City of Verona – the fortified town in the Middle Ages and Renaissance

As the UNESCO comments:

The historic city of Verona was founded in the 1st century B.C. It particularly flourished under the rule of the Scaliger family in the 13th and 14th centuries and as part of the Republic of Venice from the 15th to 18th centuries. Verona has preserved a remarkable number of monuments from antiquity, the medieval and Renaissance periods, and represents an outstanding example of a military stronghold.



As I mentioned in my previous post about Verona as a city with outstanding Roman remains, I’ll give you a brief introduction to its history and to its main attractions. If you have already read my previous post, please jump directly to the horizontal line.

The history of the city of Verona can be dated back to prehistoric times. It first developed between the 4th and 3rd century BC and became a Roman municipium in the 1st century BC. In the 5th century, the city was occupied by the Ostrogoth Theodoric I and later by the Lombards and in 774 by Charlemagne. In the early 12th century it became a free commune. Verona prospered in particular under the rule of the Scaliger family and Cangrande I is popularly regarded as the art patron of the whole city. In 1405, it fell into the rule of the Republic of Venice and from 1797 on, it became part of the Austrian Empire. In 1866, it joined the Kingdom of Italy. You must be as surprised as I was when I first heard that Verona had gone through so much in history. However, it is exactly these changes in history that gave the city its current rich cultural heritage. Thanks to the city walls built originally for preventing the invasion of other military forces, the historic center of Verona avoided 19th century development such as industry and railroads. Wandering around in the city, you will see elements from the Roman times, from the Romanesque period, from the Middle Ages and from the Renaissance. Except the buildings destroyed during the Second World War, the surviving architecture and urban structure reflects the evolution of this fortified town over its 2000-year history.

The core of the city is located in the loop of Adige River and what you should not miss are the Piazza delle Erbe (the fruit and vegetable market) and Piazza dei Signori with fantastic buildings such as Palazzo del Comune, Palazzo del Governo, Loggia del Consiglio, Arche Scaligere, Domus Nova and so on. What’s more, as the city containing one of the richest collections of Roman remains in northern Italy, Verona is like a live history book in which you will see fine examples of Roman architecture like the city gate, Porta Borsari, the remains of Porta Leoni, Arco dei Gavi, Ponte Pietra, the Roman theatre, the Amphitheatre Arena and so on.

I believe you will realize the values of the city once finishing reading the compliments given by the UNESCO.

In its urban structure and its architecture, Verona is an outstanding example of a town that has developed progressively and uninterruptedly over 2,000 years, incorporating artistic elements of the highest quality from each succeeding period.

Verona represents in an exceptional way the concept of the fortified town at several seminal stages of European history.

In this post, I’m gonna first of all introduce to you in detail Castelvecchio & Museum, which is not only the most spectacular medieval edifice in Verona but also a splendid art museum with 29 rooms of paintings, sculptures, weapons and more, dating from the 14th to the 18th centuries. Afterwards, I’ll take you to the best viewpoint towards the historic center of VeronaCastel San Pietro, which is also home to the remains of the first settlements in this area dating back to the 7th century B.C. Talking about viewpoints, the Lamberti Tower should never be missed and it’s located in the real center of the city. If you are interested in what Verona looked like in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance period, the two closely located squares, Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza dei Signori, together with the surrounding fantastic buildings such as Palazzo del Comune, Palazzo del Governo, Loggia del Consiglio, Arche Scaligere, Domus Nova and so on will provide you with perfect examples. Now let’s get started by visiting Castelvecchio & Museum, which incorporate art of the highest quality with the implementation of the concept of a fortified town.

1. Castelvecchio & Museum

Please note that Castelvecchio & Museum is open: from Tuesday to Sunday: 8:30-19:30­ and on Mondays: 13:30­-19:30.

The standard entry ticket costs 6 € and is included in the Verona Card.

Constructed along the river on an existing Roman fortification, the original Scaliger castle was built between 1354 and 1356 by Cangrnade II della Scala as a bastion against enemies. It consisted of two parts, one of which was a military courtyard, surrounded by high walls with seven towers while the other one was the royal palace of the Scala family. The highest tower is the castle keep, and it dates back to 1376. Under the Venetian rule, the castle was strictly used for military purposes and during the Napoleonic era, it was used to defend the Austrian troops. However, during the Fascist era, the role of the castle has changed as it was awarded to the city of Verona as the seat of the Civic Museum, which was originally founded in 1857 in Palazzo Pompeii.

Constructed together with the castle was a triple-arched bridge over Adige River, now commonly known as Ponte Scaligero. As you can see from either bank of the river, this red-brick bridge actually slopes down towards the left bank. It is said that Cangrnade II della Scala had it designed like this to facilitate a quick “get away” to the country-side, where his Austrian relatives lived. On 25th April 1945, the bridge was blown up by the German troops but was rebuilt form 1949 to 1951 to match the previous one. It’s supported by three pillars in white and red marble and the three arches differ in width (from right to left 48.693m, 29.149m and 24.118m).

Having a walk on the historic bridge is necessary, but to know better about the castle, I recommend you visiting the museum and following the itinerary inside. In general, you will visit the rooms with sculptures and paintings first and then you will have the opportunity to walk on the battlement of the castle walls, where you can have a panorama walk and see River Adige, Ponte Scaligero and so on. During this walk, you can also visit the clock tower, where the 14th century equestrian statue of Mastino II della Scala stands, and a charming open hanging garden between the towers. Afterwards, you will resume your visit of the museum rooms (please note that you will need to come back to the point where the walk on the battlement starts).

Having said so much about the castle, now let’s find out what the precious artworks collected here are.

After World War II, the new director of the museum, Licisco Magagnato, entrusted the restoration work to the famous architect Carlo Scarpa, who already designed a number of important museums in Italy by then. From 1958 to 1964, the large-scale restoration work took 7 years to finish and included recovery of the original sections, demolishing of the unauthentic ones as well as careful necessary additions, which made the museum as we see nowadays.

In general, if you follow the itinerary closely, you will visit everything in the museum. Sometimes it might be a bit confusing because you can either go upstairs or visit another room and there’s no clear orientation sign. In this case I suggest that you check the number of the room that you are gonna enter next because if you are on the right route, the numbers of the rooms should be continuous. Please note that after visiting quite some of the rooms of sculptures and paintings, you will have the chance to go outside and walk along the battlements of the city walls, after which you will have to come back to the starting point of the walk and then continue your visit of the inside of the museum.

As for the plan of the museum rooms, the ground floor is mainly made up of Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance sculptures as well as a chamber containing pieces from the Lombard tombs of Verona. The palace rooms exhibit fresco decorations from the 14th and 15th centuries, precious 14th century jewels,, the sword of Cangrande I, 14th century panel paintings, splendid Gothic works (Pisanello), Flemish and Dutch paintings and masterpieces of the early Renaissance (Mantegna, Jacopo and Giovanni Bellini, Liberale da Verona). The upper floors show 16th century paintings (Paolo Morando, Veronese, Tintoretto) and a rich collection of the 17th century masters as well as of the protagonists of 18th century Venice such as Giambattista and Giandomenico Tiepolo.

Similar to visiting the Lapidary Inscriptions Museum, once entering one room, you can get an info sheet (available in English, Italian, German and French) with introductions and explanations of the important works there and you can read more into the ones that interest you the most (again, don’t forget to return them to their original places). Some of the works of significant values are even accompanied by models so that even blind people can “see” them. How considerate!

In conclusion, the works that indeed impressed me and are interesting to read about (and are shown in the gallery above) are: the Wheel of Fortune, Saint Libera (Veronese sculptor, 14th century), Madonna of the Quail (Antonio Pisano, also called “Pisanello“), Madonna and Child (Giovanni Bellini), Saints Bartholomew and Francis of Assisi (Francesco Morone), Madonna and Child (Francesco Bonsignori), Triumph of Chastity and Triumph of Love (Liberale da Verona), Madonna of the Passion (Carlo Crivelli), Adoration of the Shepherds (Jacopo Tintoretto), Episode from the History of the Maccabees (Giambattista Tiepolo) and so on. (Please excuse me, but of some of the paintings in the gallery above I can’t remember the names anymore. What I can assure you of is that there are in general almost 30 rooms in the museum and in each of the room, there are around 6-8 artworks with detailed explanations, so you will definitely find some pieces of your taste to appreciate.)

As an old Chinese saying goes, you can’t see the truth face of a mountain if you are in it. Similarly, you can’t see the whole Verona if you are standing right in it. Now, let’s cross Ponte Pietra and climb up the stairway leading to the magnificent vantage point from which you will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the whole city.

2. Castel San Pietro (Panorama viewpoint of the city of Verona)

Castel San Pietro, nowadays an Austrian Fortress erected in the 19th century, has to a large extent lost its military function. Nevertheless, its platform (or front terrace) has become a super popular tourist attraction because it provides a spectacular view over the entire city of Verona. It is from here that you can see how the city spreads out, its network of Roman roads, its historic city walls, remaining tall towers and houses. If you have good eyesight, you can even spot the Arena Amphitheatre and Ponte Scaligero. In fact, archaeologists discovered remains on the hill of the first settlements that date back to the 7th century B.C. and it is here that Verona was founded.

I actually came to this platform twice, once in the morning and once at night. As you can see from the pictures above, this is undoubtedly the top one (in my opinion) viewpoint in Verona. Nevertheless, please note that you can only visit the castle from the outside and that you can NOT enter and visit the interior. I want to make this clear because the title of this chapter sounds like you should visit the castle as well but actually this place is more about the viewing platform.

As for how to get there, you can either walk up the stairway starting from the left side of the Roman Theatre (it takes around 10-15 mins), or take a funicular train. However, if you wanna reach the platform early in the morning or late at night you need to check the schedule of the funicular in advance. You can also drive up by going on the back of the hill and there’s quite some parking space on the terrace. For me personally, I’d rather walk up there because it’s convenient to arrive at the Roman theatre either by bus to by foot and then it’s just 10 to 15 mins away from the viewpoint. The stairs are not even steep so I believe if you can walk around in the center of Verona for hours you can make it to the top easily.

Since we are talking about viewpoints, I’d like to recommend you another one which is located right in the center of the center of Verona, the Lamberti Tower.

3. The Lamberti Tower

Please note that the Lamberti Tower is open (the last entry is 45 minutes before closing time):

  • Monday to Friday: 10:00 – 18:00
  • Saturdays, Sundays and holidays: 11:00 – 19:00

The entry ticket in included in the Verona Card but if you don’t have the Verona Card, the standard ticket price is 6 €. Good news! If you are tired of climbing the stairs (368 steps in total), you can also take a lift to reach the top with a surcharge of only 1 €.

As you can see from the pictures above, the view from the Lamberti tower is more focused on the city center. Different from what we can see on the platform in front of Castel San Pietro, from the top of the tower, we can see the important historic buildings dating back to the Roman times, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period in the city more clearly and in more details. For example, you can spot easily and see clearly Piazza delle Erbe, Piazza dei Signori, the Amphitheatre Arena, the historical churches, the Roman Theater and many more. In one word, this is also one of the must-visit attractions in Verona.

Above we’ve only talked about the tower concerning its role as a panorama viewpoint. Now, let’s take a look at the history of the tower itself. In the Middle Ages, the noble families favored residences with high towers to show off their wealth and power. However, only a few of them remain till today and one of them is the Lamberti Tower. First commissioned by the Lamberti family in 1172, it was built in typical Romanesque style but was only 37 meters high. In 1403, it was struck by lightning and the restoration began in 1448. After 16 years, the restoration work finished and it was built to be 84 meters tall as it is nowadays. The elegant octagonal belfry made of brick and white marble was also added during this restoration.

I also learnt from the official website of Verona Tourism Office that:

The tower houses two famous bells, the Rengo and the Marangona, which kept time and regulated city life. The Marangona signalled the end of the working day for the artisans (marangon) and also alarmed the city in case of fire, whilst the Rengo summoned the town Council and citizens of Verona in times of war. The bells still ring during funerals.

Now let’s go down the tower and explore the close by Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza dei Signori, in which we will see a lot of fantastic buildings or monuments constructed in the Medieval and Renaissance periods.

4. Medieval and Renaissance monuments in Verona

Located in the center of the center of Verona is Piazza della Erbe (the Herb Square). Originally the Roman forum, now it is one of the most beautiful squares in the world because of the Medieval and Renaissance architecture surrounding it. Looking around, you will see the Lamberti Tower, the 16th century frescoes on the façade of Case Mazzanti, the market column, the fountain of Madonna Verona, the column of San Marco, topped by a lion representing the Republic of Venice, the Baroque Palazzo Maffei, Torre del GardelloDomus Mercatorum and so on.

Though via della Costa, you can reach Piazza dei Signori, another central square surrounded by many palaces, from Piazza della Erbe. I believe it will be very easy for you to notice a statue in the middle and that’s the statue of Dante Alighieri. For this reason, this square is also called “Piazza Dante”. In this square you will see Palazzo del Capitano, Palazzo del Governo, Domus Nova and Palazzo della Ragione with its old market yard and the Stair of Reason (for more info about the stair such as why it is called this name, please click here). Please note that if you wanna visit the A. Forti Modern Art Gallery, the entrance is located at the top end of the staircase. I suggest that you check in advance what the exhibition will be about during the days of your visit because sometimes the exhibition might not be of your taste. For example, I was mistaken that the exhibition during my visit would be about Hayez but when I arrived there it turned out that the exhibition had been changed… Anyway, the Cappella dei Notai (a chapel inside the museum) is still worth visiting. Another thing I’d like to remind you of is that the entrance to the Lamberti Tower is also located in the market yard and close to the bottom end of the staircase.

Once walking past Palazzo del Capitano, I’m sure your attention will be attracted towards the steeples of three tombs located in the parvise of the church of Santa Maria Antica. These are the tombs of the lords of Verona, who contributed to a large extent to the prosperity of the city in the 14th century. Surrounded by tall wrought iron railings, the Arche Scaligere, the della Scala family cemetery, is the most typical symbol of the Veronese Gothic style and has inspired many monuments throughout Europe and America.

Wow, I was as surprised as you probably are now when I came to realize that I needed to write four posts about the city of Verona. It is a small city, isn’t it? Well, as I mentioned in my posts, it is small but it’s highly concentrated. That is to say the city occupies a limited area but there are attractions everywhere and there are so many things to explore and to learn. I spent two full days and two nights here and yet, I didn’t manage to se all the things. For example, the Giusti Garden, the Natural History Museum and so on. I would suggest you spend three days here, visiting the attractions and tasting the local cuisine and of course, don’t forget to experience the city like a local.

City of Verona – the fortified town in the Middle Ages and Renaissance was last modified: March 25th, 2019 by Dong

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