Trip Start Aug 17, 2007
8Trip End Aug 25, 2007
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We didn’t bother to rush, and got to breakfast around 9ish. The motel did a splendid breakfast. Then everyone else appeared (not that green dress again!)
Our plan for the day was churches, then castles, Romeo and Juliet’s last.
So, we parked under the trees by the Ponte Risorgimento and went across to St Zeno Basilica (Church). This church was really interesting. We all had brought headscarves & long trousers, so there was no problem with that
We especially liked the ancient crypt (originally a church with a nave) and the old frescoes in it. Every column interestingly had a different capital! There were interesting examples of where door or windows had been bricked up or where a corner was made from a straight wall. The sculptor Adamino da San Giorgio had decorated some entrances with monstrous animals
San Zeno Maggiore Basilica (former Benedictine monastery)
The large church is one of the best Romanesque Italian buildings. It had a lovely front door with campanile (1045-1178) and a embattled defensive tower (14thC). The bronze doors show a variety of figures, many are saints and some are unknown. There are scenes nearby from the Old and New Testament as well as from Theodoric’s life (with particular reference to his fight with King Odoacer).The interior had an unusual timber roof held by columns and there are 13-15thC frescoes along the aisles. The crypt is supposed to house Romeo and Juliet!When St. Zeno died in 380 King Theodoric (more later) of the Ostrogoths erected a small church, but his bones were later moved (9thC) by King Pepin of Italy (Carolingian) and Bishop Ratoldus into the present site (and their building has now become the crypt of the current church)
Castelvecchio, Arco dei Gavi
From the church we walked down along the river towards the town, passing the Castelvecchio (and Scaliglieri bridge)
Castelvecchio was built as a castle on the remains of a Roman fortress by Cangrande II della Scala between 1354-56 as a fortress against invasion (particularly the Gonzaga and Sforza families) and internal revolt. It is made of red brick and interesting shaped battlements. It originally had a moat fed from the river Adige, Cangrande designed the castle with an internal fortified bridge across the river for rapid escape. At its time it was the world’s largest span bridge.
Then we headed to the Arco dei Gavi. We stopped for a quick cold drink outside the fortress.The castle and bridge were popular with M & we all climbed to the second floor (watch out – lots of graffiti).Around the back of the Arena area we found a quiet outdoor restaurant to have a salad lunch (salads in Verona were HUGE and interesting)
The Arco dei Gavi is a 1stC arch built by the Roman Veronese Gavi family and is nearly unique in the classical world as it has the name of the builder, Lucius Vitruvius Cerdone inscribed on it. It was rebuilt in 1932.
Porta Borsari & Casa Guiletta
From here we headed to the Roman gate (Porta Borsari)
This is the 1st C entrance to Roman Verona. It is called borsari after the borsari (bursars, money collectors) who collected duties in the early middle ages. It has 2 arches with windows above and the inscription reads Colonia Verona Augusta and relates to the rebuilding of the city walls by Emperor Gallienus 265 AD.
and passed through back to the Via Capella (or Capulets) for….Then (of course) we had to go to Juliets house. It wasn’t as busy as I expected. The girls had bought some paper and pens to put some messages on the arch wall as you go in (along with the other 5000)
We ate back at the Arena at a pizza place on the corner, Le Cantine dell’Arena (super food even though a tourist trap- generous & delicious pizzas), then (as suggested by the guide book) went to bag our places in the amphitheatre (the book was right- arrive realy EARLY to get a good place- we were fine, but later arrivals didn’t get much of a view) with our hired cushions (essential) on the stone steps. It was still quite light and quite a time to wait but there was plenty to drink to buy. E made a massive banner to say hello to the world. As the evening fell everyone began to light their candles (provided) and it did look quite magical with the whole Arena lit by candlelight. Then the opera (Aida) began. Us girls LOVED it, M was OK with it & someone had a strop and left!
A brief (or not) history of Verona
Verona’s history can be (roughly) divided into 3 parts
- classical (Roman)
- early (Germanic) medieval
- later (families) Renaissance
The area was supposedly originally settled by a probably mythical pre-Indoeuropean tribe, the Euganei (“well born”!) who were driven out by the Celtic Venetii
It was taken by the Romans in their early (republican) expansion phase. It was visited by a number of Emperors and was a wealthy and popular Roman city.
As the Empire came under threat from german/hun expansion in the 4th C various emperors used foederati (Germanic, mainly Gothic, troops helping the Romans and receiving some land to settle).
In 394 Alaric I, King of the Visigoths (395-410) led his foederati into Italy to help the Eastern Roman Emperor, Theodosius I defeat a Western Emperor rival, Eugenius. On Theodosius’ death (480) the empire was divided between his two sons, Honorius (West)who was a minor under the guardianship of Theodosius’ friend Stilicho and Arcadius (East). Alaric had hoped for promotion and the lands around Verona/ Venice to settle on, but was denied by Honorius. In 401 Alaric invaded Italy but was defeated by Stilicho at Verona (403). Stilicho was treacherously killed by Honorius who went on to murder the Goths wives and children. In response Alaric besieged Rome and set up his own emperor, Priscus Attalus. After a second siege Honorius agreed to meet Alaric to discuss the Veneto lands but a third siege was needed before the lands were given
The Western Roman Emperor, Julius Nepos (474-80) employed another Germanic foederatus, Flavius Odoacer (433-93) to help him put down a revolt by his former general Orestes who was attempting to put his own son, Romulus Augustus on the throne. Odoacer defeated Orestes and Nepos asked him to rule over Italy on his behalf and after his death the Eastern Emperor, Zeno allowed him to rule Italy as a client king.
It wasn’t long before Zeno began to see Odoacer as a threat and asked his friend, Theodoric, King of the Ostrogoths to deal with him and in reward would receive lands in North Italy. Theodoric (knicknamed The Great and very popular in German myths) defeated Odoacer at Verona in 489. He invited him to a banquet where he killed Odoacer with his own hands.
Theodoric ruled Italy 471-526, building a strong Germanic state across Italy and Bavaria (including acting as regent to the infant Visigoth king). Like Odoacer he was technically a client king to the Eastern Roman Emperor, but in practice he ran his own affairs. After his death the gothic expansion stopped and a new Eastern Emperor, Justinian I (527-65), wanting to retake the Western part of the Roman Empire attacked Italy in the Gothic Wars (535-54). Although southern Italy soon fell to his general Narses, the northern cities like Verona held out under the gothic leader, Totila.Interestingly, Verona was captured for 1 day by a Byzantine officer, Artabazus, but the Byzantines spent so long arguing over the booty the Goths were able to retake it.
Neither the Byzantines, nor the Goths were able after this war to hold out against the invading Lombards, led by their king, Alboin (560-72)
Charlemagne ruled as King of the Lombards in Northern Italy 774-814 along with his son, Pepin 781-810 who ruled as King of Italy. Pepin made Verona his royal capital in 799. The city benefitted from the royal patronage. Pepin pre-deceased Charlemagne who allowed his illegitimate son, Bernard to succeed him. When Charlemagne died his son Louis (the Pious) took control of the bulk of the Carolingian empire. He drew up a decree ordering Bernard to become the vassal of his son, Lothair, when he inherited the throne. Bernard disagreed and Louis had him killed and took Italy back into his control. It remained in the control of the Holy Roman Emperor until 886 when Charles the Bald divided the empire, giving his relative Carloman the Kingdoms of Bavaria and Italy. His lands were divided between Bavaria and Italy on his death, with Charles II (the Fat) 879-888 receiving Italy.
When Charles the Fat was deposed his influential (Frankish) minister, Berengar I (the Margrave of Friuli) was elected to replace him (887-924)
However the burghers in Verona, becoming wealthy on the Italian/ Holy Roman Empire trade became increasingly powerful. They limited the power of the counts and organised the city into a commune (1100), allowing the San Bonifacio family the occasional use of the office of podestÓ. With the rise of the Lombard League, Verona was persuaded by Vicenza to join. This led to the rise of the Guelph (from the word “Welf” and therefore supporters of the Emperor) and Ghibelline (supporters of the Pope) factions during the Investiture Conflict.
In 1226 Ezzelino IV (1226-59) was elected podestÓ and managed to convert it to a permanent lordship
Mastino della Scala (what therefore became known as the Scaliger rulers) (1259 -1272) was elected podestÓ by the Great Council. He succeeded in converting this "signoria" into a family possession (leaving the burghers a share in the government).
However he failed to get re-elected in 1262 so staged a coup d'Útat, and proclaimed himself capitano del popolo, with command of communal troops. This new title had the advantage of confirming whoever held the title of podestÓ. He was killed by an internal conspiracy, and was succeeded as capitano by his son Alberto (1272–1329).
Alberto had 3 sons, all of whom shared power. His son Cangrande (he outlived his 2 brothers as sole ruler 1311-29) was particularly important as he brought Padua, Treviso and Vicenza under Verona’s control, he patronised Dante, Petrach and Giotto. It was Cangrande who built Castelvecchio.
They were succeeded by Mastino II (1329-51). Mastino pushed beyond the Po and took Brescia, Parma and Lucca, making him the 2nd richest ruler (after France) in Europe.Inevitably, this made him a target and a co-alition of Florence, Venice, the Visconti, the Este and the Gonzaga was formed against him 1337-40.
They took everything except Verona and Vicenza back.
Mastino II’s son, Cangrande II (1351-59) succeeded him but he was a cruel man and was shortly murdered by his brother Cansignorio (1359-75) who also murdered his other brother,Paolo Alboino
He was, however, keen to develop Verona and built many palaces, bridges, aqueducts etc. He was succeeded by a bastard brother, Antonio (1375-87) who also murdered his brother, Bartolomeo. This was too much for the people of Verona who deserted him when Gian Galeazzo Visconti of Milan attacked (1387). Antonia fled. The mercenaries (condotteri) Giovanni Ordelaffi (Verona) fought John Hawkwood (Padua) in the famous Battle of Castagnaro 1387 which was won by the Paduans.
Antonio’s son, Canfrancesco vainly attempted to retake Verona (1390). Another bastard son of Cangrande II, Guglielmo (1404) drove out the Milanese, but died soon after and Verona submitted to Venice in 1405. The Scaliger went to live at the Imperial court, repeatedly trying but failing to recover Verona.
The city became part of the Holy Roman Empire 1508-17 (Maximilian I)
Plague hit Verona badly in 1630 when 60% of the population died.Verona was occupied by Napoleon in 1797, although the population threw the French out. Napoleon ended the Venetian Republic and Venice and its possessions became part of Austria (Treaty of Campo Formio 1797). This was short lived as in 1805 (Treaty of Pressburg) Napoleon removed them from Austria to give them to his Kingdom of Italy. On Napoleon’s defeat in 1814 they were returned to Austria as part of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia.
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