You may wish to read an introduction to this section first.
View from Colle S. Pietro with the Roman theatre in the foreground
Verona is a very ancient town, most agreeably situated partly on a hill, and partly in a plain on the river Adige which divides it into two parts. The town is about six miles in circumference, and both parts have a communication by four handsome stone bridges over the Adige.
Thomas Nugent - The Grand Tour - 1749
Pleasant Verona! With its beautiful old palaces, and charming country in the distance, seen from terrace walks, and stately, balustraded galleries. With its Roman gates, still spanning the fair street, and casting, on the sunlight of to-day, the shade of fifteen hundred years ago. With its marble-fitted churches, lofty towers, rich architecture, and quaint old quiet thoroughfares, where shouts of Montagues and Capulets once resounded,
"And made Verona's ancient citizens
Cast by their grave, beseeming ornaments,
To wield old partizans."
(Shakespeare - Romeo and Juliet - Act 1)
With its fast-rushing river, picturesque old bridge, great castle, waving cypresses, and prospect so delightful, and so cheerful! Pleasant Verona! (..) It was always pleasant Verona, and in my remembrance always will be.
Charles Dickens - Pictures from Italy - 1846
The core of the city consists of the Roman town nestled in the loop of the river containing one of the richest collections of Roman remains in northern Italy. Surviving remains of this era include the city gates, Porta Borsari, Porta Leoni, the Arco dei Gavi, the Ponte Pietra, the Roman theatre, and the Amphitheatre Arena.
From the UNESCO synthesis of the universal value of Verona which in 2000 was included in the World Heritage List.
Ponte di Pietra; (inset) an ancient relief on the other side of the bridge
The river Adige (..) flows through the city with great
rapidity. It is crossed by four bridges,
and turns numerous floating watermills
anchored across the stream. The floods
of the Adige are tremendous. (..) On the 31st
of August, 1845, after three days' hard
rain, the greater part of the town could
only be traversed in boats.
John Murray - Handbook for Travellers in Northern Italy - 1852
Although Verona's buildings suffered significant damage during World War II, the post-war reconstruction plan maintained its original structure and the reconstruction process was carried out with utmost care. (..) Interventions of architectural and urban restoration were based on the established restoration principle, peculiar to the Italian tradition dating back to the mid 19th century, which has always brought the respect for historical and material testimonies to the foreground. (..) The reconstruction of the Roman bridge, for example, was based on careful documentation and reuse of original materials. UNESCO
Ancient memories in the area of the Roman town: (left) a fir cone at Via della Pigna; (centre) Via Cappelletta, a "decumanus", an east-west street; (right) evidence of a street at Piazza dei Signori
In the interior of the tenth region (Venetia et Istria) are (..) the towns of (..) Verona, belonging to the Rhaeti and the Euganei. (..) The breadth of Italy, taken from the river Var at the foot of the Alps (near Nice), and passing along by the Vada Sabatia (west of Genoa), the Taurini (Piedmont), Comum (Como), Brixia (Brescia), Verona, Vicetia (Vicenza), Opitergium (Oderzo), Aquileia, Tergeste (Trieste), Pola, and Arsia (a river east of Pola), is 745 miles.
Pliny the Elder - Historia Naturalis - Book III - Translation by John Bostock and Henry Thomas Riley.
The two references to Verona by Pliny are interesting because they indicate that:
a) Verona was initially a settlement of the Rhaeti and of the Euganei, two tribes who lived in the Alpine region. To them Verona was very important because it was located at the entrance to the large valley of the River Adige which led to mountain passes towards today's Austria and Germany;
b) Verona is mentioned among the main towns at the foot of the Alps; it was linked to Aquileia by a direct road (Via Postumia - see a map of the Roman roads in the region) which crossed the town from north-east to south-west (the urban section was the Decumanus Maximus).
The mud carried by the frequent floods of the Adige covered the lowest area of the Roman town and in particular its Forum which stood at the crossroads between the Decumanus Maximus and the Cardo Maximus (the main street having a north-south direction). The location of the Forum was known because of the name of a historical church and the finding of inscriptions and statues; it included the area of Piazza delle Erbe, a medieval marketplace having a rectangular shape. The site of the Capitolium was identified under a XIVth century building used for carding. It was a temple which was dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, the three gods who were worshipped on the Capitoline Hill and was therefore a symbol of the loyalty to Rome. It is dated ca 40 BC soon after Verona acquired the status of municipium in 49 BC. Capitolia have been found in many provincial towns of the Roman Empire from Tunisia to Hungary.
Verona enjoyed a long period of prosperity after the Romans extended their rule to the regions north of the Alps. A road was opened between the town and Augusta Vindelicorum (Augsburg), near the Danube River; initially its purpose was a military one, but eventually it acquired importance from a trade point of view.
Because of its strategic position Verona was sieged and eventually conquered by Constantine who did not want to move towards Rome without having covered his rear. The military importance of the town was not restricted to the Roman period, because in the XVIth century the Republic of Venice fortified it with state-of-the-art walls in order to check attacks on Venice itself.
(left) Arco dei Gavi at the side of Castelvecchio; (right) the arch
There are several noble palaces, public buildings, and antiquities which deserve a traveller's notice. (..) There is also in Verona the remains of a triumphal arch. Nugent
A Roman arch was the Arco de' Gavi bearing the name of its architect, Vitruvius, not, however, the author, but Lucius Vitruvius Cerdo, who is supposed to have been his freedman. It was pulled down in 1805, and the French have been accused of having wantonly destroyed it. According, however, to a more probable account, said to be supported by the still existing correspondence of General Popigny, the Veronese were desirous of having the arch removed, and the French general at last gave his consent. Eugene Beauharnais (Napoleon's stepson and Viceroy of the Kingdom of Italy), on hearing of its destruction, gave orders that it should be rebuilt; but this was never done. Murray
The arch was reconstructed in 1932 in a small garden at the side of Castelvecchio; it retains some of the original reliefs and inscriptions which were put in storage when it was dismantled.
Arco dei Gavi: (left) ceiling; (right-above) inscription with the name of the architect; (right-middle) a decorative relief; (right-below) inscription in Via Rosa, near the assumed location of the Roman Forum celebrating a bequest by Gavia Q. F. Maxima for the construction or decoration of an aqueduct
The arch was erected in the Ist century AD to celebrate some constructions or donations made by Gens Gavia, an important family whose deeds are mentioned in several inscriptions which were found at Verona. A similar arch was erected by a local wealthy family at Pola in the same period. It eventually became a city gate at the south-western end of the medieval town; it was dismantled in 1805, because its narrowness caused traffic obstructions.
The arch commonly called the Porta
de' Borsari, like the Roman gates of
Treves, of Autun, and that which once
stood at Chester, is double. From the
traces of the inscriptions in the friezes,
it appears to have been built under the
Emperor Gallienus, together with the
walls of the city in which it is inserted,
about the year 265. The style of the
architecture is very remarkable; pillars
with spiral, flutings, small, arches or windows between columns and surrounded by pediments, and numerous
other anomalies, rendering it a connecting link between the style of the
Antonines and that of the darkest portion of these middle ages. (..) The Porta de' Borsari, a
monument more than 1500 years old,
stands in full solidity athwart the
crowded street of a living city. Murray
The gate was built at the western end of Decumanus Maximus and it was most likely flanked by towers. In the XIVth century the Scaligeri, the Signori (Lords) of Verona, built new walls which protected an area larger than the Roman town and Porta Borsari became (and still is) a decorative monument across one of the busiest streets of the town.
Porta Borsari: middle section
There is also in Verona (..) a magnificent temple dedicated to Jupiter. Nugent
The words of the inscriptions have been deciphered as well from the position of the holes by which the letters were fixed, as by the marks which they have left. Murray
The lengthy double inscription mentions consuls and military commanders of the time of Gallienus, but they actually only repaired the walls, because the monumental aspect of the gate is dated Ist century AD. Another inscription refers to the gate as Porta Iovia (Jupiter's Gate) and it suggests that a temple to the god adjoined the gate, which therefore was thought to be part of that building.
(left) Porta Leoni; (centre) middle section; (right) column of the attic
Another fine Roman gateway is called
the Porta de' Leoni: this, however, is
much less perfect than the Porta de'
Borsari. It is in better taste, though
probably much about the same age.
The ornaments are much mutilated;
and, as far as they can be made out, it
should seem that the lower range of
columns is Composite, and the upper
Porta Leoni was situated at the southern end of Cardo Maximus; the road which passed through it was less important than Via Postumia and therefore it did not need two passages. It was built by a quadrumvir, one of four city magistrates who ruled the town in the second half of the Ist century AD. Both Porta Borsari and Porta Leoni were built with a locally quarried white stone which could be very finely cut.
(above) Evidence of Roman walls with a round tower near Porta Leoni; (below) cast of a nearby funerary monument with guarding lions after which the gate is named (original at Museo Lapidario Maffeiano)
Similar to what occurred in Rome with the Servian Walls, the first Roman walls of Verona were not properly maintained because for centuries there were no real threats. In 258 and 259 bands of Alemanni and Iuthungi, barbarian tribes, breached the border defences along the Danube, crossed the Alps and raided towns of Northern Italy; this event and the declaration in 260 of a Gallic Empire by Postumus, the commander of the legions in Germany, led Gallienus to repair and strengthen the walls of Verona. In the 1980s traces of these new walls were found near Porta Leoni.
"Mura di Gallieno" which were built with stones from the Arena; (inset) part of an inscription or number of one of the entrances to the Arena
Verona exhibits a remarkable series
of fortifications, of various ages. The
earliest are those built by the Emperor
Gallienus, (..) large masses of this wall remain,
but generally incorporated in other
buildings. (..) To these imperial walls
succeed, in point of date, the walls
attributed to Theodoric the Ostrogoth,
and probably not much later than his
Gallienus modified the layout of the walls in order to include the amphitheatre inside them. Theodoric ruled the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy from Ravenna, but German medieval legends associated him with Verona as Dietrich von Bern (see a relief based on a legend at San Zeno).
In 1957 the Roman heritage of Verona received an important addition when evidence of a Roman villa was unearthed at Valdonega, a residential neighbourhood on hilly ground behind Colle S. Pietro, a mile from Ponte di Pietra. When the discovery was made the area had been already developed and archaeologists had to content themselves with nestling their findings beneath a modern building. The villa is dated Ist century AD and it must have belonged to owners who were familiar with the Roman fashion of the time in matters of design and decoration. The portico was most likely open on one side towards a garden.
Roman Villa: room with frescoes; another detail is shown in the image used as background for this page
The decoration of the floor mosaics and of the lower part of the walls was based on the depiction of birds and small plants. These subjects decorated Villa di Livia a Prima Porta, the suburban residence of Emperor Augustus' third wife, and a later villa near Pompeii which is named after Poppea, Emperor Nero's second wife. This decoration was aimed at creating a continuity between some rooms and the adjoining garden.
Floor mosaic of the early church on the site of the Cathedral with names of donors
The history of the Duomo is very
obscure, it is attributed to Charlemagne, but it may be shown that he
had no hand in this work, though it
cannot be clearly shown by whom, or
exactly at what time the existing fabric
was undertaken. It appears that a
church had been erected before the
time of Charlemagne on the spot
where the cathedral now stands, in
honour of the Virgin. Murray
In 1727 remains of an earlier church were identified under the Cathedral. In 1884 excavations enlarged the known part of this church which was dated Vth century and in 1969 also evidence of a IVth century church was found. The floor mosaics were paid for by members of the community, similar to what occurred at Aquileia and Grado (and at a synagogue in faraway Apamea), and the size of the floor each donor paid for was written next to the name: P(edes)CCC stands for 300 square feet.
Evidence of Roman baths in the cloister of the Cathedral
Verona had bath establishments, a "must" for a civilized Roman town. Archaeological excavations in the cloister of the Cathedral unearthed some ancient columns and floor mosaics. Their complex geometric decoration suggests they embellished the large halls of a luxury bath establishment.
I have lodgings right over a bathing establishment. So picture to yourself the assortment of sounds, which are strong enough to make me hate my very powers of hearing! When your strenuous gentleman, for example, is exercising himself by flourishing leaden weights; when he is working hard, or else pretends to be working hard, I can hear him grunt; and whenever he releases his imprisoned breath, I can hear him panting in wheezy and high-pitched tones. Read more about Seneca's description of what went on at Roman bath establishments.
Funerary reliefs near Porta Borsari: (left/centre) upper part of a tomb; (right) inscription for Petronia Tertulla, now in the outdoor premises of a cafe
For a long time remains of pagan funerary monuments were despised, but in the XVth century they began to be viewed as memories of a golden age and when, during the construction of a new building, they were found, they were used as a decoration. The head of Medusa had the purpose to protect the tomb. Petronia Tertulla was 13 when she died, the same age of Juliet, but the crowds who visit the "Tomb of Juliet", do not notice her funerary inscription (and perhaps is better).
Roman materials at (left and centre-below) San Lorenzo and at (centre-above and right) San Zeno in Oratorio
Other Roman reliefs and materials can be found in the oldest churches of the town. San Zeno in Oratorio is a small church by the river which was built on the assumed site where St. Zeno, eighth bishop of Verona and patron saint of the anglers, used to fish (and the black river stone is that upon which he actually sat). It was built above a Roman funerary monument of which it retains some reliefs.
San Zeno: Roman materials: (left) baptismal font; (right-above) Coppa di San Zenone; (right-below) a funerary relief
Many curious relics of antiquity are disposed about the interior. (..) In a little
chamber near the entrance is the Coppa
di San Zenone, a vase of porphyry,
from a single stone, the external diameter of which is 13 ft. 4 in., the internal 8 ft. 8 in; and the pedestal is
formed out of another block of the
same material. It is of high antiquity,
and (..) it originally
stood on the outside of the church.
San Zeno was built near a Roman necropolis well outside the Roman walls and some of the reliefs and Roman materials it contains come from there, but the porphyry basin most likely stood in the hall of a bath establishment.
You may wish to see the Roman Theatre and the Arena or Roman Verona in the Museums or Medieval Verona or San Zeno or the Venetian Gates of Verona or to move to:
Roman Aquileia - Main Monuments
Roman Aquileia - Tombs and Mosaics
Early Christian Aquileia
Roman Brescia: Capitolium and Forum
Roman Brescia: Other Monuments
Chioggia: Living on the Lagoon
Chioggia: Other Monuments
Roman and Medieval Cividale del Friuli
Venetian Cividale del Friuli
Roman and Byzantine Parenzo (Porec)
Medieval and Venetian Parenzo (Porec)
Peschiera del Garda
Roman Pola (Pula)
Medieval and Venetian Pola (Pula): Churches
Medieval and Venetian Pola (Pula): Other Monuments
Byzantine Ravenna: S. Apollinare in Classe
Byzantine Ravenna: S. Vitale
Byzantine Ravenna: Other Monuments
Venetian and Papal Ravenna: Walls and Gates
Venetian and Papal Ravenna: Churches
Venetian and Papal Ravenna: Other Monuments
Roman and Medieval Trieste