Italy is full of romantic and historic cities. One of Italy’s most special places is Verona, the setting of Romeo and Juliet, arguably the most famous love story of all time. The debate of whether Romeo and Juliet were real people or just characters that Shakespeare invented will likely never be resolved. Nevertheless, the entire town of Verona is set up around the tale of the star-crossed lovers. Any Shakespeare fan or hopeless romantic should complete the Romeo and Juliet tour of Verona, to see how the city of Verona is swept up with the love between Romeo and Juliet and all people.
Verona was founded in the first century B.C. and well-preserved Roman ruins can be found all over the city. In addition to these, there are a few sites set up by the town on the Romeo and Juliet trail. The first stop is Juliet’s house. Whether or not Romeo and Juliet were real people, Shakespeare did derive their names from real dynastic families of Verona. Juliet Capulet was based upon the Capello family. Juliet’s House today is where the Capellos actually lived. The house is a major tourist attraction and is almost always mobbed with people. Upon entering, you walk through a corridor absolutely plastered with graffiti, hand-written love notes and scribblings of “so-and-so + so-and-so forever” and the like. The corridor leads you to an open courtyard, where there is a bronze statue of Juliet. People wait in line to pose with Juliet and to rub her right breast, which is meant to bring good luck in love. Inside the house is a small museum about the history of the tale of Romeo and Juliet and the family who lived in the house. On the second floor is the infamous balcony, not an original part of the 13th century home, but added in the 20th century to perpetuate the Juliet fantasy. This is meant to represent the very balcony where Romeo and Juliet whispered their affection for one another in the night. Lovers and friends pose on the balcony, recreating the scene. Another tradition of the house is to write letters to Juliet and hide them somewhere in the house. There are also computers where you can write virtual letters to her. The city of Verona receives thousands of letters every year addressed to Juliet. Since the 1980s the city has paid for the Club di Giulietta, or the Juliet Club, a group of local women who write responses to the letters.
Not to forget about Romeo, a nearby house where the Montecchi family lived (Romeo was a Montague) has been designated as Romeo’s House. You cannot enter and there is nothing to tour, just a small plaque outside marking the house.
The other main site on the Romeo and Juliet tour of Verona is Juliet’s tomb, where she committed suicide believing that her lover Romeo was dead. Her tomb can be found at the Capuccin Church, which also holds the Antonian Fresnoe Museum. This church is the former site of the monastery of San Francesco al Corso, which was the only Franciscan monastery just outside Verona’s city walls during the time period in which the play was set, meaning its where the deaths would have occurred if the story is true. In a crypt beneath the church is a red marble sarcophagus. It is empty, of course, but this has been set up as the tomb of Juliet.
Romeo and Juliet is one of the most powerful love stories in the Western world. We will never know what exactly compelled Shakespeare to write about these characters and if they may have actually been based on real people or events. Regardless, their story has excited spectators and readers for centuries. The city of Verona plays into our fascination with these young lovers and allows us to indulge in our romantic nature.