What an impact! The Verona Arena is for most people the only ‘event in town’, and unless you venture to Verona out of season, its impact is total.
Verona Arena: it is not as grand as the Colosseum or even as spectacular as Caracalla. It is not in a historically significant city from a world’s perspective. It is not in a centre of religious significance. There are no hills. It is not bedevilled by canals and the river is not so famous. Verona was not a regional or financial capital. Like many Roman cities it has become a haven of churches with its own special Duomo. Its dome does not compete with Firenze or St Peter’s.
It may appear second best to the tourism analyst, but it has one other claim to fame, one that attracts visitors out of the summer season, visitors who have been brought up on a diet of 16th century English literature. That is the legacy of Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (and even ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’). Yet the houses of Romeo and Juliet are surely a fabrication to sate the tourist market and it is not possible to trace the footprints of The Bard in this town. So where is reality?
Fortunately, no such poetic creativity has been needed to enhance the impact of the Verona Arena. It is real and apart from damage in a 12th century earthquake, stands alone as it always did in the centre of the old city in a large square capable of holding the over 15,000 people who can attend its summer evening operas, mainly Verdi at his best, and particularly Aida with its proud elephants.
Verona is a great place to visit in summertime, as the fathers of the city have understood how to make it easy. For the visitor by car, all roads lead to ample well signposted car parks close to the centre, clean and well serviced. Walking through the old arch at dusk you come upon a plethora of restaurants carpeting one side of the square, with all waiters understanding that their sole purpose for existence is to make sure that their visitors are happy and do not miss the first act in the Verona Arena opposite.
After a glass or two of Soave or Valpolicella and a light repast, now suitable relaxed, it may come as a surprise to those who have arrived by Trenitalia Freccia for this event, that the wardens at the entrance gates to the Arena have not yet been introduced to electronic ticketing on your iphone. So a quick rush around to the ticket office to waste another tree printing out the tickets. Once seated, it comes as a pleasant affront that, in apposition to the usual opera experience, wine, water and ice-creams are served at your seat, reminding this attendee of youthful visits to the circus.
Of course the performance is grand. If you had a chance to sing at the Verona Arena, you wouldn’t waste it with an ordinary performance. And all the performers and orchestra seem happy, even in their death throes.
The stroll back to the car park at nearly midnight, with a light fresh breeze, is relaxing and we are grateful for the ready access to the parks and to the Italian highway system for our long drive back to northern Veneto.
To Verona, thanks for the impact!