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Roamin’ in Verona

An arena, a bridge, a palace and a theater. That’s what we came to see. Now, having got that pesky bard out of the way in A Verona of the Heart, we could geek out on the Romans, Big Dogs and a Lion.

Arena Tunnels

We’d hopped on a morning train from Venice for the hour-ish, zero-hassle trip. I love the train ticket machines in Italy, knowing twelve words of the language, you can just show up and go anywhere!

That's 'Senator' to You, Plebian Scum!

At the Verona station, we took a ten-minute bus ride to the heart of town, Piazza Brà, and its great Roman arena. Imagine that, less than 90 minutes from our hotel in Venice to Full Archaeo-Geek Mode in Verona, with a decent cup of coffee and a chance to catch up on email. Ninety minutes used to be my commute time some days on the wretched unFreeways of Seattle. Wow! With that thought, I now appreciate this day trip even more.

Back to the arena. It’s second in size only to Rome’s Colosseum, much better preserved, and older. The Veronese still hold events there year round. And, as with every ancient rostrum or ruin of an imperial box across the former empire, my bride had to strike a pose worthy of any Roman Senator (and far more worthy than any modern senator). She is the true vox of her adoring populi.

Ponte Romano

Tales of Christians and lions aside, every part of this place, the tunnels, the stairs, the seats – everything – felt far more real and alive than any part of the Colosseum. Perhaps that was because so many real people still use Verona’s site today while leaving it as much like it was as they can.

Then, it was off to cross the Ponte Romano, the Roman Bridge over the Adige river, where original marble blocks are easy to see among the dark stone of later repairs. Imagine! This is a bridge that’s been in almost continuous service for around two thousand years. In case you were wondering, there are few others on the planet. And they’re all Roman.

Foundations at the Praetor's Palace

On the far side of the river, a short walk from the bridge, are ruins of the old Praetor’s Palace, high on a steep rise near the water. Palaces on the site have been demolished and rebuilt many times by successive conquerors, but you can still pick out lots of Roman foundation stones. And archaeologists have uncovered some of the old, lead water piping. You can also experience the fine views back toward the heart of town without either conquering or Praetoring.

Right below the Archaeological Museum that now occupies the most recent palace building is the old Roman Theater. It’s still used today but relatively small, perhaps only 1/5th the size of the one in Miletus. The Roman Veronese must have been much more interested in gladiators than Seneca.

Now for the Big Dogs (Mastino and Cangrande I & II) and their family, the Scaligeri. They ruled medieval Verona for 100 years. One of them was even Dante’s patron. If you like top-end, wise and just medieval warrior kings (relatively speaking), then you’ll find their imprint all over old Verona. I’m not into Medieval much, but even I found it interesting and worth my time. That’s a testimonial about Medieviality that you won’t find in this blog very often.   

The Lion of St. Mark in Piazza Erbe

And then there are the Venetians and the symbol of their republic, the Lion of Saint Mark. Verona was part of the 1,000 year Venetian Empire for almost 400 (from 1405), longer than there has been a USA by about 160 years. Of course, being Italy before Garibaldi, Verona temporarily changed hands a dozen or more times in those four centuries, but the people there always sought to return to rule under the republic.

That evening, walking back to the train station, the town’s lights began to come on and both of us were tired and happy from a very full day. We may not get back Verona’s way again, but it was truly one of the best day trips we’ve ever had.

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