient Rome to trial by ordeal and public executions during the early Middle Ages – nearly 200 heretic Paterines were burned at the stake here in 1278. In 1276, an act was passed making it the city brothel for nearly 250 years, but by 1580 it was being used for tournaments. The last of these was held in 1716, and after that there was a parade of circus and comedy, theatre and dance, horse racing and gymnastics, and even hot-air balloon flights and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. It is still the home of a summer-long opera festival and occasional rock concerts.
Throughout the opera season, an optional extra is to book up for the early evening Anteprima Opera (Introduction to the Opera; www.anteprimaopera.it ) in the fabulous church of Santa Maria in Chiavica, where musicians from the opera company give you an introduction to the opera (in Italian and English) that is being performed that night, together with a tasting of local wines.
An arch between the restaurants along the side of the square leads to the Museo Lapidario Maffeiano 2 [map] (Piazza Brà 28; tel: 045-590 087; Tue–Sun 8.30am–2pm), established in 1745 and one of Europe’s oldest public museums, devoted to Greek, Etruscan, early Venetian and Roman inscriptions.
At the north end of the square, Via Mazzini is a narrow pedestrianised road, lined with designer boutiques and frequented by ladies wearing the latest Gucci or Armani. Great for window-shopping and also the route up to your next must-see destination.
The star-crossed lovers
As the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet , Verona continues to attract lovers, unconcerned about the level of fiction in the story. There were no Montagues and Capulets, but there were Montecchi and Capuleti. Some say that the Montecchi supported the Guelphs (Pope) and the Capuleti the Ghibellines (Holy Roman Emperor) in the violent civil war during the 14th century; others say that they all got on perfectly well. Whatever the case, they are as close as anyone can come to a real-life prototype for Romeo and Juliet . In 1935, Antonio Avena, then director of the city’s museums, realised that the city could be on to a good thing, following the success of the new Hollywood blockbuster version of the story, starring Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard, and doctored up the Capuleti House as the Casa di Giulietta 3 [map] (Juliet’s House; Via Cappello 23; tel: 045-803 4303; Tue–Sun 8.30am–7.30pm, Mon 1.30–7.30pm, last entry 6.45pm), furnishing the house, adding a fake balcony (actually an old sarcophagus) and a bronze statue of Juliet by Nereo Costantini. It is eccentric to say the least – for some reason, it has become customary to rub Juliet’s right breast if you are wishing for a new lover – and she is very shiny! The walls are covered in graffiti declarations of love, the courtyard is heaving with people, but relatively few pay to go into the genuine 12th- (not 14th-) century townhouse, furnished with Romeo and Juliet costumes, bed, and so on. The Dal Cappello coat of arms (a cap) can be seen above the inner archway of the courtyard.
Glyn Genin/Apa Publications
Romeo and Juliet
In 1597, William Shakespeare wasn’t the first or the last to tell this tale of teenage hormones gone mad (or the greatest love story ever told, depending on your point of view). He got the idea from Arthur Brooke, who wrote it in bad rhyme in 1562 in The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet . He in turn probably translated Matteo Bandello’s Novelle (1554) based on Luigi da Porto’s Istoria novellamente ritrovata di due Nobili Amanti (1531). A captain in the Venetian guard, da Porto claimed it was a true story which he had heard from a Veronese bowman in his company, but it bore an uncanny resemblance to the story of Mariotto and Gianozza, told by Masuccio Salernitano, in Il Novelino (1476), and set in Siena.
Since then, of course, the tale has continued with George Cukor’s film starring Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard (1935), Franco Zeffirelli’s version with Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey (1968), hit Broadway musical West Side Story (1957) and its 1961 film version with Nathalie Wood and Richard Beymer in the lead roles, Baz Luhrmann’s MTV-esque 1996 effort (roughly recognisable as Shakespeare) starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, and countless other adaptations. What they all have in common is that they are entirely fictional – whatever the Verona tourist office may say!
Piazza delle Erbe
Just along the road, the Piazza delle Erbe 4 [map] (Herb Market) has been the focus of the city’s power and wealth since it was the Roman forum. With a small, touristy market in the centre and cafés round the edges, it is also surrounded by stunning old buildings, amongst the most important of which are the Torre del Gardello (on the left, closed to the public), an older tower restored with its clock added by the Scaligeri in 1363–70; the Baroque Palazzo Maffei with roof terrace and its row of statues of the gods; and the Casa Mazzanti with jolly 16th-century mythological frescoes.
Lion of St Mark in Piazza delle Erbe.
First built in 1172, the brick-and-tufa Torre dei Lamberti (Via della Costa; tel: 045-927 3027; daily 9.30am–8.30pm, June–Sept Fri–Sat until midnight, Sun until 10pm) was struck by lightning in 1403 and restored between 1448 and 1464. Two bells were later added – one as a fire alarm, the other for calling meetings of the city council. The clock was added in 1779. You can climb up the stairs (the tower is 84 metres/276ft tall) or do it the easy way and take the lift, only walking the last couple of floors past the bell chamber. The views from the top are magnificent.
The Scaligeri legacy
When the Scaligeri first tightened their grip on the city in the 13th century, they set up their home and seat of government in what had been an insignificant piazza just to the north of the main square. It was soon transformed by fabulous architecture and became known as the Piazza dei Signori 5 [map] .
Monuments in the Piazza delle Erbe include: the Madonna Verona, a statue dating back to 380 (the fountain was added in 1368); the Tribuna or Berlina, where all public officials swore their oath of office; and a Venetian lion of St Mark, actually a 19th-century copy – the column is original, but the statue was destroyed in the 18th century.
The rather formidable building with the battlements is the Palazzo degli Scaligeri , first built in the 12th century, but massively altered over the years and now home to the prefecture. The very pretty yellow building with the arches is the fine Renaissance Loggia del Consiglio (1476–93), probably built by Fra’ Giocondo and topped by statues of Roman luminaries, including local boys Catullus and Pliny. It used to be the city’s assembly hall.
The statue of Dante, by Ugo Zannoni, was erected in 1865 to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the writer’s birth (he lived for a number of years in the piazza). The Caffè Dante , which opened in 1863, claims to be the city’s oldest. It still has its 19th-century decor (but with 21st-century prices).
Excavations of the Scavi Scaligeri (Scaligeri Tombs; Cortile del Tribunale; tel: 045-800 7490; closed for restoration), in the basement of the Scaligeri palace, have uncovered a Verona timeline, from the Romans onwards. The ruins are also used for photographic exhibitions. Off the square, the Cortile Mercato Vecchio is the inner courtyard of the Palazzo del Comune, with a magnificent 15th-century Gothic staircase.
Around the corner, the Romanesque church of Santa Maria Antica 6 [map] (Via S. Maria Antica; daily 7.30am–12.30pm, 3.30–7pm; free) was the Scaligeri family chapel, built in 1185 over a smaller 7th-century church. Surrounding it are the Arche Scaligere (always open; free), the tombs of many of the Scaligeri rulers, including Cangrande I (died 1329), whose equestrian statue tops the church itself, the arch of Mastino II (1351) – his equestrian statue standing under a canopy surrounded by the Virtues – and the florid tomb of Consignorio by Bonino da Campione and Broaspini (1374), encircled by warrior-saints.
Nearby you come to the next spot on the Romeo-and-Juliet trail. Romeo Montague, for all the feuding and swagger, really was the boy next door – Casa di Romeo , also called Montecchi House , was supposedly on Via Arche Scaligere, just across the park from Juliet. The 13th-century house, once home to the counts of Cagnolo Nogarola, close followers of the Scaligeri, is in poor condition and closed to the public.
The fountain in the Piazza delle Erbe can be a godsend on a hot day.
Glyn Genin/Apa Publications
Basilica di Santa Anastasia
To the north is the Basilica di Santa Anastasia 7 [map] (Piazza Sant’Anastasia; tel: 045-592 813; Mar–Oct Mon–Sat 10am–6pm, Sun 1–6pm, Nov–Feb Mon–Sat 10am–1pm 1.30–4pm, Sun 1–5pm), which was funded by the Scaligeri family. Started in 1290 and completed in 1481, it is the largest church in Verona. Its bare facade was never completed, belying the glory of the art inside – each of its 16 chapels are lavishly adorned with fine altarpieces and frescoes, culminating in Pisanello’s fragile fresco of St George Saving the Princess from the Dragon . Look out for the two holy-water stoups just inside the entrance: known as ‘gobbi’ (hunchbacks), each features a stooped figure bearing the weight on his shoulders.
By now you may want a breather. There are a couple of good cafés in Piazza Brà Molinari behind the church and more near the Duomo. Opposite the church, Corso Sant’ Anastasia is an interesting shopping street that links back to Piazza delle Erbe. It also has a couple of excellent delis if you want to buy ingredients for a picnic.
A whole complex of buildings surrounds the Duomo di Santa Maria Matricolare 8 [map] (Cathedral, Piazza Duomo; tel: 045-800 8813; Mon–Sat 10am–6pm, Sun 1–6pm). The church itself was started in 1120, and rises in graceful stripes of tufa with white and rose-coloured marble, from the Romanesque in the lower section, to Gothic higher up, and into the 16th-century mid-section by Sanmicheli. The bell tower was never finished. Inside, the whole church was given a Gothic make over between 1444 and 1513, its sidewalls and chapels lush with frescoes and paintings.
The stripey facade of the Duomo.
Next door, the little church of San Giovanni in Fonte (same hours as the Duomo) was once the baptistery, founded in the 8th century, but dating mainly to the 12th, with a superb octagonal font (c .1200) carved from a single block of rose marble, showing scenes from the New Testament. Also nearby are the chapterhouse and cloisters , built in 1140. The arches on the east are original, those to the west were restored after World War II. Fragments of the mosaic floor of the early Christian basilica have also been uncovered.
The cathedral treasures are all held in the Museo Canonicale (Piazza Duomo 29, entry from the cloister; tel: 338-902 4923; open for guided tours only; booking essential); highlights include a relief sculpture of SS Ermagora e Fortunato by a Como artist (1120), and several 15th–16th-century paintings. But the greatest items live in Europe’s oldest surviving library, the Biblioteca Capitolare (Tue–Sat 9.30am–12.30pm, Tue, Fri also 4–6pm), founded in the 5th century AD, which contains many priceless early manuscripts including letters from Cicero to Brutus; the Capitolare Gospels, a 5th-century gospel written in silver and gold on parchment soaked in purple; and the 6th-century “Verona Riddle”, the earliest written Italian (as opposed to Latin).
To the Castle
If you want to head back to the Arena the quick way, take the little road just in front of the Duomo, then turn left and right onto via San Mamaso. Here, the cavernous halls of the old Palazzo Miniscalchi now house the Fondazione Miniscalchi Erizzo 9 [map] (Via San Mamaso 2A; tel: 045-803 2484; Mon–Fri, 11am–1pm, 3.30–7pm; www.museo-miniscalchi.it ), with archaeological remains, 16th-century drawings, Renaissance bronzes, marbles and ivories.
A little further south, the quietly elegant church of San Lorenzo ) [map] (Corso Cavour 28; tel: 045-805 0000; Mar–Oct Mon–Sat 10am–6pm, Sun 1–6pm, Nov–Feb Mon–Sat 10am–1pm, 1.30–4pm, Sun 1–5pm) was built in the early 12th century over the remains of a 5th-century church. Typical of the local Romanesque style, it uses striped brick and tufa rock, while two round towers house stairs leading to a rare surviving women’s gallery (a separate area where women used to pray).
Aerial view of the Castelvecchio.
Glyn Genin/Apa Publications
As you walk south towards the castle, you pass the Arco dei Gavi , a 1st-century AD Roman triumphal arch that later became used as a city gate. Destroyed by Napoleonic forces in 1805, it was moved from its original site near the clock tower of the Castelvecchio and reconstructed where it stands now.
Born out of the family squabbles of the Scaligeri, the Castelvecchio ! [map] (Corso Castelvecchio 2; tel: 045-806 2611; Tue–Sun 8.30am–7.30pm, Mon 1.30–7.30pm) was built by Cangrande II after his half-brother Fregnano headed a revolt against his tyrannical rule. Construction began in 1354, under the control of Guglielmo Bevilacqua, but the walls and the German mercenaries with which Cangrande surrounded himself proved useless. On 14 December 1359, he was killed by assassins working for his brother, Cansignorio, who took power over the city, moving into the urban fortress and ruling with an iron fist. It continued to be the seat of power throughout the Visconti and Venetian rules, eventually becoming a museum in the 1920s. Take time to explore the towers and tunnels of the castle itself before you enter the museum in the “royal” palace, the Scaligeri family residence.
The collection is extremely rich in medieval, Renaissance and Mannerist works, all beautifully presented, and deserves plenty of time to explore. Highlights include the Longobard jewellery in Room 1, the International Gothic collection in Room 11, including the Madonna of the Quail by Pisanello, several glorious paintings by Andrea Mantegna in Room 19, and those by Veronese and Tintoretto in Room 23. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Beside the castle, the castellated Ponte Scaligero is an exact replica of the bridge built as part of the castle defences in 1355 which spanned the river until blown up by the Germans in 1945. It was reopened in 1951.
The VeronaCard is an excellent money-saver, offering you free entry to most museums, churches and monuments in the city and free travel on local bus services within the city. There are 24- and 48-hour versions available (€18 and 22, respectively), on sale online ( www.turismoverona.eu ), at participating sights, the tourist office and some tobacconists and hotels.
Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore.
Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore
Once you leave the heart of the centro storico , distances between sights grow, and it may be worth taking to the buses to save time and energy.
Bus no. 31 takes you to the Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore @ [map] (Piazza San Zeno; tel: 045-800 6120; Mar–Oct Mon–Sat 8.30am–6pm, Sun 12.30–6pm, Nov–Feb Mon–Sat 10am–1pm, 1.30–5pm, Sun 12.30–5pm), to the west of the Arena. San Zeno, the eighth bishop of Verona, died in 370, and the first church on the site was built over his tomb. Between the 9th and 13th centuries, this grew into one of the finest and most powerful Romanesque abbeys in the region, but the community was devastated by plague in 1630 and the power of the abbey quashed by Venice in 1770. By 1831, only the basilica itself, sandwiched between the red abbey tower and free-standing campanile, remained standing. All three date back to the 12th century.
The relatively simple facade of the building is pierced by an elaborately sculpted porch and heavy bronze doors showing scenes from the Old and New Testaments, the miracles of San Zeno and the life of Theodoric. Above is a huge rose window, thought to be by Master Briolato, and also known as the “wheel of fortune”. It is best admired from inside, under the sweeping keel-shaped wooden Gothic ceiling. Along the right wall are a number of fine 13th- and 14th- century frescoes. On the high altar stands a luminous Triptych with Madonna and Saints by Andrea Mantegna (1457–9). In the crypt, there are 49 11th-century columns, each with different highly imaginative capitals, leading to the shrine of St Zeno himself.
Bacanal del Gnoco
One of Italy’s oldest carnivals, the Bacanal del Gnoco, Verona’s spectacular Mardi Gras celebrations culminates with a procession of over 500 floats and 4,000 masked dancers on the last Friday before Lent. Thousands of kilos of sweets are thrown to the crowds by giant figures such as Conte Polentone (Count Polenta), the Duca della Pignata (Duke of the Cooking Pot), the Conte Caramela (Count of Sweets) and, above all, Il Papà del Gnoco (Papa Gnocchi), named in honour of the father-figure of the carnival. In 1531, following a famine when the price of flour was too high for most poor people, he celebrated Mardi Gras by giving the starving locals a free plate of gnocchi (a tradition still followed today). Each district of the city has its own giant, and elections are held for the post. Charity and fund-raising events lead up to the grand festival parade.
Across the river
North from the centre of town, near the Duomo, the Ponte Pietra (Stone Bridge) over the river is thought to have been named as early as 89 BC, when the original wooden crossing was replaced by a stone one. It has been replaced many times since, most recently in 1959, when much of the 1508 bridge has been blown up by the retreating Germans in 1945. The new version is a faithful copy.
On the far side, first turn left for the church of San Giorgio in Braida £ [map] (Lungadige San Giorgio; tel: 045-834 0232; daily; free), rebuilt by the Venetians in 1442 on the ruins of an 11th-century Benedictine monastery. The facade and bell tower were added in the 16th century, designed by Brugnoli, although some think it was designed by Sammicheli or even by Palladio. Inside, amongst many other paintings, there are two great treasures, The Baptism of Christ by Tintoretto above the main door and The Martyrdom of St George by Veronese, the city’s greatest export.
Costumed participants at the Bacanal del Gnoco.
Now follow the river round to the Teatro Romano e Museo Archeologico $ [map] (Roman Theatre and Archaeology Museum; Rigaste Redentore 2; tel: 045-806 2611; Tue–Sun 8.30am–7.30pm, Mon 1.30–7.30pm), occupying a pleasing position on the hill. While the Arena was used for games and spectaculars, every Roman city would also have a theatre for plays and other cultural performances. Typically semicircular, they were often built into the hillside to save on the digging, and this one, constructed overlooking the river in the late 1st century BC, is no exception. It was lost under the city for years until a local archaeologist, Andrea Monga, purchased the site in 1830, demolished the houses on it and began the painstaking task of uncovering the Roman splendours beneath. It has been heavily restored and is back in use, staging concerts and performances during the summer.
Teatro Roman e Museo Archeologico.
At the eastern side of the theatre, the only building that Monga allowed to stand is the little 10th-century church of SS Sirus e Libera , heavily remodelled in the 17th century. Above the theatre, reached by a lift, the former Monastery of San Girolamo now houses the fully renovated Archaeology Museum (same hours and ticket as Teatro Romano), with a well-displayed collection of mosaics, statues and other bits of ancient Rome, while the church has some 15th- and 16th-century frescoes.
Veronese (1528–88) was born Paolo Caliari in Verona (hence his name). He studied with Antonio Badile, moving to Venice in 1553 and remaining there until his death, one of a trio (with Titian and Tintoretto) who dominated the High Renaissance. They often portrayed the ostentatious wealth of Venetian life in biblical scenes, and even included portraits of patrons and friends, much to the dismay of the Vatican.
Behind the theatre and rather out of context with the rest of the city, the Museo Africano % [map] (Vicolo Pozzo 1; tel: 045-809 2199; www.museoafricano.org ; Tue–Fri 9am–12.30pm, 2–5pm, Sat 9am–12.30pm, first and third Sun of the month 2–6pm) whisks you briskly across the continental divide to look at African art via its existential meaning and rites of passage – a very Italian way of dealing with it, and in stark contrast to the Renaissance frescoes and gelaterie .
To get back to the Italian mood, drop in next at the church of Santa Maria in Organo ^ [map] (Via Santa Maria in Organo; daily except Mass times; free), a Benedictine monastery first built during the Lombard era (still visible in the crypt) and rebuilt in the 12th and 16th centuries. Its original altarpiece, by Mantegna, is now in the Pinocateca di Brera in Milan, but it still has its frescoes and superb late 15th-century marquetry choirstalls, by Frà Giovanni da Verona.
Tourist information: Via degli Alpini 9 (Piazza Brà), tel: 045-806 8680; Mon–Sat 10am–1pm, 2pm–6pm, Sun 10am–3pm; www.tourism.verona.it .
Nearby, the Giardino Giusti & [map] (Via Giardino Giusti 2; tel: 045-803 4029; daily Apr–Sept 9am–8pm, Oct–Mar 9am–7pm) is generally regarded as one of the finest surviving Renaissance gardens in Italy, designed by Agostino Giusti in the late 16th century. Lawns surround the villa, while behind it a great avenue of cypress trees lead up the hill. To one side are wildly romantic woodlands leading to a cliff with mossy caves; on the other the formal bed and fountain pools of the Italian garden, with its panoramic views across the city and plethora of statuary between the flowers.
Giardino Giusti is one of Italy’s finest surviving Renaissance gardens.
Natural history museum
Back down at the river, head south and just past the Ponte Navi (the Ships’ Bridge) you will come to the Museo Civico di Storia Naturale * [map] (Lungadige Porta Vittoria 9; tel: 045-807 9400; Mon–Thu 9am–5pm, Sat–Sun 2–6pm). Amidst the inevitable dead animals and insects, there is a particularly fine collection of plant and animal fossils, with many rare specimens from Bolca, on the slopes of the Lessinian mountains. The museum is housed in the 16th-century Palazzo Lavezzola-Pompei.
Walk back up to the Ponte Navi and cross over the river to the church of San Fermo Maggiore ( [map] (20 Stradone S. Fermo; tel: 045-592 813; Mar–Oct Mon–Sat 10am–6pm, Sun 1–6pm, Nov–Feb Mon–Sat 10am–5pm, Sun 1–5pm), one of the most beautiful churches in Verona. The first church here dates back to the 8th century, but it was rebuilt by the Benedictines, starting in 1070 and only finished in 1313 by the Franciscans, while much of the interior is later still. Its chic stripey facade of white tufa and red brick blends the Romanesque and Gothic surprisingly harmoniously, while inside the fabulous wooden ship’s-keel ceiling and rich 14th- and 15th-century frescoes around the walls miraculously escaped when the church was hit by a firebomb during World War II. Inside, note the 1495 Brenzoni Chapel behind the pulpit, Pisanello’s magnificent fresco of The Annunciation on the left wall and the 11th-century capitals of the lower church.
Spire of San Fermo Maggiore.
Keep looking up at the fine aristocratic homes above the shop-fronts as you walk south along Stradone San Fermo and Stradone Maffei, then turn left and right.
There’s one more little sidetrack for the mechanically minded. The Museo della Radio d’Epoca , [map] (Via del Pontiere 40; tel: 045-595 855; Mon–Fri 10am–6pm, Sat–Sun and holidays by appointment) is the passion of Alberto Chiantera. Designed as a homage to the radio, it has literally hundreds of sets, some of the equipment dating back to the days of Marconi, who was born in nearby Bologna in 1874.
Most people, however, will make a beeline straight to the Tomba di Giulietta e Museo degli Affreschi G.B. Cavalcaselle ⁄ [map] (Via del Pontiere 35; tel: 045-800 0361; Tue–Sun 8.30am–7.30pm, Mon 1.30–7.30pm), set in the 13th-century convent of San Francesco al Corso. Here they will find a collection of 1st-century AD amphorae, medieval frescoes, 16th- and 19th-century sculptures, including two magnificent statues by Torquato della Torre, and some Renaissance and Baroque altar paintings. But the big draw is an empty red marble sarcophagus, said to have been Juliet’s tomb. It is also here, according to legend, that the lovers were secretly married by Friar Lawrence. However, while the site was already being identified with Juliet in the 19th century, it was only in 1935 that it became part of the Romeo and Juliet trail. Today, romantics come to lay flowers, throw coins into the empty fountain, flowers into an empty grave, and sometimes to get married (civil weddings are conducted here).