I love Dire Straits – reference the title of the post. In case you don’t know exactly what I’m referring to, the song is below (I actually found a Killers version and mixed it into the original Dire Straits version – not professional work, but good enough for me):

 

So why all this make-me-gag crap about Romeo? Pam and I went to Verona, Italy this past weekend. Apparently, this is the town where the true origin of Romeo and Juliet came from (hence, this song was stuck in my head the entire time we were there, included so you can play while reading if you wish). It was interesting to say the least. Like most European towns, it has centuries upon centuries of history. I’ll start out with the cool stuff to give you time to find your ice cream and gather your cats together so I can finish with the Romeo and Juliet finale…

Verona's natural defenseThe city started out as “Fort Verona,” a military outpost that was eventually taken over by Romans… it was important because it became the crossroads of Rome, the barbaric lands to the West (France, Spain, etc) and the Greek lands to the East. This town (or fort) was in prime location because it was surrounded by river on 3 of the 4 sides. The Romans built a 50-ft wall to defend the open south side… this was all pre-Christ, between 500 to 50 BC. Around 30 AD, an arena was built in Verona rivaled only by the Coliseum in Rome (which was built 50 years later); Verona’s version held up to 30,000 people compared to the 50,000 that the Coliseum could hold. Unlike the Coliseum, Verona’s arena is still in use today. During the summer months, spectators can watch full-blown Italian operas there, with the fat lady and all, every weekend! In fact, Pam and I plan on hitting it up in a month – not that I’m cultured and shit, but more for the experience in watching an authentic opera in a 2000-year-old stadium.

Verona's Coliseum
 

Verona's Coliseum - Interior
Another cool thing is throughout the city, there’s bits and pieces of old Roman roads – really just big slabs of rock. But think about all the men, horses and history that passed over those slabs!

After the fall of the Roman Empire in the late 400s, the Goths (Germans) took over the ruling of the city for centuries. Whenever I think of Italy, I just automatically assume everything was Catholic and aligned with the Pope – not so in Verona. They were aligned with or influenced by the Germans until the 1400s. Interestingly enough, to signify this to outsiders (so they know if they’re in friendly or hostile territory), the battlements on all the buildings aligned with the Germans were shaped more like a forked-tongue. Cities aligned with the Pope maintained the standard square battlements.

Gothic Battlements
After the 1400s, ownership of the city was transferred back and forth between German influence and Venetian (Venice) influence. The city reflects this through the architecture: in some parts, you could almost swear you were in Venice by looking at the buildings, while other parts look completely Gothic.

In looking at its history in a military light, Verona was once one of Napoleon’s prized cities that he conquered. Being the proud inventor of the Napoleon Complex, he went out of his way to deface many of the crests and heraldry on the buildings so he could replace them with his own. Another interesting piece of military trivia: Verona was one of the most bombed Italian cities of WWII.

Now it’s time for “Oprah Hour:” the history of Romeo and Juliet. Apparently in the 1300s, there truly were families living in Verona with the last names of Montecchi (Montegue) and Capuleti (Capulet). Juliet's BalconySome Italian poet first wrote about the warring families later in the 1400s, and as time went on the story went through a few iterations and embellishments. By the mid 1500s, the story is almost as we know it. Even though Shakespeare never actually visited Verona, he apparently dusted off the story and borrowed it from the Italians in the late 1500s.

Myself? I was never really into Shakespeare because being “Mr. Culture,” I guess I just never fully appreciated (or understood) the Queen’s English. But I do remember reading the story cliff-notes in high school. While in Verona, we paid a visit to the old Capulet estate. Legend has it that this is the actual balcony that Juliet let down her hair (or maybe I’m getting my stories mixed up; it’s been since high school after all).

JulietThey also have a statue of Juliet in the courtyard. You’ll notice her right breast is so shiny that you could almost use it as a mirror. I guess this is one of the only places in the world where you can actually get away with grabbing a boob and not look like a pervert. I guess it’s supposed to be good luck or bring romance into your life or something like that. I don’t know how Pam did it, but she somehow managed to get a shot of the statue without someone molesting it – but the shine is still there. Pam tells me that there’s some sappy movie coming out called “Letters to Juliet” that shot quite a few scenes at this location – be sure to buy a gallon or two of your favorite ice cream for that one. And believe it or not, people actually post there letters on the wall of the entrance to Juliet’s courtyard. By the looks of it, I think only Santa tops her in correspondence.

So that’s Verona… the most romantic city in Italy.

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