Monday, April 16, 2018

Verona, Italy, City of Romeo and Juliet, Part One




While my husband and I were visiting relatives in Genoa, Italy, last summer we decided to take a few local overnight trips by train. Our first stop was beautiful Verona, located in the Veneto region of Italy. Verona has at its center a medieval old town, called the Centro Storico, that lies between the meandering Adige River.


Verona's Arena di Verona is located in the Centro Storico by Piazza Bra. It was built by the Romans in the first century and is still in active use, mainly for opera productions.  It is one of the best preserved ancient structures of its kind and once held 30,000 spectators in its confines. In modern times 15,000 people are admitted for performances for security reasons. Unfortunately, we did not visit on an opera day, but we were fortunate to be able to obtain free tickets for a musical event that was taking place later that evening--more about that event in my next blog post.


The round façade of the building was originally composed of white and pink limestone from Valpolicella, but a major earthquake in 1117 almost completely destroyed the structure's outer ring, and only a small portion of that decorative ring still stands. It is a marvel to think about the many centuries the arena has been in use and all it has seen!


Verona has become famous for being the setting of Shakespeare’s play "Romeo and Juliet," written in 1597. Although the star-crossed lovers are fictional characters, their story has attracted visitors to Verona for centuries. In an effort to satisfy those seeking a place to dream about their legend. the city of Verona has promoted "Juliet's House" (Casa di Giulietta) and "Juliet's Tomb"  (Tomba di Giulietta) as attractions. The house, located along the Via Cappello, at one time belonged to the Dal Capello family, commonly known as the Cappelletti. This was so similar to the name of Juliet's family, the Capulets, that the house became her family home in everyone's imagination, even though the balcony was not added until the 20th century!  The inscription seen in the collage above lies on top of a corridor that leads to the house's courtyard.  It translates as: "This was the house of the Capulets. for whom so many hearts wept and the poets sang."

Please click on to enlarge

When I visited Verona in the 70's on my high school trip, the Juliet's House courtyard was totally empty and serene--you can read about that experience and see my 1970's photos here.  That romantic serenity was nowhere to be found on this visit in the summer of 2017! I was saddened to see it now had almost a circus atmosphere.  The walls of the corridor leading into the house courtyard were full of notes and band-aids. proclaiming lost love or the desire for love. The tourist crowds were so thick in the courtyard it was difficult to find a place to stand. Admission to the courtyard is free, but now tours of the house have an admission and many visitors stand on the balcony to have their photos taken.


Even the bronze statue of Juliet in the courtyard, sculpted by Nereo Costantini, shows how many tourists reach up to touch and rub her for photos, as the metal is shiny in those areas. It took awhile for me to get a photo of her, and the balcony, without people in it!  Even though Julietta's House is definitely an overblown tourist attraction, it was still fun for me to see it again so many years later.


I decided that I should also see "Juliet's Tomb" on this visit to Verona since I did not see it on my first visit to the city. It was quite a walk from the house, but a pleasant one.  We had to pass through the walls of the city which themselves were picturesque.


It is inside the former monastery of San Francesco al Corso, located on the Via del Pontiere, which has been indicated as the place where the final events of the Romeo and Juliet tragedy took place. At the end of the thirteenth century, the period in which it is believed that the story might have happened, San Francesco al Corso was the only Franciscan monastery outside Verona city walls. The old monastery has now been transformed into a museum: the Museum of Frescoes G.B. Cavalcaselle.

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The Romeo and Juliet story is highlighted throughout the museum grounds.


In a vaulted room inside the dark crypt under the church of San Francesco al Corso, lays an empty, simple sarcophagus made of red Verona marble. It is believed to be Juliet's grave.


Thankfully, the room in which the sarcophagus rests was empty and solemn, and it was easy in this environment to imagine the story of the star-crossed lovers being true. 


The underground room also contains tombstones on the floor where monks were buried centuries ago.




More views of the tomb

Please click on to enlarge to read.

The museum's explanation placard in the photo above as to how this tomb became associated with Juliet.


Beautiful Verona, as well as other Italian locations, were much a part of Shakespeare imagination. A third of his plays take place wholly or partially in Italy. There is much speculation as to why he used Italy as a location, but I'd like to think that it was a fascination with a country that had a rich and passionate history as well as monumental beauty and allure.

In my next blog post, I'll show more sights in Verona, as well as the special event we attended in the Verona Arena. There is much more to see!

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Sunday, April 8, 2018

Lake Maggiore - Isola Bella, Isola dei Pescatori, Stresa and Arona




I hope everyone had a very Happy Easter or Passover holiday. Ours was somewhat subdued, as we recently lost another family member to cancer, my husband's nephew's wife who was only in her 40's, to melanoma. The melanoma our niece-in-law had begun as a rare internal one that went undetected until she already was, unfortunately, stage 4 before becoming symptomatic. She braved immunotherapy and chemotherapy treatments but passed away very quickly. We attended her funeral in the state Maryland, where she lived, a few days before Easter. Her last words to us over the phone the day before she passed were that she would "see us someday in heaven'" and I truly believe we will meet again one day! We treasure all the times we had together, including their visit to see us in Colorado last year. Treasure life, treasure all the times with the ones you love!


If you have been following my recent posts, you know that my husband and I visited Italy last summer to see his many relatives that live there. We spent 11 days in Nothern Italy, in Genoa, where quite a few of his Aunts, Uncles, and cousins live. One day two of his cousins, husband, and wife, drove us even further north towards the Alps, to visit the Lake (Lago) Maggiore region. Lake Maggiore is the second largest lake in Italy and the largest in southern Switzerland. The lake shoreline divides the Italian regions of Piedmont and Lombardy and the Swiss canton of Ticino. (All photos will enlarge for easier viewing if clicked on)

Please click on to enlarge

We had a lot of fun driving north--the roads were good, the rest stops had interesting informational signs in both Italian and English and included gift and souvenir shops, and we passed beautiful scenery including field upon field of arborio rice, which was destined to be used in delicious risotto recipes one day.


Another northern Italian feature we saw often were chestnut trees! The fuzzy green balls on the trees had chestnuts in their core. Chestnuts are also a favorite staple of Northern Italian recipes.


I was excited to see Stresa again, and Isola Bella--the island seen above in the lake. In the 1970's I traveled to Italy and visited both places with my classmates! In fact, we stayed at the hotel seen on the left. We traveled to 11 cities in 16 days during that trip, including a visit to Lugano, Switzerland. It was such a wonderful experience! Italy was not quite the international tourist destination back then as it is today, and I saw many places in a less crowded and more serene atmosphere. I'm happy to have those memories!


A highlight of that 70's trip was visiting Isola Bella (Beautiful Island) which is one of the Borromean Islands of Lake Maggiore. In 1632 Carlo III of the influential House of Borromeo began the construction of a palazzo dedicated to his wife, Isabella D'Adda, from whom the island takes its name. Plague and other events interrupted the completion of the palazzo and gardens and work was passed onto his sons and a nephew until completed in 1671.  The island achieved its highest level of social success during the period of Giberto V Borromeo (1751–1837) when guests included Edward Gibbon, Napoleon and his wife Joséphine de Beauharnais, and Caroline of Brunswick, the Princess of Wales. It is said that Caroline, having fallen in love with the place, did her best to convince the Borromeo family to sell her Isola Madre or the Castelli di Cannero islands; her request being turned down, she established herself on the banks of Lake Como at Cernobbio in the Villa d’Este I remember seeing the bed that Napoleon slept in, and marveling at the small size of the bed!

Vintage photo of me--1970's

Although the Palazzo was highly decorated and opulent, I most remember the lush and beautiful terraced gardens and statuary outside.  



We bought tickets to take the ferry to two islands--Isola Bella and Isola dei Pescatori. 


We walked around Isola Bella to enjoy the beautiful views, but we did not opt to re-visit the palazzo as we knew we did not have the time to see it all leisurely.


Instead, we took the ferry to Isola dei Pescatori (Fisherman's Island). 


It was an equally scenic island and full of shops and restaurants


We had lunch al fresco and dined on delicious fresh lake fish.


After lunch, we enjoyed walking around the island...


...it was so picturesque!


We returned to the town of Stresa. Stresa is the lakes leading resort, full of four-star hotels and a charming town.  It has magnificent views of the lake and over to the Borromean Islands, plus has galleries, restaurants, cafes, piazzas and an abundance of cultural and musical events year-round. We stopped for a cold and refreshing lemon flavored beer in one of the cafes and rested before returning to drive to one more town along the coastline of Lake Maggiore.


We drove to the southern border of Lake Maggiore and to the town of Arona. There we visited the enormous statue of San Carlone (Saint Charles Borromeo). Built in the 17th century from bronze and copper sheets, the entire structure is 115 feet (35 meters) high. At one time this colossal statue was the largest in the world and is only surpassed by the Statue of Liberty in New York. In fact, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the French artist who designed the Statue of Liberty, visited Arona in 1869 on his way back from Egypt to study the statue’s structure. The colossus of Arona is mentioned on the plaque located at the feet of the Statue of Liberty.


Please click on to enlarge


The interior of the statue can be accessed by narrow stairs and ladders, allowing visitors to peer through the eyes and ears.My husband and cousin climbed up the steps while I and other cousin stayed behind on the statue base. The guys had a lot of fun looking out the eyes and taking photos of the scenery and sights inside the statue.  
It was soon time to drive back to Genoa, where we had a late dinner.  I really enjoyed seeing Lake Maggiore, Stresa, and Isola Bella again after so many years and having such a nice time on Isola Pescatori and Arona. More memories that I'll always cherish!

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Monday, March 26, 2018

The Historic Center of Genoa, Italy


One place that is a must see when visiting Genoa, Italy, is the Historic Center that lies behind the walls of the city. My husband's cousins took us here one day to enjoy a stroll together, see the sights and have dinner. We took the excellent Genoa Metro towards the eastern gates of the old city. Seeing the juxtaposition of the modern motorcycle means of transportation in Genoa, with the ancient towers, made me smile.  Genoa is noted for its many examples of medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and Gothic architecture. The Ducal Palace, San Lorenzo Cathedral. Church of San Matteo, and Palazzo San Giogio are some of the most important historical monuments.



Right outside the city walls is the  House-Museum of Christopher Columbus, who was born in 1451, and was the explorer who was credited with discovering the Americas in 1492, is an 18th-century reconstruction of the original building where he lived in his youth. It was destroyed during the French bombings of 1684.


The magnificent Porta Soprana (also known as Porta Sant'Andrea) is one of the many openings in the ancient Walls of Genoa. In 1155, the Genoese feared an attack by Frederick Barbarossa and created a circuit of walls enclosing the majority of the city.  


A plaque inside the Porta Soprana entrance translates roughly as "I am defended by soldiers and surrounded by amazing walls.....If you come in peace, you may touch these doors. If you come looking for war, you will retreat sad and defeated..."


Right inside the gate were the ruins of an ancient Cloister of Sant'Andrea, once part of a monastery in the 11th century.

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The Historic Center of Genoa is made up of many buildings with narrow alleys called "caruggi." We walked along admiring the many shops, restaurants and personal residences located there.


High above were many different towers that caught my eye.


On many buildings throughout the center were wonderfully detailed religious statues


While we walked around we could hear many different church bells ringing at noon. Click on the video above to hear them.


Duomo di Genova or Cattedrale San Lorenzo * Church of Genoa or Cathedral of Saint Lawrence) was built between the 12th and 14th century. It is one of the most important churches in Genoa and the symbol of the city.  A church has been located here since Roman times.  During World War II on the 9th of February 1941, the British battleship fired a bomb into the Genoa's cathedral. The bomb reached the church, punched the cathedral roof and did not explode! That event was called the Saint Lawrence miracle. It is still possible to see the bomb that was left in the church. 


The facade of the cathedral is very ornate! Lions flank both sides of the stairs, with gargoyles above them.


Inside the cathedral.


We were able to go up these steps towards the second level of the church and then all the way to the top of the bell tower.


 Views from the second level of the cathedral


The panoramic view from the top of the belltower.The modern part of Genoa can be seen in the distance as well as the lighthouse called the LanternaA nearby church's dome was under wraps as the church was undergoing reconstruction.


The church of Santa Maria Delle Vigne (Saint Mary of the Vine--named for the vineyards that once surrounded it.) was constructed in the 10th century and it is very plain from the outside.

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Inside it was very opulent with gilded accents and beautiful murals.  The main altar was reconstructed in 1730


The Palazzo Ducale was once home to the Doges of Genoa.
It is now a museum and center for cultural events and art exhibitions. 

 Click on to enlarge

This collage tells the story of Giano's Well. Legend has it that is how Genoa was named


One day was not enough to explore all the interesting historic center of Genoa, to visit all its churches, or shops or cafes, but we had an enjoyable time seeing what we did and know that when we return to Genoa we will go back to see more!


We returned to the neighborhood we were staying in, close to the soccer stadium, and had dinner that evening at a fabulous seafood restaurant called Da Marcello. There we had traditional Pesto Genoese pasta, frittata, and an amazing assortment of seafood. We enjoyed the food so much we returned a few more times during our visit!


It's time to hop on a motorcycle and tour more of Italy in my future posts. Ciao, Genoa!

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