“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” Shakespeare – Romeo and Juliet
The good thing about travelling to this region of Italy and not staying within the confines of the Venetian Lagoon is that there was the opportunity to go beyond the watery city and see so much more and today our plan was to travel west and visit the ancient and famous city of Verona.
Unfortunately we misinterpreted the train timetable and where we expected to be setting off at about nine-thirty this turned out to be a peak season only service and so we had to wait until eleven o’clock and this meant that we had a hour and a half to spare. Not wishing to hang about the train station concourse we walked towards the city along a busy ring road and when we had found a quieter back street we slipped into the cobbled streets and headed towards the river.
Coming across a café almost everyone declared it time for coffee, but not being a fan of the bean and too early for Peroni I left them to their mid-morning caffeine fix and walked to the river instead. Here, built up directly above the banks apartments soared and reflected in the limpid and apparently highly contaminated waters of the Bacchiglione river. These are the buildings which some claim were the setting for Shakespeare’s ‘Taming of the Shrew’ but they were a bit modern and much later additions to anything Shakespeare might have been aware of so I don’t think Petruchio or Katherine would have recognised them. After everyone had satisfied their caffeine craving we move on and returned to the train station to catch the train for the ninety minute journey to Verona.
The Verona railway station is on the south of the city and involves a death defying walk over and around busy roads until we reached the ancient walls and one of the original city gates now sadly marooned on a busy traffic island and standing proudly at the end of an elegant boulevard, the Corso Port Nouva, that leads like an arrow shot straight and true to the heart of the city and we followed this road and arrived in the central Piazza surrounded by cafés and restaurants and with the focal point of the ancient Roman amphitheatre.
The Verona arena is the world’s third-largest amphitheatre to survive from Roman antiquity. The outer ring of white and pink limestone was almost completely destroyed during a major earthquake in 1117 but the inner part is still amazingly well preserved. It was built in 30 AD and could host thirty thousand spectators. The Roman amphitheatre has been used continuously throughout the centuries to host shows and games: gladiator fights during Roman times, jousts and tournaments in the Middle Ages and from the eighteenth century until the present day the arena is the setting for Verona’s spectacular opera performances.
This was our fifth Roman Amphitheatre in only a couple of years after Arles in France, Pula in Croatia, Mérida in Spain and the Coliseum itself in Rome and there is something majestic about them which just fascinates me. No one can be absolutely sure about which was the largest in terms of capacity and it is generally agreed that this was the Coliseum but we can be more certain about physical size and there was a plaque nearby that claimed that this was the third largest in the Roman Empire. Interestingly using this criteria the plaque only listed the Coliseum as second largest but it’s like I have always said – size isn’t the most important thing!
Entrance fee paid we went inside and my first impression was one of disappointment, there was an army of labourers dismantling a stage set and tiers of temporary seating and this made it difficult to appreciate the full glory and impact of the structure. We walked around the corridors and stone steps and made a circuit of the arena but my final assessment was that this amphitheatre was not as good as Arles (my favourite) or the magnificent arena in Pula.
After leaving the amphitheatre we walked for a while around the central square and being close to or just after lunch time we set about selecting a restaurant and decided upon a self-service place called Brek which it turns out is a small chain of eateries in Italy with a budget conscious menu which suited us just fine – it wasn’t a magnificent gourmet experience but we only wanted a beer and a pasta so it worked well for us and we didn’t linger over cognac or coffee because there was an afternoon of foot slogging visitor trail ahead.