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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