Verona | I Capuleti e i Montecchi

Pleasant Verona!

As we know Romeo and Juliet’s story, arguably the most famous love drama in history, takes place in Verona: “Pleasant Verona!”, in  the words of Charles Dickens:

“with its beautiful old palaces, and charming country in the distance, seen from terrace walks, and stately, balustraded galleries. With its Roman gates, still spanning the fair street, and casting, on the sunlight of to-day, the shade of fifteen hundred years ago. With its marble-fitted churches, lofty towers, rich architecture, and quaint old quiet thoroughfares, where shouts of Montagues and Capulets once resounded, and made Verona’s ancient citizens Cast by their grave, beseeming ornaments, To wield old partizans. With its fast-rushing river, picturesque old bridge, great castle, waving cypresses, and prospect so delightful, and so cheerful! Pleasant Verona!”

A city that has developed continuously and progressively over two thousand years

UNESCO world heritage since 2005 Verona is a beautiful example of a city that has developed continuously and progressively over two thousand years, incorporating elements from different periods into a harmonious architectural unity.

Verona and the river Adige

The city lies along the banks of the river Adige in the point where it enters the Po’ valley, about thirty miles east of Lake Garda. The Adige flows today in Verona within massive walls, built after the 1882 flood.

Verona’s development has always been closely linked to its river because of the many commercial and industrial activities relating with it. Along its banks blocks of marble and wood were worked and then transported on its waters. There also were shipyards, many floating mills, scooping, warehousing, small industries and handcrafts.

A brief history of Verona

Since its foundation in 89 BC Verona was one of the most important cities of the roman republic, gaining in 49 BC the Roman citizenship and then acquiring the rank of municipium first and of Res publica Veronensium then.

During the roman empire, Verona became a populous and vibrant city, being at the centre of many trading routes. The city kept developing, enlarging and modernizing and reaching the peck of wealth and splendour with the Emperor Vespasiano.

Vespasiano’s Anfiteatro: the Arena

It was Vespasiano to build the Anfiteatro Flavio now famous as Arena: the city was exceeding 25,000 inhabitants and needed a large venue for entertainments such as gladiators and hunting shows. Probably built in the 1st century DC, the arena was the largest Roman amphitheatre, after that of Rome, Milan and Capua, being able to host up to 30.000 people. New walls were built around the city to incorporate the arena in just seven months, as the city was invaded by the barbarians.

Verona in the Middle Ages

The Lombards broke the short Byzantine rule over the city and made of it the capital of the important Lombard duchy. With the fall of the Lombards and the birth of the Carolingian Empire the city was given by Carlo Magno to his son Pepin. The city was often the destination of the Carolingian emperors, who spent there long periods, and insured the peace, while the rest of the peninsula was devastated by continuous wars.

The Comune and the dispute between Guelphs and Ghibellines

The birth of the Comune dates to 1136, when the first consuls were elected. It was during this time that the two parties called Guelphs and Ghibellines developed.

These names indicate the two factions that, till the affirmation of the Signorie and as long as the conflict between church and empire lasted, standed respectively for the House of Bavaria and Saxonia (velfen, from which the word Guelf) and that of Hohenstaufen, lords of Waiblingen (from which Ghibellines), which were fighting for the imperial crown after the death in 1125 of the Emperor Henry V without direct heirs.

The clash between the two factions, where the Ghibellines – of which the Montecchi was one of the most relevant families – was the strongest faction in the city and the Guelphs that in the countryside, inflamed the city till Ezzelino III da Romano rose to power.

Initially his regency was quiet but after a series of looting in the Guelph villages the tension escalated so that even the Emperor Frederick II, who had granted the title of imperial vicar to Ezzelino started to worry.

The rise of Della Scala family

The Guelphs led by Azzo d’Este defeated Ezzelino taking the power of all the cities previously conquered. But not Verona, which became a signoria with Mastino I della Scala.

He starts the rule of the family over the city, which will last from 1262 to 1387. In Verona the transition from comune to signoria happens quietly.

Mastino, elected people’s captain was re-elected, then after him his brother, who got elected for life and made the title hereditary.

The Italian Signorie

The Signorie worked initially in juxtaposition to existing municipal institutions, gradually depriving them of their effective power. Many lords in Italy came to power in this way: after one or two generations sought legitimization by the Pope or the Emperor, receiving the title of “papal or imperial vicar“.

During the 14th century, some families received the title of imperial vicars while in the following 15th century other families were awarded the title of dukes or marquises: these titles are a sign of the stabilization of the power of the lords.

The plague

Verona enjoyed a long period of peace under the rule of Venice, which ended with a renewal of the Holy Alliance. Then the plague arrived, brought in by German soldiers in 1630. The city was submerged of dead bodies so they had to be burned or thrown into the Adige. Almost 2 thirds of the population died, bringing the number of inhabitants from around 53.000 inhabitants, in 1626, down to 21.000. It was the end of the 18th century before the population raised back to 50.000.

The Austrian rule

In 1797 with The Campoformio Treaty the city was given by Napoleon to Austria and then, after the Congress of Vienna in 1815, passed permanently to Austria until the Savoia’s conquest of Vittorio Veneto in 1866.

A must see, not only for lovers!

From the Arena, to Juliet’s house, piazza delle Erbe – the ancient heart of the city which stands where once was the Roman foro – piazza dei Signori – closed as a courtyard by monumental buildings connected by arches – the city building – with its roman courtyard called the Old Market – and the Lamberti tower – 84 meters high, from which you can admire a splendid view of the city – a visit to Verona is definitely a must and not only for lovers!

About Sara Filippini

Opera music along with destination management and communication are my fields of expertise. Music and singing are my passion combined with travel and exploring the connection between places and their stories. Coming from Italy I am blessed with wealth of history and adventures to be explored from Sicily to the Alp's. The real dept of any story can be best felt from the place of its origin were the surroundings add to the sense of connection and true appreciation.

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