One of the main entrance to the oldest part of the city of Verona (and the most crowded) is from Portoni della Brà (Brà Gates), giving access to a huge square with the same name.
A gate called the Braida (where now are the gates of the Bra ‘) is first mentioned in a document of 1257. It seems it presented a side postern. The door Braida with the postern is last mentioned in 1459. Historian Simeoni suggested that the two large arches were built to support the covered walkway that connected the Citadel to Castelvecchio, the western arch serving as a port, and the other (the one near the tower Pentagona) rode the ditch that ran around the walls of the Citadel. He argues, therefore, that the gate is to attribute to Visconti (1389-1402) or the Venetians (in the mid-fifteenth century). But since the covered passage existed already in 1404 at the time of the coming of Carraresi, it can be attributed definitely to Visconti. The story of the clock of Brà is adventurous: an initial idea of applying a clock to the gates goes back to 1584; a new proposal to apply the clock to gates started in May 1797 by the Patriotic Society of Verona. They wanted to use the clock, which removed from the Fiera di Campo Marzo now fallen, lay unused in the floors of the building of the Municipality. But it all came to nothing. In 1809 the Prefect Antonio Smancini arranged for the construction of the mechanisms, but nothing happened again. It was finally in 1871that Count Antonio Nogarola gave the City a clock with the understanding that two quadrants of the clock were to be placed between the two arches of the gates of the Bra ‘ and that the beating of the hours was arranged from the top Tower Pentagona.
Here, on the wall of the gate, we found the first mention to Shakespear’s most known tragedy, Romeo and Juliet….these are the words pronounced by Romeo fleeding from Verona through this same gate….
Piazza Bra, often shortened to Bra, is the largest square in Verona, with some claims that it is the largest in the country. The piazza is lined with numerous cafés and restaurants, along with several notable buildings.
(my daughter – on the left – getting in the way…)
The most notable building in the square, famous all over the world, is the Arena.
The magnificent amphitheater is the monument that more than any other recalls the Roman origins of the city and also the symbol of Verona around the world. Every summer, from more than a century, its imposing stone steps welcome six hundred thousand spectators of the largest open air opera season in the world.
The Arena of Verona is the third largest amphitheater among those left and the best preserved, although in 1183 a strong earthquake has destroyed the three rows of overlapping arches that surrounded him entirely. Today remains just a glimpse, a wing formed by four bays that can give the grandeur of the original appearance.
Perfectly intact is instead the internal order, a uninterrupted sequence consisting of 72 double stone arches that create large ellipse hundred and ten meters long and one hundred and forty in lenght. It was built in the first century a.C. with the marble extracted from quarries in the area, and was originally located outside the city walls. For defensive reasons, due to the continuous barbaric raids, in the year 265 it was included in the city limits with the mighty walls built by Emperor Gallienus, the Walls of Gallienus, still visible today in the square behind it, now included in newest buildings.
The oval interior has a major axis of about seventy-four meters and a minor axis of forty-five meters. The large auditorium is formed by forty-five steps that have an average height of as many centimeters. During the years of the empire it was the stage of several gladiator fights, mentioned by Pliny the Younger, and over the centuries hosted performances of all kinds: tournaments, carousels, duels, ballets, circuses and representations of prose. In the nineteenth century someone thought to use it for ascents of balloons and even bullfights, one of which in 1805 was witnessed by the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.
For over a century, it is home to a great season opera, commissioned by the tenor Giovanni Veronese Zenatello to celebrate the centenary of the birth of composer Giuseppe Verdi. The first opera to be performed on Aug. 10, 1913 was Aida, the most spectacular of the Verdi operas and perfectly suited to the grandeur of the amphitheater, supported by a wonderful acoustics. The representation of the first edition of the Arena Aida constitute one of the most important international events of the early twentieth century. I was lucky enought to see the Aida there many years ago but I still remember it like it was yesterday, and my daughter as well has good memories of some great performances, such as The Killers and Cold Play, who will be there again next year as well as Adele, and the tickets are almost sold out…
The square houses also the City Hall, in the Neoclassical Palazzo Barbieri. The palace was originally named Palazzo della Gran Guardia Nuova, and housed staff associated with the occupying Austrian Army forces. It was designed by Giuseppe Barbieri and was later named in his honor.Construction began in 1836 and was completed by 1848. A 14th-century fresco depicting a Crucifixion and the Madonna from a private house was implated into the wall near the entrance. One room has tapestries from the 16th century.
Luckily we had time to visit one of the most stunning churches I’ve ever seen, Sant’Anastasia.
Set in a small square, located at the end of the homonymous medieval course, the medieval Basilica of St. Anastasia is the largest church in Verona. It ‘also the most important Gothic monument in the city, where there are works of art of priceless value.
Work on the construction of the basilica of Saint Anastasia began at the end of 1290 and continued with varying force for nearly two centuries, until the consecration took place in 1471. The brick façade, divided vertically into three sections corresponding to the inner aisles, in his querulous incompleteness it is very solemn and impressive. Looking at it you will be enraptured by the magnificent ornato portal with paintings and sculptures, divided into two sections topped by five arches supported by columns made of polychrome marble ornamental. In the lunettes are visible frescoes depicting the four Holy Trinity (in the major one) and the arrival of the Dominican friars in Verona (in the lunettes minor); the lintel is decorated with simple carvings of Christ’s life, flanked by two side niches, with St. Catherine and St. Anastasia. Notable the fine marble friezes with putti and floral motifs on the sides of the portal and the two panels on the right pilaster, depicting St. Peter Martyr.
The interior of the basilica is solemn and majestic, in the shape of a Latin cross and divided into three naves joined with vaults; the aisles separated by twelve columns in white and red marble from Verona with Gothic capitals with floral motifs. Floral motifs in late Gothic and Renaissance also finely decorate the vaults of the aisles and stand well with the schematic simplicity of red, white and black marble floor, dating back to the fifteenth century. At the base of the first columns of the nave you can see the two beautiful holy water fonts supported by hunchbacks: one on the left is by Gabriele Caliari (father of the famous painter Paolo Caliari, called the Veronese) while the right is Paolo Orefice called “Pasquino” (little of Easter) because it was first there for the Easter Mass in 1591. Both recall the Veronese humble and poor people, who, with their faith, spurs the generosity of the rich, and it is said that touching their humps will bring you good luck.
The aisles of the church have an uninterrupted sequence of great altars, decorated with elegant blades, frescoes and sculptures from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century; works by Falconetto, Liberale of Verona, Francesco Caroto, Giovanni Badile, Paolo Farinati, Francesco Morone, Felice Brusasorci, Lorenzo Veneziano and Orbetto.
Among the many wonders mention the altar Fregoso, built in the sixteenth century by Danese Cattaneo da Carrara (1509-1573) scholar of Sansovino (pic below)
the altar of St. Thomas Aquinas (XV century), decorated with a work of Girolamo dai Libri, depicting the Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints (below)
Chapel Cavalli, with numerous frescoes of the fourteenth century, including the beautiful Virgin Enthroned by Altichiero; the Pellegrini Chapel, decorated with terracotta reliefs depicting scenes from the life of Jesus, and finally, in the presbytery, the monument Seregno (XV century) with decorations of Nanni di Bartolo and frescoes by Michele Giambono (below)
The church contains the famous and spectacular fresco of St. George and the princess by Antonio Pisano “Pisanello” the highest expression of international Gothic in Verona, located in the Pellegrini Chapel. Carried out between 1433 and 1438, it is the greatest masterpiece of the artist, that it evoked a fabulous and chivalrous world (below).