What better backdrop is there to a great love story than Italy? The land of amore and la dolce vita has been the setting for Italy’s great poet Dante and his beloved Beatrice, the 14th-century poet Petrarch and his unrequited love for Laura, and Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers from Romeo and Juliet. Yet it is Romeo and Juliet’s tragic love story that has captured the hearts of romantics around the world.
Set in Verona, the story of forbidden love between feuding families—Romeo of the Montague family and Juliet of the Capulet family—continues to touch hearts just as it did when Shakespeare wrote it the 16th century. Intimately tied to place, romantics travel great distances to visit Verona and see Juliet’s House and gaze up at the balcony where Romeo pronounced the sweet words to her, “But, soft, what light through yonder window breaks? / It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.” While it’s certainly not surprising that Shakespeare’s moving words would become intimately tied to Verona, there are some surprises with just how attached travelers would become to this fateful tale.
First, there are just a few minor details to sort out here. Yes, there is a house called the Casa di Giulietta in Verona. No, Juliet didn’t ever live there. Romeo and Juliet are fictional characters and our sweet Juliet never actually set foot on that balcony looking for her Romeo. Shakespeare set the play in “fair Verona” and sure could tell a story that speaks to the heart. So much so that over time a legend that tied the Capulet family to a 13th-century building in Verona grew and grew. A particularly picturesque and romantic balcony certainly didn’t hurt. As it turns out, this beautiful medieval building was likely the residence of the Dal Cappello family – a name perhaps similar enough to spark a legend. But have you seen that balcony? It is the stuff that dreams are made of. Apparently, even if the Gothic balcony was an addition in the early 20th century. But who are we to argue with the power of love?
The legend became so strongly tied to the building that in 1907 the city of Verona bought part of the property to create a museum and house dedicated to the great love story. Heart strings have been tugged ever since. The power of association is strong and countless visitors have made the journey to Juliet’s House to gaze up at the balcony, visit the small museum dedicated to Shakespeare’s famous play, and to experience the romantic atmosphere. Love notes are written and left behind–for lost loves, current loves, and future loves–in multiple places around the courtyard below the balcony. Local legend says that if you touch the breast of the statue of Juliet in the courtyard you will be blessed with a happy and lasting love that Romeo and Juliet were unable to enjoy. Don’t worry, the bronze statue of Juliet is a copy of the original one, now inside the museum, that was created in 1969 by the sculptor Nereo Costantini.
Visit the museum to see beautiful frescoes from the 14th century, artwork inspired by Romeo and Juliet, medieval and early Renaissance ceramics, and pieces from the set of Juliet’s bedroom in the 1968 file Romeo e Giulietta directed by Franco Zeffirelli. If you’re feeling inspired, you can even step out on Juliet’s imagined balcony.
If the fantasy of Juliet’s House doesn’t appeal, Verona itself exudes plenty of romance that is very much real. Often called the city of love, Verona’s Piazza delle Erbe looks like the setting of film – romantic of course! The oldest piazza in Verona is set over what was once the Roman Forum of the ancient city. Find a spot at a cafè and listen to the sounds of the piazza mixed with the gentle flow of the Madonna Verona fountain. Flowers spill out of window boxes and add pops of color to the ornate, weather worn, and frescoed buildings surrounded the square.
You can also stroll along the Adige River and see the incredible Ponte Pietra, a Roman stone arch bridge, which is a perfectly romantic view. For an even better panorama, head up to the Castel San Pietro hill where an overlook offers a sweeping view across the city. While in Verona, you won’t want to miss seeing the Verona Arena, a Roman amphitheater from the 1st century. It is still used for concerts and events and is one of the most incredible places to experience a show in Italy.
Whether or not your heart is inspired by the great love story of Romeo and Juliet, do plan a visit to Verona while exploring the Veneto region of Italy. It’s only about an hour and a half drive from Venice or fast trains connect the cities in just a little over an hour. But be prepared … you might just fall in love!