Ah, Verona. The city of love. No seriously, it is THE city of love, since it is the home of Romeo and Juliet. It was easy to see why Shakespeare sought to set his tale of star crossed lovers in Verona as I wandered the city’s streets. It really can’t be any more of a romantic place. From its famous wines, to the pink marble sidewalks and buildings made from locally harvested stone; one can’t help but think that Verona was planned specifically for lovers. Of course it wasn’t though.

Originally it was a Roman city complete with its own amphitheater for watching the totally not romantic spectacle of Gladiator fighting. Verona then became a favored stronghold of Barbarian kings and warlords after Rome’s fall, due to its easily defendable location in the crook of the Adige River. In the Renaissance it continued its propensity towards violence as a plethora of feuding families quarreled over political power until the Scaligeri family finally reigned supreme. Who were the Scaligeris? Simply put, they were Verona’s equivalent of Florence’s Medici family. They were the ones who began to beautify the city into its current state with elaborate marble sidewalks and storefronts. They did this in order to beautify it for the passeggiata, or evening stroll, an Italian tradition to this day.

I think the funniest part of all this is the story of the towers and the graveyard. During all the quarrelling before the Scaligeri’s took over, families of importance would build towers to show how awesome they were. Each family strove to build a monstrosity bigger than the last, and this phenomenon was apparently out of control. When the Scaligeri crew took over though, they got a little bit uppity and forced all the other family’s to cut their towers down to normal height. They wanted to make sure that their barbican was the only noticeable one in the city and they refused to share the skyline with anyone else.

I find it funny to think of all those noblemen being forced to chop their towers down and picture them doing so with terribly forlorn looks on their faces. But Scaligarian arrogance didn’t stop there, oh no! In Roman planned cities the dead had to be buried outside of the walls for hygienic reasons. This haughty family had that rule changed just for them and, moreover, had architects create tombs on pillars for them. They thought it pertinent that, even in death, the other citizens of the city should have to look up to them. Heaven forbid that they be on the same level as the dirty rabble who lived in their city!

However, Verona managed to overcome this history of bloodshed and egotism and become the romantic place Shakespeare needed for his play. Even to this day the city maintains an air of love which I definitely picked up on as I traversed its sidewalks with a baguette in one hand and a bottle of ACE juice in the other. On a side note, this is rapidly becoming my favorite, albeit terribly French, way of touring Europe. ACE juice, a baguette, and Europe; what else does one need in life?

The first thing I did was to take the obligatory tourist photo in front of the amphitheater with the whole USAC group. After this, we went to the main Piazza to see the beautiful buildings and the Lamberti tower. I’m sure the Scaligeris would have been thrilled about that after all their conceited efforts to make it the thing to see in Verona.

Then, of course, we went and saw the famous Juliet’s balcony which was featured in Franco Zeffirelli’s cinematic adaptation of the Shakespearean legend. It really is a pretty neat sight and I would definitely recommend seeing it despite the controversy of whether or not it belonged to the “real”

The Infamous Balcony

Juliet. The whole courtyard in which it resides is entrenched in a celebration of love. The place is unbelievably covered with the graffiti of lovesick couples proclaiming their infatuation everywhere one looks. In the middle of it all, there sits a bronze statue of Juliet herself gazing quietly into the distance, lost in thought about her beloved Romeo. Legend has it that if you rub her bosom you will have good luck with love for a year. I stifled my gag reflex at this extremely cheesey ideology and got in the line to try and get some of this good luck myself.

Between swigs of ACE juice, I noticed that there are locks tightly clasped on fences and other structures throughout the city. The keys to these locks have been thrown in the Adige River and are the favored ways of couples in Verona to show the permanence of their love. Like I said, the place really and truly is the place to be for romance. Apparently these locks are most prevalent on the bridge over the river, though I never made it that deep into the city since we only had two hours to explore.

However, I didn’t spend all my time reveling in love. I also visited the amphitheater with some friends. It is the third largest in the world, and is still used today for the city’s annual Opera Festival (like I said, they really go all out for Romance in Verona) and other activities. So, after slaying the

Cesar gave the thumbs down for this guy

gladiator wandering around the entrance (see the included photo), we entered the arena. I must say that it was incredibly empowering to walk around on the sand where gladiators once dueled, and to climb to the top of the stands where roaring Roman crowds decided the fate of the defeated. Admittedly, I had to fight the strong urge to bend down and rub some of the grit on my hands like Russell Crowe does in Gladiator. It was quite an impressive structure and is much taller than I imagined, even though it only stands at half of its original height. The whole thing was neat and really got me excited for the Colosseum when I go to Rome next month.