You may wish to read an introduction to this section or a page on the other Roman monuments of Verona with some background information on its history first.
Seating section of the theatre (see a view of its reconstructed stage)
He who would know the innocent charm of a ruin as yet almost wholly uncourted by travel, must go to the Roman theatre in Verona. It is not a favorite of the hand-books; and we were decided to see it chiefly by a visit to the Museum, where (..) there is a most interesting collection of antiques in bronze and marble found in excavating the theatre. The ancient edifice had been completely buried, and a quarter of the town was built over it, as Portici is built over Herculaneum, and on the very top stood a Jesuit convent. One day, some children, playing in the garden of one of the shabby houses, suddenly vanished from sight. Their mother ran like one mad (I am telling the story in the words of the peasant who related it to me) to the spot where they had last been seen, and fell herself into an opening of the earth there. The outcry raised by these unfortunates brought a number of men to their aid, and in digging to get them out, an old marble stairway was discovered. This was about twenty-five years ago. A certain gentleman named Monga owned the land, and he immediately began to make excavations.
William Dean Howells - Italian Journeys - 1867
The Roman Theatre is on the L bank of the Adige; its destruction began at a very early period. A very curious decree of King Berengarius, dated 895, describes it as dilapidated, and permits all persons to demolish the ruinous portions; yet much of it was standing as late as the 16th century. (..) There is now little above ground, excepting fragments principally incorporated in other buildings; but numerous sculptures have been dug up.
John Murray - Handbook for Travellers in Northern Italy - 1852
The description by Murray reflects the result of the excavations carried out in 1834-1844 by Andrea Mongia, a wealthy tradesman of Verona who bought all the area and demolished some 30 houses. He is regarded as the "discoverer" of the theatre.
The theatre was built in the late Ist century BC on the slope of a hill with a commanding view over the town. The building had a series of terraces at its top with a small temple, similar to Teatro di Pompeo in Rome. The rock of the hill was cut and walls were created in order to support the terraces. The construction of the theatre required also the reinforcement of the River Adige embankment, because the stage was very near it. The complex, because of its size and visibility, was meant to show the importance of Res Publica Veronensium, the official name of the town after Julius Caesar gave its inhabitants the status of Roman citizens in 49 BC.
(left/centre) Architectural elements of the external part of the seating section; (right) a remaining wall of the stage; the image used as background for this page shows a decorative element of a lintel
In 1904 the City of Verona bought the area and since then many other archaeological campaigns were carried out to fully unearth and partially reconstruct the seating section. Parts of the external decoration were also reconstructed; the use of half-engaged columns is typical of Roman architecture and it can be seen also at Teatro di Marcello in Rome which was built at approximately the same time. Today the buildings adjoining the theatre (two deconsecrated churches and a convent) house the City Archaeological Museum.
San Giovanni in Valle: materials from the theatre; (inset) a theatrical mask
The City Archaeological Museum houses some reliefs and architectural elements from the theatre, but others can be seen in a very old church at a short distance from it, where they were used as building materials.
The most remarkable monument of antiquity is the famous amphitheatre in the middle of the town, the most entire of any now remaining, built by the consul Flaminius, and one of the first rank for bigness.
Thomas Nugent - The Grand Tour - 1749
You did quite right in promising a gladiatorial display to my clients at Verona, for they have long loved you, looked up to you, and honoured you. You took from that city your dearly loved and most estimable wife, and you owe to her memory some public work or festival, and a gladiatorial show is most suitable for a funeral honour. Besides, as the people were so unanimous in asking for that form of entertainment, you would have appeared boorish, rather than consistent, had you refused. Whereas now it stands to your credit that you were not only lavish in giving the show, but were easily persuaded to do so, and it is in matters such as these that magnanimity is disclosed. I wish that the numerous African panthers you had bought had turned up by the appointed day, but it may be that they were detained by stress of weather. At any rate you have deserved the fullest credit for them, for it was not your fault that the exhibition was not complete.
Pliny the Younger - Letters - Book VI:34 to Maximus - translation by J. B. Firth
Well then, the amphitheatre is the first important monument of the old times that I have seen - and how well it is
preserved! (..) The Veronese deserve commendation for the high preservation in which this edifice is kept. It is built of a reddish
marble, which has been affected by the atmosphere. (..) The lower arches, which adjoin the large square,
called "il Bra," are let out to workmen, and the reanimation
of these arcades produces a cheerful appearance.
J. W. Goethe - Italian Journey - September 16, 1786 - translation by Charles Nisbeth
In the Piazza di Brá - a spirit of old time among the familiar realities of the passing hour - is the great Roman Amphitheatre. So well preserved, and carefully maintained, that every row of seats is there, unbroken. Over certain of the arches, the old Roman numerals may yet be seen. (..) Nestling in some of the shadows and hollow places of the walls, now, are smiths with their forges, and a few small dealers of one kind or other; and there are green weeds, and leaves, and grass, upon the parapet. But little else is greatly changed.
Charles Dickens - Pictures from Italy - 1846
Remaining section of the outer ring and a numbered entrance (it can be seen also at Colosseo)
Amphitheatre is supposed to have
been built between 81 and 117 of our
era, that is to say, to be contemporary
with the Coliseum. The interior is
nearly perfect, which it owes to the
continuous care bestowed upon it.
Most of the other Roman amphitheatres have suffered exceedingly from
having been converted into fortresses,
as at Arles and Nismes, or considered
as quarries for materials, as the Coliseum. The outer circuit was greatly
damaged by an earthquake in 1184.
The ruined portions appear to have
been carried away and employed on
other edifices, but the mass itself was
By a statute passed in 1228 it was enacted that every podestà upon taking office, should spend 500 lire upon the repairs of the Arena; in 1475 penalties were decreed against any one who should remove any of the stone; in 1545 a special officer was appointed to take care of it; in 1568 a voluntary subscription was raised for its support; and in 1579 a tax was imposed for its reparation. Other decrees in its favour have been since made; yet, notwithstanding all this care, 4 arches only are preserved of the outer circuit, which consisted originally of 72. Murray
We know who built the Coliseum, but in its unstoried origin, the Veronese arena has the mystery of the Pyramids. Was its founder Augustus, or Vitellus, or Antoninus, or Maximian, or the Republic of Verona? Nothing is certain. Howells
Antiquarians and archaeologists have vainly looked for an inscription stating when and by whom the Arena was built. Today there is a general consensus that this occurred at the same time as the amphitheatre of Pola, during the reign of Emperor Augustus. The remains of the two buildings complement each other: at Pola the outer ring is almost intact, whereas the seating section is missing.
Details of the interior of the amphitheatre
There are corridors, and staircases, and subterranean passages for beasts, and winding ways, above ground and below, as when the fierce thousands hurried in and out, intent upon the bloody shows of the arena. Dickens
It is built of Verona marble, the substructions and vaultings beneath the seats being of good Roman brickwork. (..) So much remains perfect of the corridors and entrances by the vomitories, that a very clear idea of the arrangements of an ancient amphitheatre may be obtained. Murray
Inscriptions celebrating: (above) a "venationem taurorum" (a sort of corrida) in honour of Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II in 1769; (below) an equestrian show and a ballet in honour of Austrian Emperor Francis I, Russian Czar Alexander I and other sovereigns who attended a conference at Verona in 1822
When I entered, and still more when I walked round the edge of it at the top, it seemed strange to me, that I saw something great, and yet, properly speaking, saw nothing. Besides I do not like to see it empty, I should like to see it full of people, just as, in modern times, it was filled up in honour of Joseph II. and Pius VI. The Emperor, although his eye was accustomed to human masses, must have been astonished. But it was only in the earliest times, that it produced its full effect, when the people was more a people than it is now. For, properly speaking, such an amphitheatre is constructed to give the people an imposing view of itself, - to cajole itself. Goethe
When anything worth seeing occurs on the level ground,
and any one runs to the spot, the hindermost try by every
means to raise themselves above the foremost; they get
upon benches, roll casks, bring up vehicles, lay planks in every
direction, occupy the neighbouring heights, and a crater is
formed in no time. If the spectacle occur frequently on the same spot, light
scaffoldings are built for those who are able to pay, and the
rest of the multitude must get on as it can. Here the problem
of the architect is to satisfy this general want. By means of
his art he prepares such a crater, making it as simple as possible,
that the people itself may constitute the decoration. When the
populace saw itself so assembled, it must have been astonished
at the sight, for whereas it was only accustomed to see itself
running about in confusion, or to find itself crowded together
without particular rule or order, so must this many-headed,
many-minded, wandering animal now see itself combined into
a noble body, made into a definite unity, bound and secured
into a mass, and animated as one form by one mind. The
simplicity of the oval is most pleasingly obvious to every eye,
and every head serves as a measure to show the vastness of the
whole. Now we see it empty, we have no standard, and do
not know whether it is large or small.
The internal aspect of the arena is complete: and though a great number of the seats have been restored (..), the operation having been performed gradually, the restorations are not apparent. The greater diameter of the Amphitheatre is 513 ft.; of the arena 248 ft. The lesser diameter of the Amphitheatre is 410 ft.; and of the arena 147 ft. The circumference is 1470 ft., and the height of what remains is, from the original pavement, 100 ft. Murray
When I had traversed all about it, with great interest, and had gone up to the topmost round of seats, and turning from the lovely panorama closed in by the distant Alps, looked down into the building, it seemed to lie before me like the inside of a prodigious hat of plaited straw, with an enormously broad brim and a shallow crown; the plaits being represented by the four-and-forty rows of seats. The comparison is a homely and fantastic one, in sober remembrance and on paper, but it was irresistibly suggested at the moment, nevertheless. Dickens
Verona, which was my last Italian stopping-place, is in any conditions a delightfully interesting city. (..) It was a lovely August afternoon in the Roman arena, a ruin in which repair and restoration have been so watchfully and plausibly practised that it seems all of one harmonious antiquity. The vast stony oval rose high against the sky in a single clear, continuous line, broken here and there only by strolling and reclining loungers. The massive tiers inclined in solid monotony to the central circle, in which a small open-air theatre was in active operation. A small quarter of the great slope of masonry facing the stage was roped off into an auditorium, in which the narrow level space between the foot-lights and the lowest step figured as the pit. Foot-lights are a figure of speech, for the performance was going on in the broad glow of the afternoon, with a delightful and apparently by no means misplaced confidence in the good-will of the spectators. What the piece was that was deemed so superbly able to shift for itself I know not. (..) Along the tiers above the little group of regular spectators was gathered a free-list of unauthorised observers, who, although beyond ear-shot, must have been enabled by the generous breadth of Italian gesture to follow the tangled thread of the piece. It was all deliciously Italian, the mixture of old life and new, the mountebank's booth (it was hardly more) grafted on the antique circus, the dominant presence of a mighty architecture, the loungers and idlers beneath the kindly sky and upon the sun-warmed stones. I never felt more keenly the difference between the background to life in very old and very new civilisations.
Henry James - Italian Hours - 1872
I forgot to tell you we went to Verona at six o'clock, and in the old Roman amphitheatre (as perfect inside as it was in the old Roman times) saw the play of Hamlet performed - and certainly indifferently - but you can imagine how romantic it was to sit in the old amphitheatre on a lovely moonlight night.
Oscar Wilde - Letter to his mother in June 1875
In 1913, in order to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Giuseppe Verdi, a grand performance of Aida was held in the Arena. Such was the success of the initiative that the amphitheatre became a famous summer venue for operas. In 1934-36 a formal body was created to organize a yearly season. In 1937 a similar authority was created to utilize Terme di Caracalla in Rome for the same purpose (see a page on a 1939 performance of Aida there).
Materials which were taken from the Amphitheatre and were used in nearby buildings
|Other ancient amphitheatres in this web site:|
The Colosseo of Rome
The Amphitheatre of Capua
The Amphitheatre of Albano
The Amphitheatre of Pompeii
The Amphitheatre of Catania
The Amphitheatre of Syracuse
The Amphitheatre of Sutri
The Amphitheatre of Urbs Salvia (Urbisaglia)
The Amphitheatre of Pola in Istria
The Amphitheatre of Salona in Dalmatia
The Amphitheatre of Arles in France
The Amphitheatre of Bordeaux in France
The Amphitheatre of Nîmes in France
The Amphitheatre of Périgueux in France
The Amphitheatre of Saintes in France
The Amphitheatre of Toulouse in France
The Amphitheatre(s) of Carnuntum in Austria
The Amphitheatre of Trier in Germany
The Amphitheatre of London
The Amphitheatre of Caerleon in Wales
The Amphitheatre of Italica in Spain
The Amphitheatre of Merida in Spain
The Amphitheatre of Tarragona in Spain
The Amphitheatre of Caesarea Maritima in Israel
The Amphitheatre of Carthage
The Amphitheatre of Mactaris (Makhtar) in Tunisia
The Amphitheatre of Thapsus in Tunisia
The Amphitheatre of Thysdrus (El Djem) in Tunisia
The Amphitheatre of Uthina (Oudna) in Tunisia
The Amphitheatre of Leptis Magna in Libya
You may wish to see Other Monuments of Roman Verona 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