Piazza delle Erbe – An Unmissable Bustling Historic Market Square
Once known as the painted city, Verona is an endearing UNESCO World Heritage City in the Veneto region of Northern Italy. A visit to this charming city and you will instantly fall in love with its medieval piazzas! Located just a stone’s throw from the famous balcony of Shakespearean fictional star-crossed lovers is Piazza delle Erbe.
Piazza delle Erbe is one of the two popular historic market squares in the heart of Verona that is two-thousand years old! Surrounded by astonishingly beautiful architecture, Piazza delle Erbe is a bustling market square. An ideal place to shop at the daily market or dine at some of the best restaurants in Verona. A popular meeting point for Veronese since Roman times, it continues to be pivotal for their daily passeggiata. Moreover, many of the streets that cross Verona lead to the square, and you are likely to pass through here either by coincidence or by planning.
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A little about Piazza delle Erbe
Located in the historic centre of a city founded in the first century BC by the Romans, Piazza delle Erbe or “square of herbs” is a long narrow “square” which lies above what was originally a Roman forum.
The forum was a square where two main boulevards (cardus maximus and decumanus maximus) crossed. It is the heart of every Roman city, representing the public, social and economic life of its people. Around the forum sits public palaces such as basilica, administrative buildings and capitolium, the main temple of the city. In the centre of the forum, the square is where people would meet to discuss politics, business, or shop at the market stalls.
Development of the square through the centuries to Piazza delle Erbe
Following the collapse of the Roman Empire in the Middle Ages, the function of the square as a forum changed slightly. While it retained its importance as a socio-economic centre of Verona, the square changed shape and became a smaller and misshaped rectangular. At the centre, developed a market selling spices and herbs. The herbs giving the square its name, Piazza Erbe which literally means Herbs square. Herbs were the prime commodity traded at the time but all sorts of trading took place also.
Timeless Travel Steps Best Tips: Piazza Erbe
Modern day Piazza delle Erbe
Through the centuries Piazza delle Erbe developed to be the living heart of the city, both economically and politically. The square is surrounded by beautiful buildings from medieval times, bell towers and there are some significant monuments located within the square as well.
A modern day Piazza delle Erbe, off season 2019
What to expect at the Square
A bustling market is very much present these days. You hear the cries of the vendors from the market stalls set-up everyday under the characteristic umbrellas, immortalised by the painter, Angelo Dall’Oca Bianca (picture above). The stalls, perhaps not selling so much spices and herbs but more of fresh fruits and vegetables along with souvenirs. Many grab an espresso or a cappuccino and snacks from nearby cafes and soak-in the atmosphere under the iconic umbrellas.
Pro tip: Explore the flavours of Veronese cuisine at Caffè Dante Bistrot. Their delicious menu is specially prepared by their in-house chef.
During the day the square is crowded mostly with tourists, but in the evening the touristic crowd subsides, making way for a more local crowd observing the traditional Italian social ritual of passeggiata. The boys and girls of Verona, both young and old meet outside the bars that open along the perimeter of the square to have an aperitif and a chat. A bit like the “happy hour” of Veronese of two thousand years ago.
While for most visitors, immersing in the atmospheric Piazza delle Erbe and the Veronese culture of people-watch over a cup of espresso or cappuccino is usually enough, there are some immensely beautiful architecture, monuments and buildings that surrounds the square which should not be missed. Following is a list of some of the highlights of the square. Look-out for these attractions as the Piazza delle Erbe is more than a spot of culture.
Timeless Travel Steps Best Tips: Piazza Erbe
With the Verona City Card, you will gain Priority Entry to the Verona Arena and the Lamberti Tower along with entry to museums as well as free local transportation – these and so many other benefits. Explore more and pre-purchase before travelling to Verona > Verona City Card.
What to see, do and experience at Piazza delle Erbe
1 | North of the Square
On the northern side of the square sits the ancient town hall, the Torre dei Lamberti, the Casa dei Giudici (Judges Hall) and the splendidly painted Mazzanti Houses. Of these, the highlights are the Torre dei Lamberti and the Mazzanti Houses, but of course, explore the others as well if time permits and if you would like to do so.
1.1 | Torre dei Lamberti
Torre dei Lamberti, often referred to as the “Tower of Love” is a eight-hundred year old tower that stands at eighty-four metres. It is the tallest building in Verona. As the tallest building in Verona, it offers unrivalled views of the city. To get a 360-degree and unrivalled views of the city, climb the 368 steps to the top of the tower!
1.2 | Mazzanti House
The Mazzanti House is a group of Renaissance houses that is also one of the oldest in the historic city of Verona. These breathtakingly and beautifully painted houses date back to the middle ages, to the Scagliari (Scala) family.
Today, the Mazzanti House stands testament to what Verona was in the 1500s – urbs picta, a painted city. The ground floor is made up of restaurants serving delicious mouthwatering pastas and seafood linguine (there are lots more on the menu of course 🙂 but these were exceptional) with additional seating on the first floor.
READ: The Mazzanti House. Includes how to visit and book your stay in one of Veronese most popular hotels.
2 | North West of the Square
From historical documents, it is understood that the ancient Roman Capitol Hill on the north-west of the square looked towards the forum. Many of its buildings, such as the Mazzanti House remained now with its frescoed facade.
3 | West of the Square
West of the square is home to the baroque Palazzo Maffei. It was built by the Maffei family in the 17th century. Facing the Palazzo Maffei is a white marble column, St Mark’s Lion, symbol of the Republic of Venice. Next to Palazzo Maffei, in the corner is an ancient bell clock-tower, Torre del Gardello.
3.1 | Palazzo Maffei
Palazzo Maffei stands on what was once the capitolium of the city. It is a historical palace that has three floors and a rich baroque exterior. Adorned with statues of Greek gods, from the left: Herculese, Jupiter, Venus, Mercury, Apollo and Minerva. The richness of the exterior makes it one of the prettiest buildings in the square.
Once a palace and a private residence, the Palazzo Maffei these days is home to a museum showcasing art collections over five centuries.
To be part of every art lovers journey in Verona, view this magnificent art collection. Include a visit to Palazzo Maffei in your Verona itinerary.
READ: The Palazzo Maffei, a Baroque Masterpiece.
3.2 | St Mark’s Lion, symbol of the Republic of Venice
Erected in 1524, sitting atop a white marble column is the sculpture of a winged lion holding a copy of the bible. The lion is the symbol of Venice and represents St. Mark, the patron saint of the city. This is symbolic of the Venetian influence in Verona.
3.3 | Torre del Gardello
Located next to Palazzo Maffei is Torre del Gardello also called Torre delle Ore. It is an ancient clock tower dated to around 1206 and stands to a height of forty-four metres. The tower was restored in 1363 when the Scala family came to power in Verona. A big brass bell was installed in the tower in 1370 and sounded on the hour. In 1421 a clock-face was added to the outer wall.
It is regarded as one of the earliest mechanical bell-clocks installed to operate as a public timepiece. The clock ceased to function in 1661 and the bell was removed in later years.
The brass bell is decorated with scenes of San Zeno’s life. It is now displayed in the Castelvecchio Museum, Verona.
4 | South of the Square
On the southern side, sits Domus Mercatorum or Casa dei Mercanti (Merchant’s House), on the corner with Via Pellicciai.
The foundation of Domus Mercatorum goes back to 1301 and was built by the influential Scala family when they came into power. The building is made of red bricks and reflects a style typical of the time, with the Ghibelline battlements on top. The ground floor is surrounded by a large porch with arches and columns. Over the centuries, this building had undergone transformation. In 1797, Casa dei Mercanti became the Chamber of Commerce.
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5 | Centre of Piazza delle Erbe
5.1 | Fountain of Madonna Verona
In the centre of the square is a landmark and one of Verona’s most important monument, the Fountain of Madonna Verona.
The 14th century Madonna Verona Fountain was assembled in such a way as to constitute an allegorical representation and a highly symbolic tribute to the city. It is topped by an ancient Roman statue of a female figure, Madonna, not the Virgin Mary, but a medieval queen. Mea domina, “my lady” in Latin, shortened in madonna. It was the title of respect used for noblewomen.
The statue of Madonna Verona, the personification of Verona city, holds a bronze scroll in her hand bearing the civic motto of the City of Verona – Est iusti latrix urbs hec et laudis amatrix, that is “this city is the bearer of justice and lover of praise”.
5.2 | La Berlina (Tribuna o Capitello)
Simply known as the Berlina, this ancient structure was once used for ceremonial purposes to swear-in the city’s magistrates. There was a chair in stone placed within the four pillars where the new magistrate would sit for his inauguration. However, the Berlina today is not the original one and has gone through transformation.
This stone podium was raised in 1401 and surmounted by an aedicule. It has the Veronese commercial measures marked in lengths and columns. On the steps and on one of the 16th century pillars, the units of measurement in force in Verona since communal government and until the introduction of the decimal system is still visible.
The “mattone” (brick) and the “tegola” (rule) are outlined in one of the steps in the shape of a rectangle. This is where one could check the size of bricks sold in the square.
Any irregularities would result in punishment of heavy fines. There are paving stones in the centre of the square as well which are roughly one metre long and were used to measure exactly how much each stall should pay according to space they occupied.
On one of the pillars hangs a chain that held an iron ring which looks like a punishment chain! Contrary to popular assumptions, this was not used for punishments.
The ring could be opened to contain the exact standard of “fascina” – the bundle of firewood placed on sale. Grooves on the same pillar are the standard units of length.
The La Berlina these days aren’t used for measurements of any kind at all. It is a good place to take a rest, let the kids run around or a good photo spot.
6 | Other attractions at Piazza delle Erbe to take note of
In addition to the above, there are a couple more attractions near Piazza delle Erbe which you may want to experience.
6.1 | The Whale Bone of Arco della Costa
At the entry point between Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza dei Signori hangs a mysterious whale rib in the centre of the medieval Arco della Costa (Arch of the Rib).
The bone is suspended from an iron chain and is said to be hanging there since the 1700s or even before, possibly since the 15th century. No one knows how it got there.
Legend has it that the bone will fall on the first innocent or truthful person to walk under the archway!
6.2 | Piazza dei Signori
Piazza dei Signori is a significant square in Verona both historically and aesthetically. It is a charming and an elegant square that occupies part of two blocks of the ancient Roman urban grid, close to the ancient forum, now the central Piazza delle Erbe. Architecture here is diverse, Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance. The buildings are connected by arches and walkways.
In the centre of the square standing tall is the statue of Dante. Dante Alighieri, is a medieval Italian poet and philosopher who wrote Divine Comedy. He spent seven years in Verona from 1312 to 1318 following his exile from Florence.
The statue is a symbol of the hospitality Dante received from the powerful and influential Della Scala family. The Piazza dei Signori is often referred to as Piazza Dante by the Veronese. The statue was the work of Ugo Zannoni and was erected in 1865.
Places to Eat at Piazza delle Erbe
As one of Verona’s main attraction and an entertainment square, there’s no shortage of authentic local restaurants at Piazza Erbe. You can easily grab a chair at a table lined alongside the perimeter of the square. Sip a glass of aperitif or sit down with a bowl of truffle risotto with some crunchy bruschetta. Alternatively, dine in for seafood linguine and experience the Veronese hospitality. You will be spoiled for choice here.
However, if you are looking for a special experience where you can dine in style in a medieval palace built in the 1600s and taste the best (really the Best!) truffle risotto or the best lamb chops, then the place you want to be is the Maffei Restaurant. The cellar is said to be one of the best well-stocked in Italy.
The Maffei Restaurant is a very popular restaurant and you must book before hand, at least a month prior, if you want to dine here.
Places to Stay at and near Piazza delle Erbe
When it comes to selecting a place to stay in Verona, there is an abundance of accommodations to suit every budget. You could select from a wide range of hotels and apartments to suit your itinerary. I have selected three and these are below. For greater choices, navigate to the top 7 places to stay in Verona.
When Visiting Verona
As for things to do, Verona is a wealth of history, architectural delight and a cultural paradise! There are so many things to do here that narrowing of the choices will be a difficult decision. To make your task easier, I have selected some popular activities along with some that I have personally experienced. Peruse them in the comfort of your time. Book the activities just as soon as you know your travel plans. Lock-in your prices and cancel at any time up to 24 hours prior. Here are the selected activities for you to consider:
One thing that I would highly recommend when considering activities to do is to include a day trip to the outskirts of Verona. The Veneto region is popular for its wineries and a visit to the winery is a popular activity amongst tourists. Another area which is popular and a place where I had one of the best experiences is Sirmione and Lake Garda.
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on a final note …
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Have a splendid time exploring Piazza delle Erbe and Verona 🙂
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Piazza delle Erbe | Verona City Guide | Things to do in Verona first published at timelesstravelsteps.com and is regularly updated. Latest update 24 March, 2022