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Even those that are not a fan of William Shakespeare know of Romeo and Juliet.  The tragic story of two young Italian lovers, Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, set in the beautiful city of Verona. A young lovesick Romeo falls instantly in love with Juliet, who is due to marry her father’s choice, the County Paris. In a desperate attempt to be reunited with Romeo, Juliet fakes her own death. Her message of the plot fails to reach Romeo, and believing Juliet dead, he takes his life in her tomb. Juliet wakes to find Romeo’s corpse beside her and kills herself. Such a tragic story; all while set in such a wonderful city with an ancient arena and lovely balconies everywhere you look.

While we know Verona for sadness, walking around the city was anything but sad.  Florence will always hold my heart, but Verona has definitely piqued my interest.  Like the fabled home of Juliet, everywhere you look in Verona you see beautiful old buildings with balconies, from apartments to government buildings, all waiting for someone to look out onto the street and the people walking below.  

Given the size of Verona, it is an easy city to walk around, which is exactly what we did.  Our walking took us to a 14th century castle, an 8th century church, an arena built in 30 AD, the Adige River, a Christmas market, and other wonderful sights in this ancient city now classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As I have tried to do in each city we have stayed, we are less than a 15-minute walk from most of the important sights of the city.  

On our first walk we head to the Chiesa di San Fermo Maggiore, ‘The Church of San Fermo.’  The church, located on the banks of the Adige, consists of two churches, a lower and an upper church that couldn’t look any different. The current churches are on the grounds of a small basilica from the 5th century AD built by the Order of the Friars Minor to house and honor the remains of the martyrs Fermo and Rustico. The Benedictines arrived in 1065 to look after the basilica and the adjacent monastery and remodeled the church. The task was difficult as they could not move the relics of the martyrs, so the monks kept the original foundations of the early Christian church and built two churches, one above the other. The lower church with its more than 70 frescoes on the walls including pictures of everyday life and decorative motifs using red lines and a double circle with flowers with six petals which was an ancient symbol of Christ resurrected.   

While the lower church is beautiful in its simplicity, the larger upper church is beautiful in the detail and art in the 5 apses and is distinguished by numerous lateral chapels and exquisite wooden ceiling with its painted boards containing the images of 416 saints painted in tempera in the early 13oos.   If in Verona, stop and see the two churches walking through over 1500 years of history.

Given my penance for churches, as there was not just one in the path of our walks, I made it a point to visit one more while in Verona.  The church of San Giovanni in Foro was built on what was the main Roman road. First written reference to it is a deed from 959 AD, but the church was mostly destroyed by a fire in 1172 as was much of Verona. We discovered it as we walked through Piazza Erba viewing the wares of the various vendors in the Piazza and the nearby Christmas market. Small in comparison to the Church of San Fermo, it was still beautiful and a testament to 1000 years of history.

The spirit of Christmas was with us in Verona and our visit to the small Christmas market near San Giovanni in Foro from the smell of the cooking sausages, the beautiful handmade soaps, and even the sellers of hats.  my grandson surprised me, asking for a hat which I gladly bought him since he has asked for nothing else this trip. As our luggage space is limited, his hat was our only purchase at the market that we didn’t consume before moving on.  

Our walking trips during our stay also took us along the river to see Castelvecchio (‘Little Castle’ in Italian) and bridge built in the mid-14th century and is the most important military construction of the Scaliger dynasty that ruled the city in the Middle Ages. My grandson was in no mood to go into the museum contained inside the castle, so we ventured only as far as the courtyard and onto the bridge. A castle once occupied by Napoleon and destroyed by a retreating  German army n 1945, its walls along the Adige River stand tall and strong for all to see when visiting the ancient city of Verona.  

Also, along Corso Cavour  and on the side of Castelvecchio stands Arco dei Gavi. Originally built in the 1st century,  it was demolished during Napoleonic rule in Italy and its ruins were moved twice ending in the Arena. Using a wooden model that was made before the demolition, original stones, a reconstruction of the arch was completed in 1932 close to its original location. 

Not to be missed when in Verona, head to the center of the small city and see the Arena.  Built in 30AD, it is a true example of Roman architecture and better preserved than the Colosseum in Rome. Being the 3rd largest Roman amphitheater with its original capacity of nearly 30,000 spectators, the Arena with its current capacity of 15,000 is the place in Verona to see a play or concert. 

While little is known about Dante Alighieri's stay in Verona, his presence is still felt today. From his statue in Piazza dei Signori, to the tour stop signs around the city, it is obvious to this visitor that he was and still is a favorite son to Verona.  While short, it was a wonderful trip, and I will see you again. Arrivederci, Verona!

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