The Bridges of Verona

The river Adige in the heart of Verona

The river Adige in the heart of Verona

The Adige River winds its way through Verona, embracing most of the old city within one of its wide curves. There are numerous bridges over the Adige, connecting the main part of the city,  which lies southwest of the river, with the sections that lie to the northeast. Many of these are modern bridges, rebuilt after heavy bombing of the city during World War II. Two of Verona's most important and characteristic bridges, the Ponte Pietra and the Ponte Scaligero, were destroyed during the war but later faithfully rebuilt using original materials recovered from the riverbed. What foresight this careful reconstruction was - and how fortunate that today we are able to walk across these bridges and appreciate their nearly original form.

 

 

Ponte Pietra (file photo) 

Ponte Pietra (file photo) 

The entrance to Ponte Pietra, through an arched tower in Piazza Broilo

The entrance to Ponte Pietra, through an arched tower in Piazza Broilo

The arched Ponte Pietra (pietra means stone in Italian) is the oldest bridge in Verona, built during the years of Roman rule. It has been damaged and rebuilt more than once due to floods and war. Two of its arches (the white stone arches in the photo) are of original Roman material. The brick arches date from a reconstruction during the 1500s.

Today the Ponte Pietra links the old part of Verona, between the Duomo and the church of Sant'Anastasia on the city side with the Roman Theater, Castel San Pietro, and the churches of Santo Stefano and San Georgio on the far bank. The bridge, with its gentle rise and fall, is beautiful and provides views of towers, church domes, and ruins, as well as long views of Verona along the banks of the river.

 

 

The entrance to the Castelvecchio, beyond which lies the Ponte Scaligero

The entrance to the Castelvecchio, beyond which lies the Ponte Scaligero

The Ponte Scaligero (also known as the Castelvecchio bridge) is a Medieval structure. It too is an arched bridge, but unlike the more graceful Ponte Pietra, this massive bridge was built as part of castle fortifications and to provide a quick and secure route away from the Castelvecchio - allowing fleeing noblemen to escape across the river. The bridge is entered from within the castle courtyard. It has high brick walls with tall rectangular brick pillars that stand like sentries along the sides of the bridge.

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Each pillar is topped with a merlon (an angular brick structure), which gives a sort of winged appearance to the top of the bridge. Between the pillars are open spaces - a climb up on the ledges to look out through these openings provides fantastic views.

Ponte Scaligero, Verona

Ponte Scaligero, Verona

Verona, as seen from the Ponte Scaligero

Verona, as seen from the Ponte Scaligero

Lower in the brick walls of the bridge are rectangular openings that frame stunning views of the city and the river - looking through these was my favorite way to view Verona.

The Ponte Scaligero is an imposing structure, no doubt intended to discourage potential castle invaders. Today it is a peaceful pedestrian walkway and one of the characteristic bridges in the city of Verona.              -post by JB

An Introduction to Verona

Travel poster from the 1930s

Travel poster from the 1930s

My idea of a perfect trip to Italy involves time spent in my home base of Lucca along with a visit to a place that is entirely new to me. On my latest trip, that place was Verona.

Verona, in the Veneto region of northern Italy, is less well known to visitors (at least to American visitors) than nearby Venice. The two cities have distinctly different characters and it's fun to experience both of them when visiting the Veneto region. Verona may not have Venice's famous canals, but it has a charm all its own and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most of the historic old town is nestled into a bend of the Adige River, with some of the old city lying just across the river.

Historically, Verona was a Roman settlement. It has a long history of rule by various invaders (Visigoths, Longobards, Venetians, as well as by France and Austria), all of whom influenced Verona's art, architecture, and culture. Parts of the city were destroyed over time - by floods, earthquakes, conquering armies and, most recently, World War II bombs. Fortunately, many reconstructions  maintained much of the structure and character of the old city.  It is still possible to see everything from Roman ruins to Medieval and Renaissance structures. But Verona is not just a living history museum; it is a thriving city combining history, tradition, and modern life (including some high-end shopping).

With just three days in Verona I barely scratched the surface, but I did find much to love about this historic, thriving city.

Some highlights:

The fountain in Piazza Bra with the Roman arena in the background

The fountain in Piazza Bra with the Roman arena in the background

Piazza Bra and Piazza delle Erbe are  beautiful spaces, full of activity and history. Piazza Bra is remarkable for the beautiful arches that mark its entrance and the well-preserved Roman Arena (amphitheater), which dominates the piazza. The piazza is lined with cafes and includes a green space that provides a perfect oasis of calm in the busy square.

Piazza Erbe is the place to feel the city's Medieval vibe. It is a thriving marketplace and the busy hub of the old city. Here you will find beautiful old buildings, the tall Torre Lamberto, and the ornate Palazzo Maffei.

While these piazze are the two main squares, there are many smaller ones that are also lovely. In fact, I think the piazze of Verona deserve a future post of their very own!

Busy Piazza Erbe

Busy Piazza Erbe

The city of Verona, viewed from an opening in the Ponte Scaligero. 

The city of Verona, viewed from an opening in the Ponte Scaligero. 

The River Adige flows through the heart of the city. Its bridges (ponti), including the Ponte Pietra and the Ponte Scaligero, have interesting histories, great beauty, and provide wonderful views of the city. The river also defines the city boundaries and helps make Verona a very walkable city. 

Verona is full of arches. Some are grand portas (doorways) through old city gates, others are small and mark entry into a piazza or a small vicolo (lane). Strung from them often are stunning light fixtures or cascading plants, which give the city a graceful air. 

There were more interesting churches than I could see in a short visit. The two I visited - the Chiesa del Duomo and the Cathedral of San Zeno - were architectural masterpieces filled with fascinating art and history.  . 

Cathedral of San Zeno, Verona

Cathedral of San Zeno, Verona

I can't talk about Verona without mentioning the fabulous dining. There is great variety in the dishes found here, and lots of seafood. My friends and I had several fabulous meals, including grilled shrimp, delicate pumpkin-filled ravioli, and a fabulous guanciale di manzo (beef cheek). The local white wines were similar to those of Bologna (slightly fizzy Chardonnay and Trebbiano) and there were full-bodied reds too (Amarone and Valpolicella). And of course there is great gelato to be enjoyed! 

Fine dining at Ristorante Torcolo, Verona. 

Fine dining at Ristorante Torcolo, Verona. 

That's just a snapshot of my quick visit to Verona - there is so much more to see and experience that I can't wait to return!   -Post by JB

The Legend of the Volto Santo (Holy Face)

This painting, in the church of San Frediano, depicts the arrival of the Volto Santo, in an ox drawn cart, to Lucca. 

This painting, in the church of San Frediano, depicts the arrival of the Volto Santo, in an ox drawn cart, to Lucca. 

Italy is a country full of mysterious legends. This is certainly true in Lucca - there are legends about deals made with the devil, of a saintly housekeeper and her miracle, of stone pillars mysteriously bent but not broken, of rivers diverted by prayer. Not far from Lucca is a stone bridge supposedly built with help from the devil himself.  Fascinating!

Perhaps the most important legend in Lucca is that of the Volto Santo (Holy Face), a wooden crucifix said to be carved by Nicodemus shortly after the resurrection of Christ. As the legend goes, Nicodemus carved the body of Christ, but fell asleep before carving the face. When he awoke, the face was miraculously completed. The crucifix was then hidden for some 700 years at which time it was discovered, loaded onto an unmanned ship, set to sea, and eventually landed on the coast of Italy. From there, a cart steered only by oxen brought the crucifix (another miracle) to Lucca where it has remained ever since. Many miracles have been associated with the crucifix and pilgrims traveling the Via Francigena, between Rome and Canterbury, often included a stop in Lucca to see the Volto Santo.

The Volto Santo crucifix, clad in gold vestements for the Santa Croce Festival, Lucca, Italy. 

The Volto Santo crucifix, clad in gold vestements for the Santa Croce Festival, Lucca, Italy. 

 Today, this unique work of art is housed in a small gated chapel within the San Martino cathedral and has a dedicated celebration, the Festival of Santa Croce (Holy Cross), held every year in mid-September. This is the most important festival of the year in Lucca and during this time the Christ figure on the crucifix is dressed in gold vestments, including a gold crown, collar, belt, and shoes. It is also the one time of year when the gates to the chapel are opened, allowing people to pass through right in front of the crucifix. 

 

 

Candles light the buildings for the Luminaria di Santa Croce Festival. 

Candles light the buildings for the Luminaria di Santa Croce Festival. 

Luminaria light Piazza San Michele, Sept 2016.

Luminaria light Piazza San Michele, Sept 2016.

The highlight of the Santa Croce festival takes place on the night of September 13th with a stunningly beautiful procession in which luminaria (candles) outline the windows and arches of the buildings along the route. The procession includes townspeople, priests and bishops, the misericordia and red cross, community leaders, school children, people in medieval costumes, musicians and singers. Many carry candles, torches, or other religious objects. There is also a special mass in the cathedral the following day.

The candle lit procession is spectacular to see.

The candle lit procession is spectacular to see.

I was fortunate to be in Lucca for this year's Luminaria di Santa Croce. Whether here for the history, religious significance, or sheer beauty of this event, it is a moving experience to witness a procession whose history reaches back to medieval times.              Post by JMB

Some of the marchers are dressed in medieval costume. 

Some of the marchers are dressed in medieval costume. 

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