History, facts and travel tips about Verona
Celebrated by Shakespeare, who made it famous as the romantic setting for the moving tale of Romeo and Juliet, Verona is a splendid, ancient corner of the Veneto region, nestling between the river Adige and Lake Garda, and intimately linked to their waters. The Adige today flows between strong embankments, built after the 1882 flood to contain the devastating river water.
Already in ancient times Verona was linked to the river as an essential route for traffic and commerce and it was not by chance that the Romans, who well understood where best to found their cities, established themselves there.
Precisely because it was navigable as far as Trento, the Adige was a fundamental communication route and the economy of Verona, like those of the villages along the river, was closely linked to water. This is testified to by the numerous mills, the images of the characteristic washerwomen and the monasteries, which had the right to exploit the waters of the river.
The origins of the name Verona are unknown: it may be derived from Vera, perhaps an Etruscan person's name; or it might be of Gallic origin; it may be the name of a Roman family or come from the Latin ver, meaning "spring". But according to one legend the legendary founder of the city, the Gallic chieftain Brenno, called the new inhabited centre Vae Roma, that is "Accursed Rome", which then over the centuries became Verona.
The area was already inhabited in prehistoric times, but who the first people were to establish themselves there remains a mystery. In 89 BC, when it became a Roman Colony, the city began to stand out. The traces of the Romans' works remain very much in evidence to this day.
With the descent of the Barbarians in the 3rd century AD, Verona became an efficient military base for the control of the borders, especially after Gallienus had strengthened its city walls. In spite of this the city yielded to the Visigoth invasion, to Attila, to Theodoricus' Ostrogoths and finally to the Longobards, who however were defeated by the Franks in 774.
From the Middle Ages onwards Verona, more than all the other small towns of North Italy, was always an important artistic centre with a flourishing school of painters. In 1136 it too became a free Commune town and, when decay was inescapable, the Signoria Scaligera (rule of the Scaligera family) established itself. The new rulers dedicated themselves to reorganising the whole town, changing its layout.
Again for defensive purposes a new, wider surrounding wall was built, allowing new spaces also for the future growth of the inhabited centre. The communal walls remained, to act as a second circle of defence, and in 1354 they were re-used by Cangrande II for the building of the Ponte Scaligero (Scaligero Bridge) and of Castelvecchio, a veritable defensive fortress. The economy flourished and Piazza delle Erbe was created precisely as a market place, for commerce and exchange.
The palaces bounding the almost adjacent Piazza dei Signori were commissioned by Cangrande and Francesco della Scala, who ordered that they should be connected between them at street level, by means of arcades, internal courtyards and covered or uncovered passages, as if to make the lord's space and power known to the public.
Venetian domination in the 15th century did not greatly change Verona, which did not entirely lose its particular defensive characteristics until the 17th century, when it became chiefly a centre of commerce in the hands of the French and the Austrians, who divided the town between them in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
During the Second World War Verona was a refuge for officials of the Fascist regime and as a result was heavily bombed. Verona was extensively rebuilt in the post-war period and so, having lost much of its heritage, also lost its original evocative appearance.