‘Venetians are great lords, Paduans are great doctors, people from Vicenza eat cats and people from Verona… are all crazy’ – Italian saying.
This quote gives you a good overview of the Veneto…do not be afraid of visiting Verona, though! The people are not crazy at all. Well, maybe a little. Not sure. Why not? I don’t know really!
When you arrive by the train station, you will have to find il Corso Porta Nuova. It is the main street that will lead you to the heart of the city. To signify you that you are on the right track, you will find an ancient gate (quite paradoxal when you think the street is called New Gate).
Go straight. Straight again. Straight. No, STRAIGHT! This street is a bit like the Champs-Elysées in Paris. I said ‘a bit’… It is not similar at all, but serves the main purpose: welcoming you and preparing you for the heart of the city. It ends with a clocktower and an even more ancient gate (aaaah! That is why the other ancient gate is called ‘new’)
Here can be found la Piazza Brà. I wondered why it was called so. It is a strange name after all! Well, it seems that it derives from the German ‘breit’ meaning ‘wide’. I hoped for a more epic story behind it, but life is full of disappointments, it seems!
On this square you will find restaurants and cafés, a museum, the town hall, a statue of Vittorio Emanuele II, and the arena. Do you understand why it is in fact called the Broad Square? Actually, there is a special word in the Veneto for that kind of square where people can gather and chat : un liston.
The statue of Vittorio Emanuele II is the kind of statue you will find in every city or big town in Italy! Vittorio Emanuele (VE for friends) is one of the most famous men of the country. He was the King of Sardigna and took an active part in the Risorgimento, the movement for the unification of Italy. Along with Giuseppe Garibaldi and the Count Cavour, he managed to make Italy one country. He actually became the first King of Italy as a unified nation in 1861.
The biggest attaction on the square is the Roman Arena. Just know that it is the third largest in Italy (after the Colosseo in Rome and the one in Catania, Sicilia) It is a landmark that shows the history and legacy of Verona and its evolution. It started being built under the first Roman Emperor, Augustus, at the beginning of the 1st century (yeah…quite ancient!) It was first meant as a place of entertainment where people could go and enjoy spectacular shows and death sentences (everyone has seen Gladiator around here?) From the end of the 19th century onwards, this place has been a stage to great opera compositions. It is funny to notice that when it was built, the Arena could be found outside the great fortified walls of the city. Nowadays, it is right in the city centre. It is so strange to notice these kind of historical and geographical shifts!
The great walls I have mentioned are the walls of the Cittadella, the historic centre of Verona. These walls are basically battlements. You can see them on the other side of la Piazza Brà.
On the square, you can also find the Palazzo della Gran Guardia. It is currently a museum where you can admire all the latest exhibitions. Originally, it was a military base. ‘Gran Guardia’ means ‘Great Guard’, so you can well image the military past, eh? The construction started in the 17th century when a captain of the army realised there was no covered place to review the troops in a rainy weather. The Palace was born out of a practical need more than an artistic pursuit. That shows on the façade!
The final building I am going to deal with (I swear!) is the city hall or Palazzo Barbieri. You will notice it straight away thanks to its vivid yellow colour. It was built between 1836 and 1848 under Austrian domination. It takes its name from Giuseppi Barbieri, the project’s engineer.
If you are tired of your visit, you can just sit on the bench in the small green area facing the hall. There is a fountain, and it is quite relaxing! Maybe you are hungry…Then, I would advise you to stay on la Piazza Brà and choose one of the various restaurants it has to offer! If you are in the mood for shopping, just take the street near the Arena. Everyone is going there anyway!
I M Gullivering.