Verona is, of course, known as the city of love. Beyond the usual tour itineraries and the most famous places, the city keeps certain secrets to itself, and in this article we’ll let you in on some of Verona’s more unusual and hidden gems.
HOW TO DISCOVER VERONA’S UNUSUAL SIDE: THE VISITBEST PORTAL
To discover the hidden, or perhaps lesser known, corners of Verona, just ask VisitBest, a travel agency located in Via Leoncino, near Piazza Brà.
VisitBest specialises in promoting the local area and its traditional produce, organising food and wine tastings in collaboration with the long-established shop La Botteghetta.
But let’s take a look at the key stops on this tour of discovery of unusual Verona.
THE PORTONI DELLA BRA’
Our tour starts at the Portoni della Brà, one of the ancient gateways to Verona. Look up as you step metaphorically into the belly of the city: the Portoni della Brà consists of two round arches.
In the centre, between the two arches, is a large clock, and just above it are the battlements with a walkway.
Interesting fact: the gates were built along the old medieval walls to connect Piazza Brà to what was then the countryside, whilst the clock was installed and put into operation as recently as 1872.
PLAQUE AND BUST OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
While your eyes are still fixed on the clock on the Portoni della Brà, if you look carefully, in one of the corners you’ll find the bust of William Shakespeare, with a plaque inscribed with a quote from his work Romeo and Juliet – Act III, Scene III:
“There is no world without Verona walls, but purgatory, torture, hell itself. Hence banished is banish’d from the world and world’s exile is death…”
In the spacious Piazza Brà you’ll find the Arena, the Palazzo Barbieri (now Verona’s town hall), the Palazzo Gran Guardia, the Museo Lapidario Maffeiano (Maffeiano Lapidary Museum) and many other 16th century palaces.
In the middle of the square are public gardens in the shape of a clover leaf, with the beautiful Fountain of the Alps, donated to Verona by the city of Munich. The sculpture at its centre represents the mountain range that separates the two cities and also symbolises the twinning of Verona with Bavaria’s capital.
Interesting fact: the name Brà derives from the word “braida”, in the Lombard language “breit”, meaning square, logically!
Who’s never dreamed of seeing an opera in the world’s third largest Roman amphitheatre? The Arena is certainly Verona’s most iconic sight, the eternal symbol of its Roman origins. It is thought to have been constructed around the 1st century AD and gladiator fights were held here. It owes its name to the Latin toponym referring to sand: the floor was in fact covered in sand to soak up the blood during the fights.
Interesting fact: when the opera season opens, it’s not unusual to find stage scenery and props scattered around outside the Arena!
Via Mazzini is an old pedestrian street and the main thoroughfare of Verona’s old town. Long and narrow, and flanked by beautiful palaces, it houses some of the area’s most fashionable shops. It’s the famous shopping street that connects Piazza Brà with Via Cappello, where Juliet “lived”.
Due to its popularity, Via Mazzini is almost always brimming with tourists and locals, either taking a stroll or doing a bit of shopping.
Interesting fact: the older generation still call Via Mazzini by its old name, Via Nuova.
As you leave Piazza Brà and enter Via Mazzini, you’ll find:
- The “Forever Love” love bench, formed by the letters G and R, the initials of Romeo and Juliet in Italian (Giulietta and Romeo).
- At the entrance to Via Mazzini is a column supporting a marble Gothic aedicular, or small shrine, with the Madonna and saints, a copy of the original held in the Castelvecchio Museum.
- If you look down, you’ll see that the street has been paved with local Pietra di Prun stone from Valpolicella (within the province of Verona).
- At the start of Via Mazzini, where you can see the Forever Love bench, you’ll find a bronze slab showing the plan of the city in Roman times, with its classic grid layout.
Once you’ve walked the length of Via Mazzini, you’ll come to Via Cappello, where a few metres along, the waiting crowd will tell you that in that courtyard stands one of the most famous houses in literature!
A 16th century building known as “Juliet’s House” with a charming balcony overlooking a courtyard, with the famous bronze statue of Juliet in the centre.
Stop for a minute there, if it’s not too busy, to admire this wonderful building from the 1400s, and why not stroke the Shakespeare heroine’s breast for good luck?
Interesting fact: Juliet’s statue, created by Nereo Costantini in 1969, is not actually the original! The one that “brought lovers good luck” until 2014 has been moved inside the house.
Considered in 2012 the “world’s most loved Italian square” according to research carried out by the Marilena Ferrari Foundation, this is certainly the oldest square in Verona. In fact, Piazza Erbe stands in the area of the ancient Roman Forum and is the venue for the market with its characteristic stalls. Piazza Erbe also serves as a meeting point for thousands of locals (especially the younger ones), who frequent numerous bars and restaurants there for an aperitif, with the classic Spritz.
Interesting fact: at the entrance to the Piazza dei Signori, under the arch, look up to find the Arco della Costa: since the mid-1700s, a large whale rib has been hanging from this arch, the purpose of which still remains something of a mystery today, but it’s said that it will fall on the head of the most virtuous human being… As yet, it hasn’t fallen!
PIAZZA DANTE OR PIAZZA DEI SIGNORI
Walk under the rib, towards the Piazza dei Signori, more commonly known as Piazza Dante. The statue dedicated to the poet Dante, which dominates the square, tells you why the square is known by this name.
But why Dante? The author of the Divine Comedy was taken in by the della Scala family during his exile in the early 1300s. Dante was very close to Cangrande della Scala and would actually dedicate his cantica Paradise to him.
Interesting fact: during the festive season, Piazza Dante turns into a Christmas Land, with stalls, typical Tyrolean produce and a whole host of decorative items and original gifts.
THE LIONS’ MOUTHS
If you look carefully around Piazza Dante, you’ll notice on one of the buildings some strange bas-reliefs with ancient text: what do they represent? Firstly, the palace in question is the Ragione Palace and the so-called “boche da leon” (lions’ mouths) were none other than urns into which were thrown the names of people who, according to the laws of the time, had committed crimes.
There are three of them, although we’ve only managed to find the ones for usury and smuggling… Will you manage to spot the third?
THE WELL IN VIA MAZZANTI
Now move a bit further into Piazza Dante, somewhere away from the tourist routes. We’re in Via Mazzanti, facing the palace of the same name, which still retains its ancient status of a noble palace.
But what catches our eye is the well, linked to the steep outer stairway of the building by means of a dense network of iron guides. You can still see how the water, once drawn from the well, reached the house, a truly unusual find!
Certainly one of the most picturesque and hidden gems of Verona.
THE SCALIGER TOMBS
Cross Piazza Dante (or Piazza dei Signori) again, to encounter some strange but beautiful sculptures: we are at what are known as the Scaliger Tombs.
So what are the Scaliger Tombs? In short, they’re the tombs of the della Scala family, adorned with bas-relief and surmounted by Gothic-style structures and arches. The two most famous are without doubt those belonging to Bartolomeo and Cangrande della Scala, enlightened noblemen and protectors of the city during one of the most glorious periods in its history.
Interesting fact: the Scaliger Tombs complex is surrounded by an original 14th century fence consisting of a moving iron grille! Between the joints you can see the della Scala family emblem: a ladder with four rungs.
What’s that? You’ve still got some energy left? Well then, it’s time to go back to the area of the Verona Arena, to Via Leoncino, where you can finish off with an excellent tasting of local wine and delicacies.