VERONA MI AMORE

May 24, 2017

 

Sauntering along one of Verona's most famous shopping streets, the Corso Porta Borsari, the locals hardly seem to notice the magnificent, exceptionally well-preserved Roman gate as they pass under its great arches, eating ice cream, gossiping or checking out each others' clothes – this is Italy after all.

So my attempts to look like a blasé local are completely undermined as I gaze up in admiration at the Porta Borsari, with its two great arches and 12 additional arches spread over two levels. Dating from the first century BC, it has had various names but Borsari is thought to refer to the bursary paid to Roman soldiers for guarding this, the main entrance to the city.

 

One way in which I can increase my chances of being taken for a genuine Veronese is to arm myself with an ice cream – Verona is a great place for this frozen indulgence. Now mildly distracted by a tub of chocolate and raspberry gelato, I wander into the city's most famous square, the Piazza delle Erbe. Here, the city's long history as an affluent trading location is revealed in brick and stone. Palaces, merchants' houses, towers and statues stand in dumb, stationary tribute to more than 2,000 years of business, while visitors sit at cafés and try to work out which of the buildings is which, according to their guidebooks.

 

In fact, the smaller and quieter Piazza dei Signori next door has more genuine Italian charm than its larger neighbour. Close by is the Centro di Fotografia Scavi Scaligeri, which has regularly changing exhibitions among the inevitable Roman ruins.

In the Piazza dei Signori, I stop for an espresso at a café as the man behind the bar and a customer engage in a debate about an article in La Gazzetta dello Sport, one of Italy's two sports dailies.

 

Freshly fortified, I set off for Verona's most famous landmark (after the spurious Casa di Giulietta, or House of Juliet, this being the city of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet), its vast Roman amphitheatre, known today as the Arena. Built outside the city walls, in around AD 30, the building could accommodate 30,000 spectators.

 

 

 

 

In 1913, to celebrate the birth of Giuseppe Verdi, it also became world's largest open-air opera venue. Watching a performance here during the summer opera season is as much about the vast spectacle as it is about the music. As the crowds flood out after the final act, I decide that having sat patiently through Verona's great cultural offering, the thing I deserve more of is its other great creation – it's time for another ice cream.

Verona claims to have more Roman ruins than any Italian city other than Rome. But it wears this honour lightly. Most of its streets and many of its buildings incorporate the majestic remains of ancient walls, roads and villas into their fabric with a sort of nonchalant pragmatism. Even by Italian standards, the city also has more than its fair share of medieval, Renaissance art and culture.

 

 

 

DID YOU KNOW?

 

Three Shakespeare plays are set in Verona: Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew and The Two Gentlemen of Verona

 

Piazza delle Erbe is Verona's most famous square and is well worth a look but most of what is for sale at its market stalls is pretty tacky and the restaurants and cafés certainly don't offer Verona's best food and drink.

 

Monday is not the best day to plan a gastronomic treat as many restaurants are closed.

 

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