Every day I was in Verona it was the same thing: an absolute MOB of tourists crowded around the entrance to a small courtyard just outside of Piazza delle Erbe, flashes going off as people elbowed their way to the front to stand next to the littlebrown sign that reads “Casa di Giulietta”.
I like “Romeo and Juliet” and all, but there was no way I was pressing through the throng just to see a balcony that supposedly belonged to a fictional character. I wasn’t at Disney World, I was in Italy for goodness sake.
Then one morning I decided to get up fairly early to walk around, maybe venture over the river and see if I could locate the Teatro, which for some reason had been alluding me (even thought its RIGHT there across the bridge). I was lucky enough to have found a really lovely guest house around the corner from Piazza delle Erbe so around 8:30am I hopped down the four flights of grand marble stairs, out the door and around the corner into the Piazza. It was a quiet morning, and as I made my way toward Via Mazzini I realized that one thing was missing: the wild hoard outside Casa di Guilietta.
This was PERFECT!
I walked past the brown location sign (without taking a photo) and into the courtyard. On the far side is a bronze statue of Juliet. Typically, there is a LINE of tourists waiting their turn to rub her right breast, friends or family with camera in hand. It supposedly brings you “luck in love”. The statue is worn down in that area, suffering the molestation of so many thousands of tourists each year. I made a circle around the small cortile and then walked inside, wistfully looking up at Juliet’s balcony, neglecting to climb up on the small podium to pay tribute to her statue.
Some say Juliet’s balcony was added to the building around 1928, others argue that no, the balcony was there, the city just restored it in 1928. The people who argue for restoration are probably the same ones who hold out a belief that Romeo and Juliet was based on the lives of the real-life Montagues and Capulets.
There were two families with these names in Verona in the 13th century. Casa di Giulietta is on Via Capelli, which some say is because the prominent Cappelletti / Capulet family actually owned the house that we now call “Juliet’s House”. Dante mentioned the families in his Divine Comedy in the early 1300’s, though he made no mention of star-crossed lovers.
Masuccio Salernitano did, though, in his Il Novellino in 1476, though he set the story in Siena. Luigi da Porta brought it back to Verona in 1508, gave our hero and heroine their contemporary names and swore that his story was historically true. In 1554, Matteo Bandello published his own version of the romance as did the French Pierre Boaistuau in 1559.
In 1562, Arthur Brooke brought an English version to Britain when he published “The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet”, which was entered into several collections of translations of Italian novellas, very popular with theater-goers at the time. In fact, Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”, “Much Ado About Nothing”, “All’s Well That Ends Well”, “Measure for Measure”, and “Romeo and Juliet” are ALL stories from Italian novellas.
And I had thought Shakespeare’s story-lines were original. Hmph.
Well, its still pretty writing and a poignant story, no matter who first conceived it. You can read excerpts from Shakespeare’s version throughout the house in either English or Italian. Admission is only 6 euro (or free with Verona’s tourism card), and while its nothing absolutely striking, it’s still pretty cool.
You walk through Juliet’s bedroom and the family great room, dressed up in period style, with period clothing and paintings of the famous lovers on display. Large “storybooks” chronicle famous stanzas from Shakespeare’s play, relevant to the room you’re touring. On the top floor there’s a small museum with crafts and household items from the period in which the play took place.
And yes, the reason most people pay admission to go into Juliet’s House: having the chance to have your picture taken on Juliet’s balcony, imagining yourself calling to your secret, destined love in the middle of a star-lit night. (Coordination with someone on the ground is essential – my selfie didn’t quite do the trick.)
So the primary themes of this post:
1) If you hate hoards of tourists as much as I do, get there right when it opens.
2) “Romeo & Juliet” might be based on actual events, they might be totally made up (but not by Shakespeare), but who cares? It’s fun.
3) Molesting a statue is creepy, but people do it anyway.
4) If I never meet my one-true-love, Juliet will be the one laughing.
Jessica is a travel enthusiast and entertainment executive living in Los Angeles. Her independent travels through Italy have inspired her travel blog, OneDayInItaly.com