The Bridges of Verona

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Verona, a city known for its romantic fictional history as the home of Romeo and Juliet and a place to experience beautiful works of opera in the Roman arena. But that is certainly not all there is to this charming city. Some of the most important historical monuments in Verona include the bridges crossing the Adige River.

A waterway that flows from its source in the Reschen Pass in the Alps all the way down to the Adriatic Sea, the Adige River curves through Verona sweeping by various bridges. Visitors to Verona shouldn’t leave without learning a little about these fine, ancient architectural structures.

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Ponte Pietra

The Ponte Pietra is a stone bridge that dates back to Roman times, around 100 BC. Originally, the Via Postumia, stretching from Genoa to Aquileia, ran across it. The bridge connected the city on the right bank to the Roman theatre on the left.

A bridge built of arches on the narrowest part of the river, it served as an aqueduct during Roman times. The Ponte Pietra is widely regarded as one of the most panoramic spots in Verona, from which any of the city’s main attractions can be spotted. Standing atop the bridge, visitors can see Castel San Pietro peeking out from behind a wall of trees and across to the old city where the tower of Verona Cathedral stands tall along the skyline. At dusk, standing on the bridge with the city as a backdrop is a truly romantic photo opportunity.

Throughout its history, this Roman bridge was rebuilt several times after collapsing over and over in the 11th, 12th and 13th century. In the 1500s, the bridge was finally constructed to last and did so until nearly the end of the second world war, when a German mine took out four of the five arches as troops retreated.

In 1957, the original stones and materials were collected from the river individually so that the bridge could be faithfully reconstructed. The project was completed in 1959. The Roman bridge we see today astride the Adige is really a medley of architectural styles and components from different periods of history.

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Ponte Scaligero

More widely known as the Ponte Castelvecchio, the Scaliger Bridge is another of the significant historical sites dotted around Verona. It is also an arched bridge spanning the Adige, but this time it is a fortified construction from the medieval era. At the moment of its construction, it held the record for the longest span of nearly 50 meters. It is believed that the building work took only 3 years between 1354 – 1356. This is why it is frequently referred to as the most daring and admirable work of medieval Verona. Along the sides of the bridge are tall pillars with small rectangular openings below that are more suggestive of a stronghold than a path across the water.

Contrary to the norm, the Ponte Scaligero wasn’t constructed to protect the people of the city from outside invaders. Instead, Cangrande II della Scala, Lord of Verona from 1351, ordered the bridge be erected as an escape route for himself and his family in case the citizens turned against him. He planned to flee toward Tyrol, where his son-in-law reigned at the time.

The architect of the Ponte Scaligero is officially unknown. Although there is some documentation mentioning Bevilacqua, the designer of Castelvecchio, there are also other theories supporting the idea that it was created by Giovanni da Ferrara e Giacomo da Gozo, due to the similarities to ship constructions.

Never collapsing, this bridge held the weight of five centuries until in 1802 the French army tore down one of the towers and finally, again the second world war saw to its destruction. The bridge standing today as an icon of Verona was accurately rebuilt from 1949 to 1951.

Two drastically diverse elements of the Veronese past, both destroyed and re-established as a symbol of those who have passed through this captivating city throughout history.

More info on our bike tour in Verona.

Read also: Roman Milan.

Basilica of St. Zeno

Basilica of St. Zeno bike tour verona

The Basilica of San Zeno Maggiore is one of the most beautiful churches in traditional Romanesque style. It is easy to see why this church is so beloved by the citizens of Verona. Located in the west, those who venture to visit this stunning ecclesiastical marvel will be pleasantly surprised by a serene, peaceful vibe as they distance themselves from the bustling city center.

A pleasant stroll from Castelvecchio or along the banks of the Adige will bring you to the St. Zeno church where you can admire some of the best preserved Romanesque architecture in northern Italy. Home to some of the finest religious masterpieces in the area, the San Zeno Basilica is a monumental place to witness a convergence of magnificent art and various historic architectural styles.

Admiring the construction from outside, visitors can appreciate the warm colors of the facade materials. Inside, the church is divided into three areas: the main nave, the crypt below, and the elevated presbytery. Each area has its own artistic elements that have been developed throughout the centuries.

More info on our bike tour in Verona.

Basilica of St. Zeno bike tour verona

Who Was Saint Zeno?

San Zeno Maggiore, or St. Zeno in English, is the patron saint of Verona. He was the 8th Bishop of Verona from 362 until his death in 380, known for founding Christianity in the city. He was respectfully nicknamed ‘il Vescovo Moro’, which translates as the Moor Bishop. This is due to his African origins as he was born in Mauritania.

Saint Zeno lived a simple life in austerity and was a well-educated man. He is considered the protector saint of fishermen because it is said that he used to fish in the river Adige.

The San Zeno Basilica holds his remains in the crypt under the main altar.

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History of the Church

When Saint Zeno died in 380, his body was buried in an early Christian cemetery. Theodore the Great, an Ostrogoth king from the 5th century AD, would erect a church to honor him on this spot.

As Christianity grew and the church received more worshippers than it could accommodate for a new church was constructed in its place. This was commissioned in the early 9th century by King Pippin of the Franks, Bishop Ratoldo and the Archdeacon Pacificus. This larger building would hold a monastery which would later be destroyed and rebuilt several times during the next centuries. It was constructed as a religious and political message with images and frescos of the patron saint blessing both the nobles and the city folk.

After several setbacks, including an earthquake in 1117 and additional decorations and refurbishments, the current construction was newly complete in 1389. The belltower dates to 1178. Later attacked again by the invading Napoleonic army, certain areas of the abbey were destroyed and never replaced.

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A Romanesque Masterpiece

A sensational blend of artwork and superior architectural expertise, each part of the church’s construction is unique and displays exceptional devotion.

When visiting the Basilica of San Zeno Maggiore, there are several areas to explore. You can even find one of the first images of the flag of Verona, which is very similar to the Swedish flag in design and color.

As you approach the front entrance, it is impossible not to be struck by the huge bronze doors, completely one-of-a-kind in Italy and more reminiscent of Germanic constructions. These Romanesque portals are decorated with 24 panels per door with bas-reliefs of images from the Bible and the story of San Zeno. Either side of the doors, there are two lion statues representing justice and faith.

Above the doors, another striking symbol of the church is the rose window. More commonly associated with the Gothic style, this work by Brioloto from the 13th century is referred to as the Wheel of Fortune.

Within the church, looking to the sky, another peculiar aspect of this Romanesque church is the reversed hull form of the ceiling. The ceiling, from the 14th century, is also much more typical in Gothic architecture.

The famous altarpiece by Andrea Mantegna, the Italian Renaissance artist, is a true masterpiece. This triptych stands upon the high altar of San Zeno as the first major Renaissance artwork in Verona. It served as inspiration to many other artists.

Last but certainly not least is ‘Il San Zen che ride’ as he is affectionately known by the Veronese people. A statue of St. Zeno and the oldest representation is made from red marble and stands in the presbytery. The statue, dating back to the 12th century, whose artist is unknown, is the most important icon of the San Zeno Basilica. The unusual fact that has yielded the citizens’ notable admiration is that Saint Zeno is pictured here smiling tenderly.

More info on our bike tour in Verona.

Read also: Curious Symbols of Milan.

Castel San Pietro, Verona

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Castel San Pietro is the Italian name given to the military fortress standing on St. Peter’s Hill in Verona. The castle complex is an identifiable symbol of Verona, just a few dozens meters above the Roman Theatre that sits on the banks of the river Adige. The architectural wonder is easily visible from different parts of the city due to its location on the hill and is a popular attraction for both locals and tourists.

Verona may be famous for its ties to romance, thanks in great part to Shakespeare, but there is much more to be discovered in this fascinating Veneto city.

More info on our bike tour in Verona.

A Timeline of St. Peter’s Hill

Although it is currently impossible to say with precision when humans first inhabited the area, remains have been found on St. Peter’s hill dating back to pre-Roman times. The hill therefore represents the birthplace of Verona as a civilization as buildings were developed as early as the 4th and 3rd century BC.

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During the Roman era, the main settlements were constructed on the other side of the river, going down toward the Verona Arena, which was at the time outside of the city walls. Atop the hill, a temple was built. Roman temples were constructed to demonstrate dedication to various deities. Due to the strategic positioning and thus, the many structures that were erected in this spot throughout history, little is known today about this Roman temple.

It is, however, widely understood that as time progressed, a church was built using the remains of the Roman temple. Construction of the church used the surviving walls and columns. This church was then dedicated to St. Peter.

As the medieval era progressed, the hill became home to a new stronghold, created by Gian Galeazzo Visconti. Gian Galeazzo, the Duke of Milan, ordered many new buildings to be constructed here to create a fortification. This powerful bastion held its place for just over 400 years.

In 1801, the Napoleonic army arrived and destroyed the ancient buildings. When the Austrians arrived, some years later, they tore down what remained of St. Peter’s Church and built the military structure that now stands proudly on the hill, surveying the city of Verona. The edifice was created to house the officers of Austrian army, their weaponry, and supplies. What is now known as il Castel San Pietro was built between 1852 and 1856.

Finally, the castle became property of the city of Verona in 1932.

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Why

Many believe that taking a trip up to the castle is well worth the visit if only for the vistas. There is a 270 degree panorama from the castle site all around the city. Often quoted as the best view in Verona, visitors can see for miles along the river, the Ponte Pietra Roman bridge below, as well as the other bridges crossing the Adige. Visitors can also make out the entire roman city below in its grid-like structure. The viewpoint at the castle gives a great sight of the Arena, the Roman theatre, and the whole stunning cityscape.

There are different ways to reach the caste sight. Visitors can choose to walk up through stairway leading from Ponte Pietra to the top or take a ride on the funicular. The funicular was built at the beginning of the 1940s to help travelers get to the top of the hill. However, due to the second world war it was taken out of service and not reinstated until 2017. Luckily, tourists can now use this transport to view St. Peter’s Hill from a different angle. With Bike The City tour you can get there with the e-bike as you can see in our Verona bike tour page.

The remarkable architecture is now over 150 years old and is worth a visit, even if tours cannot enter the castle itself. A scenic route takes you up following cobbled streets past the San Giovanni church and quaint, picturesque houses. Those who choose this option will be able to see some of the ruins from different epochs that are still surrounding the main castle grounds. The magnificent view and curious ties to distinct periods of history make the St. Peter’s Castle a must-see attraction in Verona.

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Read also: Visit Bohemian Brera.

Heart of Verona: Piazza delle Erbe

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Regarded as one of the most stunning squares in Italy, the Piazza delle Erbe is a testament to the long-running, impressive history of Verona. It is home to an eclectic melange of monuments and buildings from various periods. From the very beginning, the square has been the centre of Verona’s political and economic life. It began as the Roman forum, translated as the Market Square, or more literally, square of herbs, the Piazza delle Erbe has been the commercial and administrative nucleus of the city for centuries.

A must-see for tourists in Verona, it is the oldest of the city’s squares and is lined with cafés, restaurants, shops, and a variety of beautiful ancient buildings. Standing in the square, you can feel a bustling sense of what daily life has been like in Verona throughout history.

More info on our bike tour in Verona.

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What To See in the Square

The confusing mix of attractions in Piazza delle Erbe commands appreciation from visitors for its picturesque setting and lively historical consciousness. Check out some of the best things to see in Piazza delle Erbe, Verona, from this list of the key monuments.

Palazzo Maffei

The Maffei Palace is a baroque building from the 17th century decorated with statues of the Greek mythological characters. This majestic, historic palace was built for the Maffei family who owned the area at the time. Admiring the palace from the square, visitors can see the various, detailed statues of Hercules, Jupiter, Venus, Mercury, Apollo, and Minerva. Palazzo Maffei hosts a contemporary art museum.

Facing the palace is a white, marble column with St Mark’s lion atop. It is a symbol of the Republic of Venice.

Next to the palace, visitors will find the Gardello Tower. The tower was restored by Cansignorio della Scala in 1363 and raised to its current height of 44 metres. He had the tower made into one of the first striking towers in the world, with a bell that is now on display at the Castelvecchio Museum.piazza erbe torre del gardello bike tour verona

Casa dei Mercanti or Domus Mercatorum

On the south side of the square, we find the Domus Mercatorum or Casa dei Mercanti, a merchant’s guild that was erected in stone in 1301 to replace a wooden original from around a century before. The crenellated building has since been restored various times and is currently occupied by the Banca Populare di Verona.

Fontana Madonna

A symbol of the city, the Madonna fountain in the centre of the square was constructed in 1368, commissioned by Cansignorio della Scala. An ancient Roman sculpture dating back to 380 AD was placed on top and is the reason for its namesake. The Madonna statue is another example of the historic homogenization represented in the Piazza delle Erbe. The main sculpture of the Lady of Verona is Roman, however the arms and head were replaced in the medieval period. The fountain is built with red verona marble which was used in the Roman thermal baths.

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Lamberti Tower

Overlooking the city of Verona, standing at 84 metres, is the Lamberti Tower. Visitors can climb up the 368 steps or alternatively take a lift that equally lets you admire the architectural magnificence. It is connected to the Palazzo della Ragione, the City Hall. The tower contains medieval bells installed in 1295. It later collapsed after a lightning strike and was reconstructed and raised between 1448 and 1463. Centuries later, in the 1790s, a clock was added to the tower face, to replace the clock on the Torre Gardello which had stopped working.

The two bells served specific functions. The first, named Marangona, signals fire, working times, and the hours of the day. The second, called Rengo, was used to call the population to arms or invoke councils.

The tower allows tourists a spectacular view of the city during the day, and in the evening, becomes a rooftop terrace for exquisite events.

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Mazzanti Houses

The northeastern part of the square is home to the Mazzanti houses and Domus Nova, later known as the Casa dei Giudici (judge’s hall). These houses initially belonged to the Scala family, at the time an influential affluent family of the area, before becoming lords of Verona. They were later sold to the Mazzanti family who were wealthy merchants.

What is most alluring about these medieval houses are the colourful frescos on the exterior walls facing the square. They represent ignorance, prudence, envy, providence, and the fight between giants. These frescos contributed to the nickname that was bestowed upon Verona at the time of Urbs Picta (painted city). During the renaissance, it was common for nobility to paint their residences.

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Arco della Costa

Among other curious and intriguing parts of the square, one of the most unexpected sights is that of the Arco della Costa. Not because of the arch itself but due to what is hanging from it: a whale rib. No one exactly knows how the bone arrived or when but it is thought that it has been hanging there since the 1700s, but possibly even longer. The legend that is told about the rib bone is that it will fall on the first innocent or just person who walks beneath it. Together with hundreds of daily tourists and locals, both kings and popes have visited and yet it has not fallen. Ironically, the walkway on the arch was initially used for judges and magistrates to pass from city hall to their living quarters without having to go through the square with the common people.

This arch leads from the fascinating Piazza delle Erbe to Piazza dei Signori, another of Verona’s captivating squares.

More info on our bike tour in Verona.

Read also: The Mole Antonelliana in Turin.

Juliet’s House in Verona

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Nowadays, who doesn’t remember reading Romeo and Juliet at school? That tragic love story set in romantic Verona with feuding families and a constant battle of obstacles and misunderstandings that kept the two protagonists from being united. This tale of passionate love has inspired many films, related stories, poems, and even journeys.

The Casa di Giulietta in Verona is host to a small museum which is often just as crowded as the courtyard in front where visitors gaze affectionately up at the famous balcony. The courtyard is based on the scene where Romeo overhears Juliet speaking and decides to declare his love for her.

The gothic architecture and Renaissance-period costumes that can be found within the house allow visitors to enter a dream world where they can experience what life would have been like in those times. Juliet’s house exists on a fine line between fantasy and reality, past and present, and fact and fiction.

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Discover the Story Behind the Story

Shakespeare wrote the play Romeo and Juliet in 1594 based on an earlier story published in 1531. This tale, written by Luigi da Porto, was likely written before 1524 and inspired by yet another older poem by Masuccio Salernitano (born Tommaso Guardati).

Being a fictional story, there was no Juliet to have lived in the Verona house that is today called Casa di Giulietta. Having said this, the house does date back to the 14th century and it was in fact owned by a family of the name Dal Cappello, who were an affluent merchant family of the time. This caused some confusion with the similar name of Capulet and led people to believe that the family from the story had lived here.

The house was bought by the city of Verona in 1905 and later restored in 1930 to a Renaissance-style home with antique engravings, frescoes, and other artwork from the period.

Anyway when we see Juliet we’re in front of a legend. And as in every legend, it doesn’t matter the percentage of truth, but the meaning that anybody gives to it.
So if for you love is important, you’ll never mind if a Juliet and a Romeo really lived in Verona, because they live in your heart.

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A Pilgrimage for Lovers

Tourists come from all over to visit the world-renowned balcony and house of Juliet. They do so in order to be witness to a symbol of one of the most influential love stories of our history. It is no surprise then that when visitors arrive at the house, there are several traditions that capture their attention.

Firstly, as you enter the courtyard, you will lay eyes on a bronze statue of Juliet. Despite her unlucky story, the legend states that if you are to rub her right breast, you will be successful in your own love endeavours.

Finally, there is another strong, treasured tradition that has now made itself into a daily activity for some. People who write a letter to Juliet delivered to the home, can actually receive an answer. There is a team of volunteers, known as Juliet’s secretaries or the Juliet Club, who work out of the top floor of the house, responding to love letters received. This was the inspiration for the film Letters to Juliet, made in 2010.

Whether you’re looking for love yourself and want a helping hand from one of the world’s most popular romantic heroines, or you simply want to see something magical, the sight of Juliet’s house in Verona can really capture the heart.

Juliet House in Verona bike tour things to do

Read also: Torino’s Lounge: Piazza San Carlo.

 

The astonishing Verona Arena. One of the oldest Roman amphitheatre

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In what is now the historical centre of Verona, visitors can take a tour of the astonishing architectural marvel that is the Arena di Verona. This Roman amphitheatre predates even the Colosseum of Rome, is one of the largest in the world, and has seen nearly 2,000 years of history. A breathtaking sight for all those who visit Piazza Bra in Verona city, it inspires a sense of the anticipation and excitement that spectators would have felt throughout history.

As one of the best preserved ancient structures of its kind, the Verona Arena has been beautifully restored in parts over the last few centuries. It was constructed using white and pink marble which offers an illuminating glow in the sunlight. The arena itself has huge wide corridors, 50 levels of seating, underground tunnels, and an oval showground. It has lost most of the facade and only four of the arches from the outer wall remain standing. Its elliptical shape is intended to promote acoustics for speeches and concerts.

More info on our bike tour in Verona.

A brief history

The Verona Arena was constructed in the first century AD. At the time, it was built beyond the city walls for logistical reasons. The aim of its location was to avoid overcrowding the city centre.

The arena, like other amphitheatres of the Roman empire, was built to use for processions, protests, shows with music and dancing, and predominantly blood sports. These included fights or hunts of exotic beasts and gladiator battles. The arena was filled with sand which would absorb the blood of gladiators and animals, thus giving way to its name (arena in sand in latin). Known as ludi, these public games attracted visitors from all over the empire. It is estimated that the Verona Arena could hold up to 30,000 people.

Upon entering and seeing the arena unfold before you, it is easy to imagine yourself surrounded by ancient Romans cheering on their favourite gladiator. The arena stirs feelings of triumph and celebration.

After the fall of the Roman empire, the arena was well utilized. During the reign of Theodoric the Great, 493 – 526 AD, the outer ring was demolished to be used in the construction of defensive walls around the city.

In medieval times, it was used for a place where public games and tournaments were held. Throughout the last century, the arena survived an earthquake in Verona in 1117, hosted prostitutes in the 1300s, was used as a shelter for the homeless, a cave for material, a market, a place for bullfighting, and then circuses. Until it became the location of Verona’s first shopping centre in the 1700s with craft shops.

 

The Modern Arena

The Verona Arena is now host to Europe’s most important open-air lyric festival giving large-scale operas each year. The arena can now fit in around 10,000 spectators.

The acoustics of the Verona Arena are so good that orchestras do not need to use amplification when they play to make their sound heard from each area. The sense of excitement and amusement still reigns strong in the arena today, with between four and six productions given each year during the festival from June to August. The festival has taken place each year (except for the periods of world wars) since August 10, 1913, when it began with a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida. It is also an entertainment venue for concerts, presentations, and other cultural events.

The ancient and incredible Verona Arena has been the stage to the history of the region for nearly two millennia.

More info on our bike tour in Verona.

Read also: Top Attractions in Milan. Duomo Cathedral and the 20th Century Museum.

 

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