What's a world of tragic-love excesses without Romeo and Juliet and how would generations of star-crossed lovers ever embalm their wounded souls if not for the refuge that paean to ultimate love offered?
And so, some ingenuous Italians used the Shakespearean hyperbole beautifully, pointed to a well-preserved ancient house and announced to the world: This is where Juliet lived!
Few places have since registered in public imagination as firmly as Verona, a city in northern Italy basking in the world heritage site status awarded by UNESCO.
Never mind that Juliet was a fictional character, and academia still debates if Shakespeare ever visited Italy at all!
It is belittling to Verona's splendour, however, should the city be advertised as the poor man's Rome or the setting of the world's most loved play.
Verona's architecture, with the city itself fortified by some 40 towers, is the perfect antidote to the monstrous glass high-rises we have accustomed ourselves to.
Exploring the city
In keeping with its theme of fortified city, medieval gates announce entry to Verona, separating it from the rest of the Veneto region bang in the middle of a bustling road.
The wonderful thing about many Italian cities — Venice, Treviso, Pisa, Rome, Turin, Siena, et al — is that the entire town can be traversed by foot.
If we can have Bollywoodised, film idol-worshipping Indians naming quasi-imagined locales just by virtue of a film shoot at the place — chunari chunari point in California, Yash Chopra Switzerland points, the Dil Chahta Hai wall in Goa, then Juliet's house, balcony and all, swears by its legitimate birth!
A meandering lane, Via Cappello, boasts a remarkably well-preserved and maintained house — Casa di Guiletta or Juliet's house.
Lores aplenty abound: this is the staircase leading to the balcony, the venue of Romeo and Juliet's many a secret rendezvous and stolen kisses, here's the wall Romeo scaled to get to the balcony…
Don't bother separating the chaff; the only thing that matters is swoon-inducing Shakespearean prose: “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks/It is the east and Juliet is the sun… /It is my lady, oh it is my love!”
Trivia lovers can take in nuggets on various movies shot here, the gown and shining armour worn by the actors, etc. Some places, stories, books and poetry stoke the fires of that most basic of human passions: love.
A little drawing-room at Juliet's casa stands testimony to the universal longing for the four-lettered emotion — it receives a few thousand letters from the world over (hardly any from India!) every month, penned in ink, blood, quill, embroidery, all by some form of love seekers: those madly in love, the jilted, waiting-for-love, dejected, unrequited, et al.
Tales of love
“Dear Juliet, I feel like I've known you all my life and understand you very well…”; “I have a boyfriend but I don't know if he loves me as much as Romeo did…”; “I am very depressed with my failed relationships, the only thought that keeps me going is that I will find someone beautiful like you, to love…” —did anyone say love in the time of speed-dating?
There are other kinds of writers too, the bane of monuments graffiti-etchers; Kevin loves Olivia, Paul and Marissa forever. Step out and get re-welcomed by the accoutrements of Italian life — Bvlgari, Gucci and Armani. Walk further up the piazza for the heart of true Veronese life.
Off to the amphitheatre
After checking out the usual paraphernalia of Verona magnets, books, hand-fans, statuettes, mementos and paintings, head to the amphitheatre.
But, prior to the trek to the Roman amphitheatre, a meal washed down with strawberry flavoured wine and gelato is a must.
To rejuvenate your capacity to get truly amazed, walk into and up the large steps of the world's third largest amphitheatre, the Roman arena built by the Romans circa I Century AD.
Naturally, its resemblance to the Coliseum at Rome is not uncanny, and it is now used as Verona's opera house.
A trip to Verona without visiting its many churches, palaces of the Della Scala family (this family's brutal wars are said to have inspired the Shakespearean play) and museums would be doing it disservice, and so Castelvecchio, Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore, and “Romeo's house” across the river Adige are well worth the long walks.
Point to ponder: who and where exactly are the Two Gentlemen of Verona?