Verona is a well-known tourist destination, visited every year by more than three million people thanks to its artistic and architectural richness, and for its international events that take part in it.
The city has been awarded World Heritage Site status by UNESCO because of its urban structure and architecture: Verona is a clear example of a city that developed progressively and continuously during 2000 years, integrating artistic elements of the highest quality in the different periods that succeeded; furthermore, it’s one of the best examples of a city that has been fortified in different stages in different periods of its history.
The city is found on the banks of the river Adige, where it enters the Po Valley (Pianura Padana) and it forms a characteristic double meander, about 30 kms to the east of the Garda lake and at the feet of the southern side of the Lessini mountains.
In antiquity, the city was a focal point of both ground and naval transportation in the north-east of Italy. In Roman times, it was the crossing point of four major streets: the via Gallica, the via Claudia Augusta, the vicum Veronensium and the via Postumia. Even today Verona represents an important crossing – road, rail, highway – connecting central and northwestern Italy with the Brennero pass.
The first contacts between Rome and Verona took probably place around 390 a.d., when the Gauls of Brenno invaded Rome. In 174 a.d. after the submission of the cisalpine Gallia and the beginning of a new colonization period of the Po valley, the strategic importance of Verona came to be seen. The Roman senate asked the Cenomas and the Venetis to increase in size the fortified castrum that they gave as a concession on the San Pietro hill, while Roman settlers and indigenous peoples formed the basis for the edification of a new city inside the Adige loop.
Thanks to Caesar Verona obtained in 49 a.d. Roman citizenship and the municipality could then boast the title of “Res publica Veronensium”.
During the Republican era, Verona expanded and its economy strengthened: in this period the city, by now fully located inside the Adige loop, started to grow and modernize.
During the imperial period the city became an even more important strategic point, as it was used as a temporary base for its legions. Under the regency of Vespasian, the city arrived to its apex of richness and splendor: as the city that by the I century already surpassed 25.000 inhabitants needed a big building to let all its citizens attend the shows; the Arena was then built, being the last big public work in the city of the Roman era.
Under Theodoric the Great, Verona became a military center of primary importance and was the favourite seat of the king: Theodoric gave back to the city its former splendor and rose the half-destroyed walls from the previous barbarian assaults. Afterwards, the Lombards interrupted the short-lived Byzantine hold of the city, that in those times was the Italian capital, when the seat of the Lombard court was moved to Pavia.
Still, Verona remained the capital of an important Lombard duchy and one of the main cities of the Langobardia Maior next to Milan Cividale and Pavia. The dominion of the Lombards over Verona and a big portion of Italy was to endure for almost two centuries more, until the coming of the Franks. It was exactly in Verona that, in 774, Charlemagne ended the last resistance of the Lombards, which was leaded by its son Desiderio, Adelchi: the prince sought refuge inside of the city, before he was forced to flee, determining the end of the Lombard reign. With the fall of the Lombards, the carolingian empire was to be born with the crowning of Charlemagne (800).
The city was often visited by Carolingian emperors, and hosted many Diets.
After 1000 a.D. northern Italy was the field of many wars, but Verona always remained loyal to the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, throughout all the wars against the Popes. 1136 the Commune was created with the elections of the first consoles, whilst two parties were emerging, Guelfi and Ghibellini ( the family Montague were one of the main exponents, who became famous thanks to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet ).
Verona hosted the Pope for five years. Pope Lucio III established the Curia Pontificia in 1181, and at his death in 1185 he was buried in the Dome’s choir.
The continuous fights between the two opposite factions stopped in 1223, when Ezzelino III da Romano, gained power over Verona and became “imperial vicar of Italy”.
Ghibellini held the power in the city and, with Mastino I della Scala, it changed from Commune to Signoria. With Cangrande I della Scala, clever and respected lord, the city lived a new period of wealth and splendor, so that Dante dedicated to him the entire book of Paradiso in the Divina Commedia.
His power extended on most of northern Italy: he became Lord of Verona, Vicenza, Padova, Belluno, Feltre, Monselice, Bassano, Treviso, and also emperial vicar of Mantova and chief of the Ghibellini’s faction in Italy.
Cangrande died at the early age of 38; according to the tradition, he died by congestion drinking cold water after Treviso was conquered.
His premature death left his lordship without direct descendants so the power was taken by his nephew Mastino II della Scala, who extended the Signoria to the Mar Tirreno, with the acquisition of Lucca.
This expansion worried the adjacent States, which led to the foundation of a League, promoted by the Venetian Republic with the help of Visconti, Carraresi, Estensi and Gonzaga, against whom the army of Verona fought two big battles before surrender.
The Signoria Scaligera was critically reduced in terms of territory and weakened by the conflicts among the most influential families.
At the end it was occupied by Visconti, whose dominion was strict but short.
Taking advantage of Gian Galeazzo’s death, Francesco da Carrara thanks to the help of Guglielmo della Scala, entered the city the night between the 7th and the 8th of April 1404. On 17th April Guglielmo della Scala died in unknown circumstances and on 24th May 1404, Francesco da Carrara proclaimed himself Lord of Verona.
Venice took advantage of this tumultuous situation to enter the city with its army and put an end to the short Carrarese dominance on 22nd June 1405.
On 24th June 1405, Verona passed under the Venetian dominion, enjoying a long period of peace until 1501.
This period was interrupted not by war, but by a devastating disease: the Great Pestilence, brought to Italy in 1630 by German soldiers.
The city was full of corpses which were burnt or thrown into the river Adige due to a lack of space. It was a disaster for the city: in 1626 there were 53.333 inhabitants, which were reduced to 20.738 at the end of the plague. More than half of the population died during this period.
In 1797 Napoleon, with the Treaty of Campoformio, gave the city to the Austrians. With the following Treaty of Lunéville, Verona was split in two along the river Adige: the right side to the French, the left side to the Austrians ( which was badly called Veronette by the French, from which comes the name Veronetta ). It remained so until 1805 when the Austrians gave the entire region Veneto to France.
During the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Verona was permanently given to Austria until 1866.
The history of the Italian Verona began on 16th October 1866 with the conquest of Veneto by the Savoia, after the Third Independence War: from now on the city lived a short period of tranquillity, ruined by an economic crisis which lasted until after World War II. This led to the emigration of thousands of citizens. In 1882 Verona was hit by a tremendous flood and the river Adige overflew most of the city. In the following years, in order to protect the city from other floods, the so-called “muraglioni” ( high walls ) were erected, but the city had to give up its title of “city that lived over the water”.
During World War II, the city underwent massive bombings. After the fall of the Fascism, Verona, seat of five Ministers and important German commands, became a fundamental centre for the Social Italian Republic.