Napoleon christened this area “Veronetta” in a dispute with the Austrians.
Nonetheless, this “lesser-known” part of Verona conceals treasures… and even secrets, that we invite you to discover.
Veronetta extends from the “old” Roman bridge of Ponte Pietra as far as the “new” Ponte Nuovo”. Come and visit this historic area which forms a semi-circular shape reminiscent of the ancient Roman theatre that crowns the city.
Let’s set off from Ponte Pietra, the “Pons Lapideus” as the Romans called it. It is one of the greatest remaining testimonials to the Romans’ presence in Verona. From here we can admire Monte Gallo, or the hill of S. Pietro which has been inhabited ever since pre-historic times, and was transformed into an open-air theatre by the Romans during the Augustean age. What is left of the once-sumptuous Roman theatre is still used today for theatrical events. Climbing the monumental stairway up to “S. Pietro” we can trace the outline of the city, closely hugged within the meandering embrace of the river Adige, and with its narrow streets clothed in red, pink, ochre and green. At the top of the stairway in the square beyond is the eighteenth century Austrian barracks nicknamed the “Castello di Re Teodorico” from where we can take in at a glance the glorious panorama over the city below. Here, like a two-thousand year-old chess board, the King is the Roman Theatre, the Queen is the Roman Amphitheatre, the bishops are the churches’ bell towers, the knights are the bridges and the Medieval houses are the pawns.
Now, cast your eyes down to the left side of the river which is renowned for its sights and locations all redolent of memories and all of remarkable beauty. The streets (once waterways, offshoots of the river); the island or “isolo” (which housed an extraordinary concentration of the city’s craftsmen and artisans right up till the end of the eighteenth century); the hills, (adorned with defensive walls and towers built during the Middle Ages), and a veritable procession of holy saints and martyrs in Medieval and Renaissance garb who parade through the churches of S. Siro and Libera, St. Giovanni in Valle, S. Maria in Organo, SS. Nazzaro and Celso, St. Paolo in Campo Marzo, St. Tomaso Cantuariense. All this is what makes Veronetta so very special.
Let’s go back down so as to get a closer look at some of the historical gems in this area. Hike or bike up the Austrian “Lasagne” as far as the historical Villa Francescatti renowned, amongst other things for its beautiful and historical park. The nearby church of San Giovanni in Valle represents a splendid example of Veronese Romanesque architecture, most famous for two sarcophagi conserved in the crypt, and from which they say that the ghostly echoing voices of the Early Veronese Christians can sometimes be heard. However St. John (San Giovanni) is not just an evocative “shadow” in a crypt, but he is also the “Light”: The feast of St. John the Baptist coincides with the mid-summer solstice the virtually forgotten “Sun Worship ceremonies” in which pagan memories and Christian traditions were merged. Next stop is Giardino Giusti, an historical landscaped garden, and where you must prepare yourselves for an unforgettable spiritual and sensorial experience. There are centuries-old trees, ancient inscriptions, Renaissance symbolism running through the Italianate gardens, all of which will throw you headlong into the sixteenth century aesthetic style when this garden housed one of the most prestigious civic academies. Illustrious visitors from Goethe to Chateaubriand sang its praises. Not far distant is the church of S. Maria in Organo, of the same period as the Giardini, and frescoed by Francesco and Domenico Morone, Giovanni Caroto and Nicolò Golfino. The inlaid woodwork of the choir stands and the sacristy which, according to Vasari are “the most beautiful in the whole of Italy” count amongst the richest artistic treasures in Verona (some are indecipherable and are particularly interesting from a philosophical standpoint). In front of the church extends the recently renovated open and airy Piazza Isolo which has been transformed with respect to its past incarnations. Once upon a time this “island”, created by a now-disappeared secondary branch of the river Adige was heaving with small river boats, floating watermills, busy craftsmen and tradesmen all overlooked by the imposing riverside townhouses whose elegance was mirrored in the flowing waters below. That epoch is lost forever, but scenes of what it must have been like still remain, immortalised in the canvases of landscape artists such as Bellotto and Van Wittel.
The last stage of our journey takes us to another corner of Veronetta, once again laden with history, art and curious facts. The ghost of the young Mozart still haunts the church of S.Tomaso Cantuariense which houses the same famous organ on which he performed in concert. Adjacent to the church is the “ People’s Bridge” or Ponte Nuovo del Popolo which unites Veronetta to the rest of the city. Here we can see the flowing waters of the Adige below – a timekeeper that reminds us of the river’s devastating floods and of its role as a political boundary line in the past, but most of all as a carrier of life and of civilisation.
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