Verona Arena | A piece of medieval marvel that can’t be missed
Renowned as a Veronese monument, the Verona Arena (Arena di Verona) is the oldest and the largest open-air amphitheatre in the world. This Roman marvel is impressive from all angles. It was constructed in the 1st century and is one of the best preserved of its kind. It sits in Piazza Bra, dominating the heart of the city. The ancient structure looks spectacular both during the day and at night. It was once used for spectacles of gladiator fighting, now Opera performances takes place in the summer months at dusk. An absolute piece of medieval marvel that can’t be missed when visiting Verona.
You can find its location at the following GPS:
Latitude: 45° 26′ 11.99″ N
Longitude: 10° 59′ 23.39″ E
Come along with me to take a very brief look at its 2000 years of history and discover ways how you can experience this ancient monument in Verona.
Verona Arena: An ancient monument of 2000 years of history
The 1st century amphitheatre known simply as Arena was built around 30 AD during the reign of Augustus Caesar. During his reign, the city of Verona was part of the Roman Empire’s expansion. Located between Milan and Venice together with its strategic location on the Adige River, Verona was used as a base for controlling the northern territories.
The Roman’s built Verona on an organized grid plan, with two main gates, and surrounded it with defensive walls. Bridges were built across the Adige River but most notable of their creations is an amphitheatre. Just outside of the city walls, an amphitheatre was constructed. Verona Arena.
1 | The Romans and About the Amphitheatre
In Ancient Rome, an amphitheatre is an important structure. It is a meeting point, where the settlement gathers to watch spectacles of entertainment like a circus, a tournament or festivals. An amphitheatre kept everyone happy. Having one just outside of the city walls meant that lots more people from the neighbouring settlements and cities could come without threatening the peace of the City of Verona.
In its original architecture, the Verona Arena comprised of three tiers of arches at a height of 30 metres. The external dimensions of the structure was 152 x 123 metres. The monument was the third largest Roman amphitheatre at that time, after the Colosseum and Capua. The tiers of the amphitheatre are all made of Veronese marble, pink and white stones sourced from Valpolicella. The Verona Arena is said to have accommodated almost 30,000 spectators for festivals, circus acts, dancing and music. The theatre hosted all kinds of games and tournaments especially equestrian games. Above all, the spectacles that drew most attention were blood sports, notably the gladiator show, where two trained combatants would fight each other to death.
Later, more defense walls were built to protect the city from invaders and the amphitheatre was included inside of its walls. It was a good thing too, as all the surrounding settlements and towns were destroyed while Verona stood firm.
2 | After the Romans (500 – 1000 AD)
The Romans lost power in the 5th century. Verona was then ruled by the Goths, the Lombards and the Vatican until around 1000 AD. Buildings and monuments were added to the city century after century. The City of Verona grew but the Arena did not. Gladiator fighting was banned and the Arena stood empty for centuries.
The unused Arena was pillaged for building materials. The bricks and stones were much needed for building other structures and for Verona’s growth. Largely, the Arena stood as a free source of materials.
3 | Disaster strikes!
After surviving the screaming, stomping fans, several wars, and as a resource of building materials, the Arena was hit by a massive earthquake. On January 3, 1117 AD an earthquake rated at VII (very strong) on the Mercalli Intensity Scale struck northern Italy and Germany. The outer wall of the Arena was partially destroyed as a result. The surviving wall was later damaged in another earthquake of 1183. Only four arches of the outer wall still remains.
4 | The Scala Family – 13th to 14th century
Following the Battle of Legnano in 1176, Verona gained autonomous status. As a result, the economy boomed and the city attracted many wealthy and prominent families who invested and grew the city. Amongst them, the Scala Family, who ultimately ruled as lords of Verona from the mid 13th century through to 14th century.
With more money flowing in the economy, the Scala’s began using the Arena. It was primarily used as a public trial area, and disputes solved through combat.
5 | Verona Arena in the 15th century
However, the fighting among Verona’s wealthy families brought them all down, making it easy for the Venetian Republic to take over at the start of 15th century. Under the Venetian, new laws were passed making it illegal to vandalize the Arena. During this period, the Arena provided cheap housing for prostitutes who kept the place nice and beautiful.
6 | A market place in the 16th century
In the 16th century, the prostitutes made way for small shops, artisans, blacksmiths, hair-dressers, jewellers and mechanics. The open-air Arena became an open-air market where you could go to get your horses hoofed, buy your wife a necklace or for snacks. Essentially it was a place where you could get all your shopping done at once.
It seems that some arches still housed mechanics and other shops until the mid-20th century.
7 | Napoleon
In 1797, Napoleon took over Verona for the length of the Napoleonic Wars until the Austrians won it in 1815. Napoleon used the Arena for purposes other than culture (concentration camp for prisoners).
8 | The Arena finally finds its purpose – 1822
1822 is known as the year of the first ever Opera performance in the open-air amphitheatre. The Arena lends itself well to opera. Though it’s huge, it has remarkable acoustics – performers do not use microphones!
9 | Opera at Verona Arena – August 10, 1913
Although the opera performances began in the 1800’s the Arena was still mostly unused for almost a century. The first performance that set the start of the Opera Festival at Verona Arena was on August 10, 1913. The first performance of Aida organised by Giovanni Zenatello and Ottone Rovato to commemorate the 100th birthday of Giuseppe Verdi.
Besides pauses during the First and Second World Wars, the Arena has been hosting summer Opera festivals ever since.
That’s just a brief history of a monument of 2000 years or so.
Verona Arena today
Today, the Verona Arena is located in the historic centre, at the heart of the city in Piazza Bra. There are only two tiers. The Arena floor is also now 2 metres below ground level. The seating area is made up of 44 levels and can hold up to 22,000 spectators. Underneath the tiers, there are galleries, cells and passageways which once served and still do, for the complex operation of the Arena. The galleries, cells and passageways are not accessible to the general public.
The Verona Arena continues to play host to a variety of cultural events. It’s famed annual summer festival of Opera performances (June to September) is well-worth a visit if you could get hold of some tickets. Take a look below.
Verona Arena Opera Festival 2021
From June 19th to September 4th the Arena Opera Festival 2021 is on stage with five amazing opera titles and many special Night in the spectacular setting of the Verona amphitheatre. Tickets are available from 15th July 2020. Take a look at the program and seat availability at the official website Arena di Verona.
Alternatively, you could purchase an Opera package here. (More on this below)
Pro tip: Verona Arena will be used as the closing ceremony for the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo. If you’re a fan of winter sports, this would the perfect opportunity to see a different type of performance at the arena.
Ways to experience this ancient monument of 2000 years of history on its back
This Roman amphitheatre is every bit as impressive as it sounds and you will not be disappointed by its experience. It’s huge, different, medieval with modern adaptations but above all, the walls and passages speak of tales and mysteries which can only be imagined.
Inside Verona Arena
There are three ways to experience this piece of medieval marvel:
1 | Arena di Verona Opera Package Ticket
Pick up this opera evening package and enjoy a lovely evening at the open-air amphitheatre where Luciano Pavarotti, Maria Callas, and many other tenors and sopranos from all over the world have had the pleasure of singing and performing. I can only imagine it to be one of the best experiences that one could have.
Simply exchange your voucher at gate 16 of the Arena between 5:45 PM to 8:45 PM (desk Montebaldo) any day that an opera is playing. In your package, you will receive a ticket for the opera, a 1-hour Verona city guide (starting at 6:00 PM), a transport-service ticket, as well as all the assistance you may need for a perfect experience in the city.
2 | Verona Card
You can purchase a Verona Card for 24 or 48 hours and explore the City at your own pace. The Verona Card gives you skip-the-line priority access to the Verona Arena and other monuments as well. You have unlimited access to the ATV transport system. Personally, I find the Verona Card to be a bargain. You can peruse further of what it offers and buy it here.
3 | Guided Tour of Verona Arena
If you want to learn more about this monument from an expert, then join a guided tour. This guided tour is with a licensed guide and lasts half-an-hour with priority access. Hear about the famous operas and some of the stories that took place behind the walls.
Practical information for when visiting Verona Arena
Spectators with limited mobility or disability can have access to some seats in the stalls or the numbered stone steps at a special rate, along with the person accompanying you. Medical proof is required. Go to this page for a full guide on Spectators with Disabilities.
If your ticket is for a stone step seat, it is best to wear long (trousers) or long skirts to cover your legs, to avoid bruises or discomfort. Bring a cushion along and water/snacks.
Location: Piazza Bra 1, 37121, Verona Italy | Tel: +39 045 800 5151 | Nearest station: Verona Porta Nuova Station
Verona is known as the City of Opera because of the ancient marvel, Arena. It is one of the most astonishingly preserved monument in the world. While we cannot watch gladiator fights or get the horses hoofed, we can certainly spend hours exploring or just sitting in the gallery to feel how it must have been way back then to witness any of the spectacles.
I sincerely hope that a visit to this medieval marvel will cement a perfect vacation to Verona.
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Have a splendid time exploring Verona Arena!
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