Arena di Verona is now famous for its summer opera season, but the arena is thought to have been the Roman empire’s third largest amphitheatre.
It was built on the banks of the River Adige in 1AD – Verona as a city was founded the same year and its most famous inhabitants, Romeo Montecchi and Giulietta Capuleti, would have died somewhere between 1291 and 1299AD, shortly before the famous clocktower in Piazza Erbe was constructed in 1300AD.
The city continued to expand and develop, but the language spoken until around 1300AD was Latin, meaning Romeo and Juliet, as we know them from Shakespeare’s play, would also have spoken Latin, like the city’s founding Roman fathers.
The arena itself is only smaller than Rome’s Colosseum and the amphitheatre at Capua. The period of its construction fell between the era of Augustus and Claudius.
It was originally sited outside the city walls and is built from marble blocks, with a perimeter spanning 435 metres. The three tiers of seats are all built from marble – and beneath these are passages and galleries which would have been used for the operation of the gladiatorial events and theatrical spectacles which took place in the arena from Roman times onwards.
The amphitheatre was badly damaged by an earthquake in the 12th century and the four arches which have become something of a symbol of the arena are all that remain of the upper outer facade. The four arches are illuminated during shows and are quite spectacular standing alone against the night sky.
The arena is also where a certain Maria Callas made her operatic debut – and also met her husband on the same evening, a wealthy Italian businessman.
Verona itself was in the 15th and 18th centuries part of the Venetian Republic – and the city won a medal for offering resistance to the Nazi invasion of Italy during WWII. In the hillsides of the Veneto region, there is a marked German influence still because of the Italian border with Austria – the Nazis made their main base in the Veneto region at Bolzano, up in the hills above Verona. The Veneto area and the city of Verona itself is steeped in history from the Roman period onwards – including invasion by the Western Visigoths and rule by France and Austria.
If you are spending just a day in Verona, it is possible to visit the amphitheatre for a charge of around ten euros and view both the main arena and the passageways beneath the seating tiers – and you might also see the stage crew setting up for the night’s performance. The area outside the arena is also used as a scenery dock during the summer, providing a wealth of selfie opportunities. At the back of the arena is a hoarding on which visitors can leave graffiti – and just before the night’s performance, you will hear the opera stars warming up their vocal chords if you take a stroll round the exterior of the arena.
If you are visiting the amphitheatre during a performance, you will also find that the lavatories beneath the arena are somewhat primitive, but gladiators were an unfussy lot. Luckily there are nice clean portable WCs outside for non-gladiators.
Above the main entrance to the arena you will also see the royal box, as we would call it, where VIPs still sit and where emperors no doubt cast their vote with a thumbs up or down.
There is still magic in the air at the arena, though – if you are sitting high in the gradinata seats, you will feel a cool breeze blow across the vast amphitheatre and late at night it feels as if you are very close to the sky and the stars.
If you are seated in the poltronissime – the stalls, where the expensive seats are – try not to sit right by the aisle, especially if you are near the front. There is always a rush for gelato and the bar at the front in the intervals – and you may find yourself hemmed into your seat and very nearly assaulted by hot and thirsty opera goers frantically jostling for a drink or an ice cream. By comparison, gladiators and Visigoths can seem positively gentlemanly.
The summer opera season 2018 opens on 22 June and ends on 1 September. Tickets can be bought online or from the box office by the arena. Seat prices start from around 23 euros.
Want to go to Verona now?
Download VERONA ALONE and VERONA AGAIN free at Amazon Kindle Unlimited and set off for the summer opera season yourself! When former professional cellist Moira decides to mark her divorce by fulfilling a childhood dream of visiting Verona for the opera season, she encounters a quirky and generous American who appears to have a secret. It is only when she finds herself all at sea with him that the truth is revealed and she is launched into an adventure that will change her life. One year later, in VERONA AGAIN, Moira returns to Verona praying for a miracle.
Read VERONA ALONE and VERONA AGAIN – and then download the prequels ROME ALONE and ROME AGAIN to catch up with the background to the story. All are free at Kindle Unlimited or cost £2.40 or £2.60 each.
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All books contain adult themes, dark humour and sexual content.
Images copyright A. Meredith