I love Verona. It is beautiful and opulent. It answers every tourist wishes. Located in northern Italy’s Veneto region, with a medieval old town built between the meandering Adige River. It’s famous for being the setting of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
Verona has luxury stores, lots of restaurants, history, museums, castles, art, performances, romance, lots of walks. Of particular interest are the 10 churches of Verona. Each one has a lot to offer inside and outside for the art-loving tourist.
Starting with the obvious and must see: The Verona Arena is located in the big Piazza Bra (yes! that’s the name of the huge square), is a huge 1st-century Roman amphitheater, which currently hosts concerts and large-scale opera performances. Every summer from June to beginning of September it is possible to attend grand operas. Usually by Verdi since they are the most suitable for such grand venue. Aida is always a big hit [Below a photo I took last July just before the performance of Aida].
Taking Via Giuseppe Mazzini and admiring all the beautiful shops with the best of Made in Italy, all the way to Via Cappello; it leads on the right to Juliet’s House and to the left to the beautiful and usually crowded—because of the market—Piazza delle Erbe. It is nice to admire the very old and charming buildings that surround the Piazza.
Turning right, there is Piazza dei Signori, with a statue of Dante Alighieri right in the middle. From Piazza dei Signori is possible to see the tombs of the Scaligeri Family.
The Scaliger Tombs (Italian: Arche scaligere) is a group of five Gothic funerary monuments celebrating the Scaliger family, who ruled in Verona from the 13th to the late 14th century.
The tombs are located in a court outside the church of Santa Maria Antica, separated from the street by a wall with iron grilles. Built in Gothic style, they are a series of tombs, mostly freestanding open tabernacle-like structures rising high above the ground, with a sarcophagus surmounted by an elaborate baldachin, topped by a statue of the deceased, mounted and wearing armour, they are one of the most outstanding examples of Gothic art.
The tombs are placed within an enclosure of wrought iron grilles decorated with a stair motif, referring to the name of the della Scala family. The stone pillars of the enclosure have statues of saints. The tombs are those of the following notable members of the Scaliger dynasty:
Cangrande I. This was the first tomb built, in the 14th century, according to the will of the deceased, the most famous Scaliger ruler of the city. The designer was the architect of the church of Sant’Anastasia, who planned it in the shape of a Gothic tabernacle, supported by richly harnessed dogs (Cangrande meaning “Big dog” in Italian). Unlike the later tabernacles, it is built out from the church wall, over a doorway, rather than being free-standing. On the sarcophagus lies a recumbent effigy statue of the lord, characterized by an unusual smile. The sarcophagus is decorated on each side by high reliefs with religious themes and low reliefs with military themes. On the summit of the baldachin is an equestrian statue of Cangrande, now replaced by a copy (the original is in the museum of Castelvecchio).
Mastino II. Begun in 1345, this tomb was modified during its construction. It was originally painted and gilt, and is enclosed by a railing with four statues of the Virtues at the corners. The faces of the funerary urn are decorated by religious motifs; on the sepulchre cover lies again the defunct’s statue, guarded by two angels. The baldachin has religious themes sculpted on the pediment, and is also surmounted by the equestrian statue of Mastino II.
Cansignorio. Dating from 1375, and the most richly decorated. It was designed by Bonino da Campione, and has sculptures portraying warrior saints, Gospel figures, the Virtues and the Apostles, and a large equestrian statue of Cansignorio.
Alberto II. Unlike the others, it has no baldachin but only a sarcophagus, though richly decorated. It dates from 1301.
Giovanni. This monument is built into the wall of the church. It was finished in 1359 by Andriolo de’ Santi, and until 1400 it was located in the church of San Fermo Maggiore, before being moved to join the others.
From the Arche Scaligere is worth entering the Church of Santa Maria Antica (2), see below.
Before leaving Piazza dei Signori is worth visiting the near by Palazzo del Capitanio and the beautiful Torre dei Lamberti.
Corso Cavour takes you to the Museo di Castelvecchio (which is actually a Roman fortress) and the nearby Ponte di Castelvecchio. It is the most important military construction of the Scaliger dynasty.
The castle is powerful and compact in its size with very little decoration – one square compound built in red bricks, one of the most prominent examples of Gothic architecture of the age, with imposing M-shaped merlons running along the castle and bridge walls. It has seven towers, a superelevated keep (maschio) with four main buildings inside. The castle is surrounded by a ditch, now dry, which was once filled with waters from the nearby Adige.
There is a museum inside and it can be visited. The museum/fortress was renovated by Carlo Scarpa a Venetian architect (2 June 1906 – 28 November 1978), who did the most interesting and ingeneous repairs of parts of the building, mixing antique and modern in the most curious and fascinating ways. Even if one wants to skip the visit to the museum, it is worth entering the courtyard and then proceed towards the bridge.
The Castel Vecchio Bridge (Italian: Ponte di Castel Vecchio) was built (most likely in 1354-1356) by Cangrande II della Scala, to grant him a safe way of escape in the event of a rebellion of the population against his tyrannic rule. The solidity of the construction allowed it to resist untouched. However, in the late 18th century, the French troops destroyed the tower on the left bank.
The bridge was however totally destroyed, by the retreating German troops on April 24, 1945. A faithful reconstruction begun in 1949 and was finished in 1951, with the exception of the left tower. The bridge is in red brick in the upper part, and in white marble in the lower one.
Crossing the bridge it is possible to have a nice walk along the river banks until the next bridge that will bring you back to the downtown.
All of the above is a must see, but in Verona, like all italian cities, there are many churches. Of all 10 of them are particularly worth visiting:
1. San Lorenzo; 2. Santa Maria Antica; 3. San Zeno; 4. Duomo (Cathedral); 5. Santa Anastasia; 6. San Fermo; 7. San Nazaro e Celso; 8. San Bernardino; 9. Santa Maria in Organo; 10. San Giorgi0
San Lorenzo church was re-built after 1117 earthquake over the ruins of an earlier sixth century early Christian church. The facade hosts on both sides two impressive Norman style towers, quite a unique feature in Italian Romanesque architecture. The towers support two winding staircases leading to the inside matronea or loggias provided for women half way up the nave walls, another unusual architectural element. In the inside, a very tall and slender nave together with the sandstone and bricks layers, contribute to create an incredible ancient, mystical atmosphere. The light comes through small splayed windows. Inside there are works by Domenico Brusasorci and the funeral monuments of Nogarola family.
Santa Maria Antica is a small church known above all because it was the private church of the Scala Family. The well known name of the church derives almost entirely from the private cemetery of the fourteenth century lords of Verona built in its courtyard. The impressive tombs of Cangrande, Mastino II and Cansignorio are considered one of the most beautiful examples of gothic art in Italy. However Santa Maria Antica origins are much older, perhaps dating back to the seventh century. Santa Maria Antica is indeed a perfect example of Romanesque architecture in Verona, with its typical layers of tuff and bricks, the round arches and the simple columns.
San Zeno is one of Verona most representative places. The church is dedicated to Saint Zeno, eighth bishop of Verona. He was of African origin and this is the reason why he is often depicted with a dark skin complexion. He died in 380 a.D. and was buried in one of the cemeteries outside city walls of the Roman Verona. That’s why St Zeno’s church is now a bit outside the historical centre. After the terrible earthquake in 1117, St Zeno basilica was rebuilt in its actual form. At the same time, next to the church was built a large Benedictine abbey, one of the richest in northern Italy so that even the emperor Frederick II stayed in it with his large court, and also mentioned in Dante’s Purgatory. Of the old abbey nowadays remain a tower and the fascinating cloister closed up by a long uninterrupted series of small double columns of red Verona marble. The facade of St Zeno is considered one of the purest examples of Romanesque architecture in Europe. It is made in tuff, which gives St Zeno its peculiar honey-like colour. In the centre of the façade the rose window, also known as the Wheel of Fortune because of the sculptures by master Brioloto representing six human figures, the king on top, the man in despair at its bottom.
St Zeno Bronze Portal: Among St Zeno many artistic and historical treasures is the basilica monumental bronze portal, divided into 48 panels. The oldest going back to the eleventh century with an evident German influence, the last ones added at the end of thirteenth century. The panels represent themes from the Old and the New Testament with the four exorcisms by San Zeno. St Zeno portal is considered one of the most representative examples of medieval art in Italy.
Mantegna’s Triptych: Another fundamental masterpiece in St. Zeno’s church is the altarpiece painted by Andrea Mantegna in 1459: Our Lady sitting on a throne between angels and saints. It represents the cornerstone of Renaissance art in Verona.
Duomo (Catedral). Rather than a single building, the area surrounding the Cathedral of Verona is constituted by a series of religious buildings linked together: the Duomo (Cathedral), St Giovanni in Fonte baptistery of Verona, St. Elena, the Canonical museum, its cloister, the library, the bishop residence and the bell-tower. Some are closed to the public and some are opened only in certain period of the year. The actual building was built in Romanesque style 1187, but was restored and enlarged in gothic style in 1440. Of the original austere Romanesque structure remain the double prothyron with its twisting columns and the winged griffins, the sculptures of the portal and few decorations. On the side of the Cathedral there’s the huge bell tower. The base dates back to thirteenth century, the central storey was designed by Sanmicheli in sixteenth century and the top part, unfinished, was built in the early twentieth century.
The inside is divided into a nave and two aisles by beautiful gothic columns in dark red Veronese marble. Fresco decorations on the walls are by Falconetto, painted in the sixteenth century. The apse basin is decorated with a fresco by Francesco Torbido taken from Giulio Romano design. The most important painting of Verona Duomo is the big Our Lady of Assumption painted in 1535 by Titian.
On the outside, hided in a small alley, there’s one of most beautiful cloister in town: the Chapter cloister. Built in 1140 above the remains of earlier Christian basilicas it’s one of the purest examples of Romanesque style with its small columns arranged in couples which on the eastern side, pan out into a double order of small arches. In two “windows” opened on the floor of the cloister, mosaics from earlier churches can be admired.
On the back of the Cathedral, St. Giovanni in Fonte was the cathedral baptistery. It dates back to 1123, made in honey colored sandstone. The inside is dominated by the monolithic baptismal font in its centre. It was created by master Brioloto in thirteenth century and because of its extraordinary naturalistic vivacity is considered one of the highest examples of Romanesque sculpture in Verona, depicting scenes of the life of Jesus.
St. Anastasia is the largest church in Verona. The church you can see nowadays was built by the Dominican Order and dedicated to Saint Peter Martyr, Dominican monk and co-patron of Verona together with Saint Zeno. Being built on the site on which an older church dedicated to St. Anastasia is a superb gothic building, boasting a majestic apse and a high bell tower. Everything is made in red bricks. Facade was never completed in its upper section but it proudly displays a double opening ogival portal in polychromatic marble. Left of the facade, in the beautiful little square in front of St. Anastsia, the suspended tomb of Guglielmo da Castelbarco, the forerunner of the famous Scala family tombs.
St Anastasia is divided in three aisles, decorated by beautiful lateral chapels, presenting rich collections of paintings by famous painters from Verona such as Girolamo dai Libri and Altichiero. Very interesting are also the two holy-water fonts supported by two hunchbacks. St Anastasia most famous work of art is the fresco by Pisanello representing St George freeing the Princess, considered a masterpiece of gothic painting. It decorates the arch of Pellegrini Chapel.
Saints Fermo and Rustico is one of the most representative examples of Gothic architecture in Verona. The actual church dates back to the fourtenth century, but on the place, layer after layer, and various churches were built since fourteenth century on the place on which the two saints undergone martyrdom in 361. The facade is characterized by the typical stripes of yellow sandstone and red bricks together with the beautiful portal contribute to create a building of rare beauty.
In the inside the visitor is stunned by the wooden hull-like ceiling and the funeral monument of Nicolò Brenzoni, sculpted by the Florentine Nanni di Bartolo and decorated with an elegant fresco by Pisanello depicting the Annunciation.
Lower church: St. Fermo and Rustico is basically constituted by two different churches, a lower and an upper one. The lower church is made of evocative cross vaults supported by cross shaped pillars. It still holds many interesting eleventh and thirteenth century frescos.
Saints Nazaro and Celso church was built in the second half of fifteenth century on the site of a eighth century holy building and part of an old Benedictine monastery. Nowadays the entrance to its elegant courtyard is decorated by a wall with a monumental portal built 1688. The facade is simple and austere, in bricks with large Renaissance windows. The inside is divided in a nave and two aisles with interesting chapels and paintings on both sides. On the left the amazing St Biagio chapel with magnificent fresco decorations and the beautiful altar piece by Bonsignori.
The church of Saints Nazaro and Celso is in Veronetta, a very ancient area of Verona in its eastern side and can be part of a guided itinerary of the left bank of river Adige.
St Bernardino was built by Giovanni da Capestrano around the end of the fifteenth century. Next to the church was also built a monastery. The simple gothic facade in bricks hosts a renaissance portal and is preceded by a beautiful cloister. The inside is consists in a single nave. On the left of the left wall, through a narrow atrium with barrel vault, you can access the Pellegrini Chapel designed by Michele Sanmicheli. It’s a real delight, whit it’s beautiful circular structure and the dome inspired by the Pantheon.
Through the convent you can reach the Morone Room, the most notable work of St. Bernardino church. Originally the room was a library owing it’s name to the huge fresco cycles painted by Domenico Morone and his son Francesco. The walls hold frescoes representing Saints of the Franciscan order and Martyrs of Morocco. On the bottom wall there’s the fresco of St. Francis and St. Clare presenting the Lionello Sagramoso and his wife to the Virgin Mary.
Santa Maria in Organo was the church of a Benedictine abbey dating back to the eight century. It was built on a branch of the river Adige which ran right in front of the church until 1882 when new banks built and this secondary branch was filled up. The building was restored and rebuilt many times through the centuries. The façade that still stands nowadays was designed by Michele Sanmicheli in sixteenth century who covered the Romanesque structure with a new, Renaissance structure made of white marble. The upper part of the façade still shows the layers of tuff and bricks typical of Romanesque and Gothic style. The elegant bell tower was designed by Giovanni da Verona and completed in 1533. The structure of the church is a latin cross with important works of art such as the frescoes by Domenico Morone and canvas by Francesco Torbido and Guercino. Mantegna too contributed to the decoration of the church with a large altar piece now in Castello Sforzesco Museum in Milan.
The most impressive work of art of Santa Maria in Organo church is the wooden choir with its magnificent wooden carvings and tarsias by Giovanni da Verona, made with wood of different colours arranged together to create beautiful views of Verona.
San Giorgio in Braida. In the eleventh century it was a Benedictine monastery but is in the sixteenth century that, thanks to the work of Michele Sanmicheli, St. George got the look it has today. The shape of the building is now characterized by the unmistakable Sanmicheli’s Renaissance dome and bell tower. The elegant marble facade dates back to the end of sixteenth century. In the inside the church has no aisles and is hosting on the two sides works by important Veronese painters: Giovanni Caroto, Felice Brusasorci, Girolamo dai Libri and many others so that Goethe, visiting the church during his journey in Verona said that St. George was a beautiful art gallery. The most important work of art of the church is the magnificent Martyrdom of Saint George by Paolo Veronese, proudly hanging above the main altar.
For tourists accompanied by authorized tourist guide, the entrance fee for churches included in the Chiese Vive association itinerary, is 1 euro instead of 3.
PS: The above images are all taken with the iPhone.