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The history
Verona originated in the prehistoric age, probably on the present site of the Ponte Pietra, where the river Adige could be forded along the salt and amber route from the Adriatic to Germany.

Possibly founded by the Veneti, it was of great importance in the Roman Age and became a Roman town in 49 B.C.

In 312 A.D. Pompeianus, General of Maxentius was defeated and killed near Verona by Constantine. It became Christian in the 4th century, till it became the beloved city of Theodoric, King of the Ostrogoth kingdom in the middie of the 5th century, then a Longobardic dukedom and the seat of Pipin, King of Italy under the Carolingian Empire.
In the 11th century Verona was joined to the Mark of Bavaria and in 1136 it became a municipality.

Having come under the power of Ezzelino da Romano, it came under the dominion of the Scaliger family, whose seigniory lasted from 1277 until 1387, when it fell into the hands of the Viscontis.
In 1405 Verona volutarily offered itself to the Venetians, under whose government it remained until 1796, when the Republic of Venice was invaded by Napoleon.
After the short-lived rule of the Kingdom of Italy Verona was occupied by the Austrians in 1814 and returned to the dominion of Italy in 1866.
Verona was the papal seat of Pope Lucius III (Ubaldo Allucignoli di Lucca) from 1181 to 1185, the year when the Conclave which elected Pope Urban III was held in Verona. Pope Lucius III is buried in the choir of the Cathedral, where there is a memorial stone inscribed to him.


The historical epoch: The history of Romeo and Juliet took place while in Verona the Scaligeri were reigning. After the period in which Alberto I della Scala governed, the regency was kept during the years 1301-1304 by the magnanimous Bartolomeo I della Scala, who tried, in vain, to appease the hate of the internal struggles between the families of Verona, divided into Guelphs and Ghibellines. Bartolomeo I had also the honour of giving hospitality to the exiled Dante Alighieri, who dedicated him a sestina in the verses of the canto XVII of the Paradise.


The poet makes also mention, in his Comedy, to the rivalry between the Montecchi and the Capuleti, in the canto IV of the Purgatory: obviously the events narrated by Shakespeare took place in 1303, that his the age of Bartolomeo I della Scala.

The literary origin: In 1524, the captain of Vicenza Luigi da Porto, who had been wounded during a battle, retired to write down his war memories: there was a big contrast between the failure of his writings and the success of his “Historia novellatamente ritrovata di due nobili amanti con la loro pietosa morte intervenuta già al tempo di Bartolomeo della Scala” (The history of two noble lovers and their piteous death occurred during the reign of Bartolomeo della Scala). It’s a long work printed in 1531, that contained all the fact that Shakespeare would narrate later. Da Porto explains that the plot was given him by an archer named Pellegrino da Verona. It is probable that an oral tradition about the history of the two lovers already existed at the age. The narration of Da Porto was than elaborated again by Matteo Bandello in 1554, but the year before a poem in octavo rhyme of an anonymous writer, perhaps Gerardo Boldiero, was circulating with the title of ‘Clizia to his Ardeo’. The historicist of Verona, Girolamo Dalla Corte, in his “Historie”, written in 1560, tries to sustain the reality of this legend. The history of the unlucky lovers became famous all around Europe, so that the English writers Arthur Brooke, in 1562, and William Painter, in 1569, wrote a version of it. Also the Spanish Lope de Vega ventured upon the narration in 1590, and he obtained his aim.
Finally, in 1596, Shakespeare gave to the world his immortal version, that was represented at the English Theatre, playing himself the part of Mercuzio or Fray Lorenzo. A year later he printed “The excellent tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, as it has often been represented to the public (with great success) by the servants of the very honourable lord Hudson”, while in 1599 a second corrected edition had been printed.
Since Shakespeare had never been in Italy, he probably took the subject from the versions of Brooke and Painter. Moreover Brooke affirmed to have seen the drama played at the theatre before 1562.
The burial-place: The ancient church of S. Francesco al Corso, built in 1230, where, according to the shakespearian history, Romeo and Juliet secretly got married, had been destroyed, the first time, in 1447. In 1459 the church was built again, and in 1548 was entrusted to the convent of the Converted Women or ‘Zitelle’, commonly known as the ‘franceschine’. The buildings were partly destroyed by the explosion of a powder magazine, situated in the Tower of the Straw (Torre della Paglia), in 1624. Built up again, after the Napoleonic suppressions, it became property of the State in 1803, and was destined to military uses and to the welfare institutions. In the XX century in the zone near the “Franceschine” the construction of the Campo Fiera rose (1926).
The whole area was seriously damaged by the war incursions of the Second World War (1944-45). The bell tower of the Church, built in the XIV century, collapsed in 1959, and the same occurred to the east part of the cloister in 1978, while the south aisle is nowadays unsafe.
Fortunately, the complex was destined, in 1973, to become a museum, a part of which has been used as a Museum of the Frescos, dedicated to G.B. Cavalcaselle, so that the crypt containing Juliet’s Tomb, gained in importance thanks to an historical contest that can give it the right value.

The Tomb: in the underground crypt, that is situated in the east wing of the cloister, we find the red marble sepulchre without a cover, where the tradition has always wanted the mortal remains of the young heroine to be located. It is known that in the past the ecclesiastic burial was denied to the homicides and suicides, but referring to Juliet, as the legend wants, the authorities were moved to pity and accepted to give her a simple burial without any kind of heraldic bearings or inscriptions. According to the same tradition of the XVI century, when the fame of the legend increased, the church decided, in order to hide the scandal, to desecrate the tomb, by dispersing the bones and the cover, and converting the grave in a vessel for the water, as Dalla Corte remembers (1592). It became later a destination of various pilgrimages, between which the most important is the one of Maria Luisa of Austria, in 1822, who did not resist to the fascinating idea of possessing a souvenir of the famous sepulchre, and wanted some jewellers to work her a necklace and two earrings with some pieces of stones taken from the grave. George Byron as well couldn’t resist to the temptation of keeping away some little pieces of Juliet’s tomb, to give them as a present to her daughters and grand-daughters. At the beginning of the XIX century, the playwright Augusto of Kotzebue narrates that, in Vienna, the archduke Giovanni showed him, very proud, the cover of the tomb, that he transported himself from Verona.When, in 1842, the ‘franceschine’, left the convent, the tomb had been forgotten. The English writer Charles Dickens, who was became enthusiastic about Verona, during a visit to the sepulchre that he defined as a ‘horse-pond’, got very annoyed because of the total careless of it. Later, with the arrival of the Congregation of Charity in 1868, the grave was put under a portico, together with the ruins of the ancient cloister, in order to protect it. But only in 1898 they tried to find out an ideal settlement, and they changed the whole place when in 1910 a herma to Shakespeare was inaugurated. Only in 1935, when Antonio Avena decided to put in some museum the artistic patrimony of the town, the sepulchre was moved, and it was collocated in an underground crypt next to the cloister, where nowadays still remains a sure destination of the pilgrimages.

Romeo and Juliet in the art: there are lots of artistic evidences dedicated to the Shakespearian drama; as for the painting, the canvas painted by the Venetian Francesco Hayez, the famous ‘Juliet’s funeral’ by Scipione Vannutelli, and ‘The last kiss of the two lovers of Verona’ by Gaetano Previati, are unforgettable. The music and the dance celebrate Romeo and Juliet’s myth thanks to Vincenzo Bellini, Hector Berliotz, Serghej Prokofiev, Leonard Bernstein. In the theatre, we have to remember the first appearance in Verona of a very young Eleonora Duse, as the Shakespearian heroine. The cinema too gives importance to this tragedy, with George Cukor’s masterpiece of 1936, Leonardo Castellini’s film of 1951, and with Franco Zeffirelli’s poetic version. Also two important artists of Verona are to be mentioned: Angelo dall’Oca Bianca, with his paintings, and Berto Barbarani with the poem ‘Romeo and Juliet’, written in the vernacular.


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