18 April 2016
I wake up in a tiny B&B a mere few dozen yards from a huge Roman amphitheatre. Life is good. I don’t usually mention the restaurants and hotels that I use, but the owner of the B&B Principe All’Arena is such a charming gentleman that I will happily endorse him here for any traveller to Verona with a limited budget. He was easily the warmest host this trip.
I was adamant that I was going to include Verona on my trip. The city predates the Romans, becoming a colony around 300 BC. The Romans have lured me here; the architecture left behind from the various rulers who followed are a delightful bonus. It’s a Monday, the day when Italian museums traditionally close. Verona is blessed with numerous beautiful churches for me to explore instead. First however, I need to spend a bit of time soaking up the ancient atmosphere outside the arena.
First church of the day is the Basilica San Zeno. I purchase a Verona Tourist Card instead of delving around for a handful of coins, particularly since the Verona card will grant me access to everything that I’ve come to see.
There has been a religious structure here since the 4th century AD when a small church was built next to the tomb of the eighth Bishop of Verona, a North African man named Zeno. Zeno was made a saint after his death (sources differ on whether his death was a martyrdom,) and became patron saint of Verona. The original church was replaced with a romanesque basilica and monastery in the 9th century, but what we see today is the result of a rebuilding and enlargement following an earthquake that hit Verona in 1117.
I can’t recall visiting a church with an open, split level before. The presbytery is higher than the rest of the church, whilst stairs lead down to the crypt beneath. It’s a beautiful effect in an already beautiful church.
I decide to head into the crypt first, optimistically claimed by some to be the wedding chapel of Romeo and Juliet…
The crypt is a church within the church and each of the 49 columns has a unique capital.
After San Zeno I walk back east, passing Castelvecchio and the arena on the way to the Church of San Fermo and Rustico.
Firmus and Rusticus were Christian martyrs, tortured and beheaded under Emperor Maximian for refusing to make pagan sacrifices. The church is supposedly built on or near to the site of their execution.
The lower church is accessed via stairs in the right transept.
Walking north along the River Aldige it’s a short walk to the Basilica Sant’Anastasia. The rather plain ( and technically unfinished) facade hides a truly beautiful interior.
The building of the Basilica began in 1290 and was mainly finished by 1323 with further building completed between 1423 and 1481.
It’s only a short walk to the Cathedral and I’m disappointed to find it temporarily closed to the public. As a consolation, the Baptistery and Church of St Helen are still accessible.
The Chiesa Sant’Elena is on the site that Saint Zeno laid down the first Christian church in Verona.
The Chiesa di San Giovanni in Fonte was originally the cathedral baptistery. The octagonal font is carved from a single block of stone and dates to the 13th century. The reliefs depict scenes from the Annunciation to the Baptism of Christ.
After a spot of lunch, keeping a wary eye on a grey cloud threatening to turn black, it’s time for the ancient theatre and archaeological museum accompanying it. I’m not surprised to find it closed, it is becoming somewhat of a curse for me whenever I visit Italy to find the things I most want to see shut or covered in scaffolding.
Grumpy, I decide to climb up the Scalinata Castel S Pietro, a stairway up the hill to an Austrian barracks built over an older castle that had been built on the site of a Roman temple. Naturally, to add to my frustration, the Castel is inaccessible behind chain link fences because of some renovation works. The panoramic views from the piazzale and the glimpses of the theatre on the way up are enough to cheer me up, though…
A few hours now sadly left free, I wander around Verona before choosing a restaurant just off the Piazza Bra by the amphitheatre. The restaurants facing the piazza look touristy and expensive but mine, Le Cantine de l’Arena has al fresco seating tucked in the Piazzetta Scaletti Rubiani where I can happily dine on gnocchi with walnuts in a gooey Monte Veronese cheese sauce whilst gazing at the arena as the night gets darker.
I can’t resist a bit of night time photography on my last night of the trip.