You may wish to read an introduction to this section or a page with some background information on the history of Roman Verona or a page on its theatre and amphitheatre first.
The splendid porch must have formed
part of the new building, and must,
therefore, belong to the 12th century.
Four columns, supporting two arches,
one above the other, and the lower
columns resting on griffins, form the
porch. This absurd mode of supporting columns seems to have been common in Italy in the 12th and 13th
John Murray - Handbook for Travellers in Northern Italy - 1852
The Cathedral was built in 1187, approximately at the same time as San Zeno on the site of a previous church which was destroyed in 1117 by an earthquake. The façade and the interior were largely modified in the following centuries, but the portal retained its original Romanesque aspect.
Cathedral: details of the main portal: (left) Roland; (centre) decorative band; (right) griffins (the reddish stone of one of them, known as "Rosso di Verona", was used for other guarding lions, e.g. those of the Cathedral of Ancona and in many monuments of Verona); another decorative detail is shown in the image used as background for this page
The celebrated Paladins,
Roland and Oliver, who guard the
entrance, may be supposed to have
been introduced with reference to the
traditional connection of Charlemagne
with this building. (..) Orlando in his rt. hand holds his celebrated sword, upon the blade whereof
its name is inscribed, divided thus
into its four syllables, Du-rin-dar-da.
His oval shield, flat at top, is pointed
at the bottom, and ornamented with a
species of Etruscan scroll-work. His
l. leg and l. foot are armed in mail;
the rt. leg and rt. foot are bare. Murray
The decision of portraying the Paladins, defenders of Christianity against the Arabs, was perhaps prompted by the participation of Veronese knights in the Third Crusade. They are recorded among those who seized Acre in 1191.
Cathedral: side portal and details of its decoration
The porch of the transept of the
Duomo offers many peculiarities, consisting of two stories or ranges of
columns with strange sculptures, mystical or satirical. Murray
The reliefs have a religious significance, although a not very apparent one to a modern viewer; the man being swallowed by a monster is a reference to Jonah and the whale, the women with long hair in a capital are symbols of luxury, whereas the fish, the woman holding two cups and the lion on a pulvinus are Eucharistic symbols. The marble columns of the porch were taken from Roman monuments.
The Cloister of the cathedral has
been modernised in the upper story,
for it was originally a double cloister.
It has two ranges of arches in the
height of the gallery, each arch rests
on a pair of columns, and each pair is
of a single stone, the capitals and bases
being united (similar to that of S. Zeno). Murray
The cloister stands on the site of Roman baths.
This XIIth century church was aligned with the grid of Roman Verona and some ancient materials were used in its construction. Its two round towers are rarely seen in Romanesque buildings in Italy (see another example at S. Claudio al Chienti). The interior retains its original clean lines and its height prefigures that of Gothic churches.
has the epithet of Maggiore from
its size: it is, perhaps, the most interesting after the cathedral and San Zenone. Its foundation may be traced
as far back as 751. The crypt appears
to have been built in 1065; and the
massy piers and plain heavy vaulting
are perhaps unaltered. Murray
The plan of the church was based on three naves, but to better support the upper church the main nave was divided into two by a row of pillars, thus creating a very unusual layout.
San Fermo Maggiore: Lower Church frescoes: (left/centre) old frescoes depicting the Baptism of Christ and a Nursing Madonna: (right) later fresco portraying St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio
The Baptism of Christ shows the influence of mosaics in the Arian and Neon baptisteries of Ravenna. The Nursing Madonna is a very early example of a subject which became very popular in the XIIIth century (see a mosaic on the façade of S. Maria in Trastevere). Because of the bare breast its depiction was discouraged by Counter-Reformation theologians (e.g. by Cardinal Charles Borromeo in Instructionum Fabricae et Supellectilis ecclesiasticae).
San Fermo Maggiore: Upper Church and detail of its ceiling
The interior is a fine and bold
Gothic, built between 1313 and 1332.
The ceiling is of wood, and not handsome, but is ornamented with a vast
number of paintings of saints on the
Today the unique wooden ceiling resembling an inverted boat keel receives more appreciative comments: Wow! I'm not religious myself but this building could have converted me to it. It was stunning. The roof, you have to go and see it for that alone. Absolutely amazing. Tripadvisor review by artemis1 in September 2019
San Fermo Maggiore: (left) Mausoleo Brenzoni with statues by Nanni di Bartolo and frescoes by Pisanello; (right-above) tomb of Omobono, a "philosopher, physician and man knowledgeable in all matters" (d. 1330); (right-below) tomb of lawyer Antonio Pelacani (d. 1327)
There is a curious
monument to the memory of Antonio
Pelacani (or, skin the dogs), who appropriately took to wife Mabilia Pelavicini (or, skin the neighbours). He
was a professor of medicine, and is represented surrounded by his pupils. Murray
The practice of burying the famous and the rich inside the churches turned those of Verona (and in general of Italy) into a museum of fine arts.
The squares are very full on market days; there are fruit
and vegetables without number, and garlic and onions to the
heart's desire. Throughout the day there is a
ceaseless screaming, bantering, singing, squalling, huzzaing,
and laughing. The mildness of the air, and the cheapness of
the food, make subsistence easy.
J. W. Goethe - Italian Journey - September 16, 1786 - translation by Charles Nisbeth
Piazza delle Erbe, or vegetable-market, was the Forum of the republican times of Verona, and contains many old and picturesque buildings connected with history. Murray
I had been half afraid to go to Verona, lest it should at all put me out of conceit with Romeo and Juliet. But, I was no sooner come into the old market-place, than the misgiving vanished. It is so fanciful, quaint, and picturesque a place, formed by such an extraordinary and rich variety of fantastic buildings, that there could be nothing better at the core of even this romantic town: scene of one of the most romantic and beautiful of stories. It was natural enough, to go straight from the Market-place, to the House of the Capulets, now degenerated into a most miserable little inn. Noisy vetturíni and muddy market-carts were disputing possession of the yard, which was ankle-deep in dirt, with a brood of splashed and bespattered geese; and there was a grim-visaged dog, viciously panting in a doorway, who would certainly have had Romeo by the leg, the moment he put it over the wall, if he had existed and been at large in those times. (..) The geese, the market-carts, their drivers, and the dog, were somewhat in the way of the story, it must be confessed; and it would have been pleasanter to have found the house empty, and to have been able to walk through the disused rooms. (..) The house is a distrustful, jealous-looking house as one would desire to see, though of a very moderate size. So I was quite satisfied with it, as the veritable mansion of old Capulet, and was correspondingly grateful in my acknowledgments to an extremely unsentimental middle-aged lady, the Padrona of the Hotel, who was lounging on the threshold looking at the geese.
From Juliet's home, to Juliet's tomb, is a transition as natural to the visitor, as to fair Juliet herself, or to the proudest Juliet that ever has taught the torches to burn bright in any time. So, I went off, with a guide, to an old, old garden, once belonging to an old, old convent, I suppose; and being admitted, at a shattered gate, by a bright-eyed woman who was washing clothes, went down some walks where fresh plants and young flowers were prettily growing among fragments of old wall, and ivy-coloured mounds; and was shown a little tank, or water-trough, which the bright-eyed woman, drying her arms upon her 'kerchief, called 'La tomba di Giulietta la sfortunata.' With the best disposition in the world to believe, I could do no more than believe that the bright-eyed woman believed; so I gave her that much credit, and her customary fee in ready money. It was a pleasure, rather than a disappointment, that Juliet's resting-place was forgotten. (..) It is better for Juliet to lie out of the track of tourists, and to have no visitors but such as come to graves in spring-rain, and sweet air, and sunshine. Charles Dickens - Pictures from Italy - 1846
Near the church of S. Mary the Ancient there are some magnificent tombs of their ancient lords the Scaligers.
Thomas Nugent - The Grand Tour - 1749
Cangrande was vicar of the empire in Verona. He was a Ghibelline in heart and soul; and, whilst he acquired the possession of Vicenza, Padua, Feltre, Belluno, and Bassano, by force or policy, the grant of the vicaral powers gave a legitimate character to the dominion which he obtained. The court of Cangrande was the most magnificent in Italy, and exhibited a combination of military splendour and profuse hospitality and liberality to the stranger, and encouragement to the literature of the age. His palace became the refuge for all who, embracing his political opinions, had in anywise subjected themselves to persecution; and it was here that Dante found an asylum. (..) The tomb of Cangrande forms a species of portal to the church. It is composed of three stages; columns support the tomb, and through them the church is entered; (..) above, on a pyramid, is the statue of the warrior, in full armour, mounted on his war-horse. (..) the mastiff's head appears as the crest of the helm, thrown back upon the shoulder. Murray
Monument to Cangrande I Della Scala: sarcophagus and gisant statue
Upon the sarcophagus the Signore is extended in his peaceful robes girt with his sword
of state. (..) The sarcophagus rests upon figures of mastiff
dogs supporting the shield charged
with the scala, the ladder, the bearing
of the family. Murray
Her nobles sleep in marble tombs so beautiful that the dust in them ought to be envied by living men in Verona; her lords lie in perpetual state in the heart of the city, in magnificent sepulchres of such grace and opulence.
William Dean Howells - Italian Journeys - 1867
(left/centre) Monument to Mastino II della Scala (1308-1351) and the original statue at Museo di Castelvecchio; (right) Monument to Cansignorio della Scala (1340-1375)
The Tombs of the Scaligers,
with their soaring pinnacles, their high-poised canopies, their
exquisite refinement and concentration of the Gothic idea, I
can't profess, even after much worshipful gazing, to have fully
comprehended and enjoyed. They seemed to me full of deep
architectural meanings, such as must drop gently into the mind
one by one, after infinite tranquil contemplation. But even to
the hurried and preoccupied traveller the solemn little chapelyard in the city s heart, in which they stand girdled by their great swaying curtain of linked and twisted iron, is one of the
most impressive spots in Italy. Nowhere else is such a wealth
of artistic achievement crowded into so narrow a space; nowhere
else are the daily comings and goings of men blessed by the
presence of manlier art.
Henry James - Italian Hours - 1872
The eighth ruler of the Scaligers, Cangrande II, who built the Castel Vecchio, and the great bridge adjoining it over the Adige, after a troubled reign of eight years, was murdered by his own brother, Can Signorio, 1359: and it shows in what a demoralised state Italy must then have been, when we find that such a crime did not prevent the perpretator of it from succeeding to the government. (..) The virtues of the early Scaligers had raised them to power: the vices of their descendants terminated their reign. The Veronese, disgusted with the Scaligers, voluntarily surrendered themselves to the Venetians in 1406. (..) Immediately adjoining the castle, which is on the banks of the Adige, is the coeval Ponte del Castello, also a picturesque object. It is of brick, turreted and battlemented. The arches are of unequal size; the largest is about 161 feet in span. The different views of and from this bridge are admirable. Murray
(left) Ponte Scaligero; (right-above) its Ghibelline battlements; (right-below) a Roman capital which was found during the 1820 restoration
the lords of Verona, crowned their buildings
with the forked battlements which render them so picturesque. Murray
In 1802 the French pulled down the battlements and the tower. In 1820 Emperor Francis I ordered the restoration of its medieval aspect, which perhaps was slightly enhanced to make it more picturesque. The bridge was blown out by retreating German troops in April 1945 and it was carefully rebuilt dove era e come era (where it was and how it was) in 1949-1951.
In a land (Italy), where we enjoy the days but take especial
delight in the evenings, the time of nightfall is highly important. For now work ceases; those who have gone out walking turn back; the father wishes to have his daughter home again; the day has an end. What the day is we Cimmerians (*)
hardly know. In our eternal mist and fog it is the same
thing to us, whether it be day or night, for how much time
can we really pass and enjoy in the open air? Now when
night sets in, the day, which consisted of a morning and an
evening, is decidedly past, four and twenty hours are gone,
the bells ring, the rosary is taken in hand, and the maid,
entering the chamber with the lighted lamp, says, "felicissima notte". This epoch varies with every season, and a man
who lives here in actual life cannot go wrong, because all the
enjoyments of his existence are regulated not by the nominal
hour, but by the time of day. If the people were forced to
use a German clock they would be perplexed, for their own
is intimately connected with their nature. Goethe
At Goethe's time the clock at Castelvecchio had only one pointer and the quadrant had six hours. Learn more about the Italian Hour and see a clock at Sutri which has retained its original aspect.
(*) Homer (Odyssey - Book XI) refers to the Cimmerians as a faraway people who live in fog and clouds and Goethe made a link between them and the Germans.
(left) A hall of the museum inside Castelvecchio; (right) an original fresco
The Castello Vecchio was built in
1355 by Cangrande II, for the purpose
of keeping the city in check. (..) It is
yet a noble and picturesque pile, battlemented at the top. Within, the quadrangle has been much modernised,
and some fine towers have been demolished. Murray
The original castle was modified many times through the centuries. In 1923-1926 some of its medieval parts were rebuilt and its use by the military was discontinued. It was greatly damaged during WWII. In 1958-1974 Carlo Scarpa, a leading Italian architect, presided over the restoration of the complex so that it could house the civic collections of fine arts.
You may wish to see Roman Verona or the Roman Theatre and the Arena or Roman Verona in the Museums or San Zeno or the Venetian Gates of Verona or to move to:
Roman Aquileia - Main Monuments
Roman Aquileia - Tombs and Mosaics
Early Christian Aquileia
Roman Brescia: Capitolium and Forum
Roman Brescia: Other Monuments
Chioggia: Living on the Lagoon
Chioggia: Other Monuments
Roman and Medieval Cividale del Friuli
Venetian Cividale del Friuli
Roman and Byzantine Parenzo (Porec)
Medieval and Venetian Parenzo (Porec)
Peschiera del Garda
Roman Pola (Pula)
Medieval and Venetian Pola (Pula): Churches
Medieval and Venetian Pola (Pula): Other Monuments
Byzantine Ravenna: S. Apollinare in Classe
Byzantine Ravenna: S. Vitale
Byzantine Ravenna: Other Monuments
Venetian and Papal Ravenna: Walls and Gates
Venetian and Papal Ravenna: Churches
Venetian and Papal Ravenna: Other Monuments
Roman and Medieval Trieste