Much to our delight, Christmas markets opened in Verona the same mid-November day we arrived in town.
There are few Christmas markets that open as early as Verona’s Christmas markets. A feast for all the senses, amidst the twinkling lights and soft music, we found traditional Christmas homemade gifts ranging from carved wooden toys, cozy knitted woollen items, jewelry, ceramics, handmade soaps, liquors, delicious chocolates, fragrant chestnuts and so much more. We sampled fine German bratwurst, giant pretzel-shaped sweet, flaky pastries, both Italian Christmas cakes – panettone (made with raisins and candied fruits) and pandoro (originated in Verona, a simple sweet buttery yellow cake, shaped like a star and dusted with powdered sugar) all washed down with mugs of hot vin brulè (Italy’s mulled wine).
Brief History of Verona
Verona dates from the 4th century BCE and this fortified northern Italian city that grew up on the banks of the River Adige is renowned for its ancient and historical Roman buildings. The city has preserved a number of urban structures dating back to antiquity and you can see architecture reflecting the styles from each and every century in the past 2,000 years.
In the 1st century BCE, Verona became an important Roman center and to this day contains some of the richest collections of Roman remains in northern Italy. After the collapse of the Roman empire, Verona was occupied during the 5th century by the Ostrogoths, in the 6th and 7th centuries by the Lombards and in 774 by King of the Francs, Charlemagne. It wasn’t until early in the 12th century that Verona gained her independence.
During the rule of the Scaliger family in the 13th and 14th centuries the city began to prosper and continued its growth when it became part of the Republic of Venice, between the 15th and 18th centuries. However, beginning in 1797 the Austrian Empire occupied both Verona and Venice for nearly 70 years and the cities greatly declined. In 1866 the cities gained their independence from Austria and joined the newly formed Kingdom of Italy.
Verona received significant damage during World War II, but the post-war reconstruction followed strict guidelines to rebuild using both original designs and original materials as much as possible. Ponte Pietra, the oldest stone bridge in Verona originally built in 1503, was partially rebuilt in 1957.
It replaced an even older Roman bridge built around 89 BCE.
Teatro romano de Verona Museum
Included in our tickets to the old Roman Theater was access to an Archeological Museum in a former 14th century monastery up behind the theater. The museum showcased materials excavated from the Roman theater as well as many discoveries found scattered throughout the city. We saw some beautiful 2nd and 3rd century CE mosaics and dozens of statues.
We enjoyed seeing the decorative pieces and inscriptions dedicated to the Roman Gods. Jupiter Optimus Maximus (the principal Roman deity), Jupiter Summanus (god of night time lighting) and Jupiter Lustralis (god of water cults). There are also fragments dedicated to the Gods Fortune, Diana, Silenus, Minerva, Isis, Mercury and others we were unfamiliar with.
But it was poking around the 1st century CE Roman amphitheater tucked into the hillside we thought was the most interesting. Not to mention the fine view of Verona at the bend of the Adige River. The outdoor theater has a wooden stage set up and the theater continues to be used as an entertainment venue centuries after it was initially built.
Chiesa di San Fermo Maggiore
Walking down a street too narrow for a taxi we turned the last corner to find our airbnb on the right. However, when we glanced left, 2 blocks away was a rather unusual large, dark brown church with spires, inviting us to come explore it.
After unpacking and settling into our apartment we headed left crossing a bridge that offered beautiful views from every direction we looked. The gothic church that we had seen peaking out at us, standing stately on the banks of the Adige River, was San Fermo Maggiore.
The church was named after a martyred nobleman by the name of Fermo.
The story goes that Fermo was imprisoned because he was Christian. His relative Rustico also declared himself Christian and chained himself to Fermo. They refused to deny their faith and in 304 CE, were decapitated. Between 755 and 759, St. Annone, the bishop of Verona, recovered the mortal remains of the two martyrs and placed them in the newly built church.
Inside San Fermo are basically two churches and each are uniquely attractive. The older, lower Benedictine church was built in the 8th century. Between 1065 and 1143 the Benedictine monks demolished most of the original church and rebuilt a Romanesque church on two levels: the lower church to house the relics and the upper for religious functions.
The lower church is quite dark so the Benedictines whitewashed the walls, pillars and ceiling and decorated the walls and columns with pictures of everyday life and decorative motifs using red lines.
We noticed a number of 6-petaled flowers painted inside double circles that we hadn’t previously seen before. We learned it was an ancient symbol of Christ resurrected and was believed to offer the power of protection. See the red flower on the back left wall as well as on the ceiling in the photo below?
In 1261 the Franciscans moved in to the church and redesigned the upper church into its present Gothic form, leaving the lower level in its Romanesque style. In 1314 they added a striking multiple-keeled, wooden ceiling and had it painted with hundreds of saints.
You may be familiar with our fascination of the history of the Templar Knights. We learned of their former presence in and around Verona and that a tomb with the Templar cross was recently discovered beneath the church. It is presumed to be the remains of the Templar Ninth Master Arnold of Torroja (1181–1184).
Catedral de Verona (Cattedrale di Santa Maria Matricolare)
The Cathedral of Verona was first built in the 9th century on the same site where a 4th or 5th century basilica once stood. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 1117 and rebuilt and consecrated in 1187. The church was modified and expanded into the 15th century. This beautiful Cathedral is the episcopal seat of the Diocese of Verona.
The bell tower, begun in the 16th century was left unfinished until the 19th century. It contains nine bells in the scale of A. The bells are rung in the Veronese bellringing art tradition which is a style that developed around Verona in the 18th century.
The bells are rung full circle (mouth uppermost to mouth uppermost) and a campanologist holds a rope and wheel until a specific note is needed. A campanologist is someone who studies campanology, the field of the large bells, how they are cast, tuned, rung, sounded and perfected. It also includes the history, methods and traditions of bell-ringing as an art, as well as composing and performing music for the large bells.
Museo Africano di Verona
Daniele Comboni (1831-1881) was a Roman Catholic bishop who served in the missions in Africa and who founded both the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus and the Comboni Missionary Sisters. He was beatified in 1996 and canonized in 2003.
In 1892 the Comboni Missionaries opened the African Museum in Verona. It is an anthropological museum dedicated to the peoples and cultures of the African Continent. There are traditional artifacts, handmade objects and photos on display. In addition they house a film collection and a library of more than 20,000 books where students can study or experts can refresh their knowledge on whichever African country they wish to become more familiar with.
Arena di Verona
Perhaps the best site to visit in Verona is in Verona’s biggest square, the Piazza Bra. Built in 30 CE, the Roman Amphitheater is one of the best preserved ancient structures of its kind and it is still in use today.
The Roman Amphitheater in Verona (30K spectators) may not be as large as the Colosseum in Rome (50K spectators), but Verona’s amphitheater is about 40 years older and is far better preserved. Look at this beauty!
Each summer this internationally famous arena is used for large-scale outdoor opera performances. Our stay in Verona was off season, but we were still able to visit and explore the impressive amphitheater as a museum.
The 2000 year old amphitheater has also been slated as the closing ceremony venue for the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan, so keep an eye out for this special event.
In the spirit of our Christmas theme we are including this 1535 Giovanni Battista del Moro painting of St. Nicholas, in his red robes, found at the St. Nicholas altar in the Cathedral of Verona.
Verona is a charming city to visit and the pre-Christmas magic that infused the city reminded us that this truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
Buon Natale! Buon anno!
Saluti from these Veronese,
Edoardo + Guilia (Ted + Julia)