Guide to the Arena of Verona
history, architecture and curiosities
Discovering one of the most ancient and fascinating monuments from ancient Roman times: the Arena of Verona! Discover its history and get ready for an exciting journey!
It is impossible to name Verona without thinking about the Arena, which has now become the symbol of the city. This Roman amphitheater, which stands in Piazza Bra, maintains a timeless charm. Many are amazed by its majesty and beauty and wonder about its origins. If you are also curious to learn more about the history and legend of this ancient building, read on.
History of the Arena of Verona
The Arena di Verona is undoubtedly the most famous monument in the city, and the third-largest amphitheater in Italy right after the Colosseum in Rome and the Capua Amphitheater near Naples. Its construction is still shrouded in mystery, as there is no certain information about it, but it is thought to date back to the first decades of the first century, during the emperor Augustus’ reign. This amphitheater was not located in the center of the city in the past. In the beginning, it stood just outside the walls of the ancient city, to facilitate the influx of spectators and avoid crowding in the city center. It was later incorporated within the Verona walls built by Gallieno, to defend the city from the attacks of the Barbarians.
This ancient building is well preserved, although in 1183 a strong earthquake destroyed the third layer of arches that surrounded it. Only one wing of this layer remains today, allows you to picture its original grandeur.
Like the Colosseum, the Arena was used for entertainment, including gladiator fights. These fights took place in the center of the amphitheater, in the area called harena (hence the name Arena) due to the presence of sand, which was used to absorb the bloodshed of men and animals. These bloody shows were highly appreciated by the ancient Romans, so much that Pliny the Younger cites them in his verses.
Over the centuries the Arena has been used for many different reasons: King Theodoric used it as a stone quarry for the construction of surrounding houses. Later, until the sixteenth century, it is said that prostitutes were relegated here. It was then used for craft shops.
The internal space was used for various reasons, such as the administration of justice, bonfires, shows, parties, and races. On the occasion of the wedding of Antonio della Scala, the Arena was a place of celebration with rides and shows, for almost one month.
Starting from the fifteenth century it began to acquire a certain historical and artistic interest, and over the years it underwent various restorations which, at intervals, went well beyond the eighteenth century. In 1713 Merope, the work of Scipione Maffei, was recited here. In 1751 it is said that a rhino was seen there. In 1786 Goethe visited and admired the amphitheater. In the Napoleonic era, the Arena was restored and even used for a bullfight. At that time, Iberian bullfighting got pupular in Italy, so much so that in Verona there was a parade of bullfighters and fanfares to promote the show. In 1890 and 1906, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show took place, a show in which horse riders performed stunts on running horses.
It was not until 1822 that it was used as a large open-air theater. The first to be represented was La Santa Alleanza, with music by Gioacchino Rossini.
In 1913, the first opera was performed, namely Giuseppe Verdi ‘s Aida. Since then, this amphitheater has become the largest opera house in the world, and the most famous works come to life on its stage every summer.
The legend of the Arena di Verona
Not many are aware of it, but there is a medieval legend regarding the construction of the Arena di Verona. It is said that a Veronese prisoner sentenced to death, to save himself he promised the rulers of the city that he would create a building capable of containing all the citizens. He had to ask the devil for help, in exchange for his soul. He called to help all the devils in Hell to work on it.
During the night, however, the man repented for what he had done and prayed to Our Lady for grace. The Lady made the sun to rise two hours earlier, to prevent demons from doing the job on time. The demons, hearing the sound of the bells of the morning Angelus, plunged into darkness, and the soul of the prisoner was saved. Legend says that this was the reason why the external wing of the amphitheater remained unfinished.
Despite this, the construction of this beautiful building was enough to guarantee the prisoner his freedom.
Architecture and capacity of the Arena di Verona
The Arena di Verona appears imposing from the outside, even though the third layer of surrounding columns has been almost destroyed from an earthquake.
The destroyed external part was composed of three orders of overlapping arches. In total there were 72 arches with as many red limestone entrances.
Its current measurements are 152 x 123 meters, while the internal cavea, made up of 45 steps 45 centimeters high, is forty meters wide.
Its arches are composed of white and red limestone, which still fascinate those who stop to observe them.
The interior is made up of two main parts: in the center, we find the arena (the stage where the fighting took place), around it there is the cavea with the tiers on which the audience sits.
In ancient times the Arena was separated from the steps by a podium, on which there were probably placed nets for the crowd’s safety. The cavea was separated into horizontal sectors by walkways. At the top, there was a portico covered by a roof.
Entering this building, you find dark corridors that run the entire perimeter of the amphitheater, letting your imagination run to the past time of the fights between the gladiators. It is of great inspiration to walk in the same places crossed by the ancient Romans 2000 years ago. Coming out onto the stand, you will be dazzled by the greatness of the Arena and the genius of Roman architecture.
The amphitheater originally had a capacity of 30,000 spectators but nowadays it contains about half of it, for scenic and safety needs.
Arena di Verona concerts: Opera season and shows
The first work to be represented was Giuseppe Verdi ‘s Aida, in 1913, attended by spectators from all over the world. It was ione of the greatest international shows of the twentieth century.
Since then, every summer the Arena has been the venue for the Arenian opera festival, an opera music event that welcomes 600 thousand spectators per year. The festival takes place during 50 evenings with five or six alternating productions. The best-known shows are the Aida, Turandot, Carmen, Nabucco and Traviata.
Opera is not the only art form that takes place in the Arena. Every year its stage hosts internationally renowned artists, from dancers to musicians and singers, all eager to experience the emotion to perform in this sensational building.
For up-to-date information on the scheduled shows, consult the official website of the Arena di Verona.
Useful Information: Hours and Prices of the Arena di Verona
The Arena is open on Monday from 13.30 to 19.30 and from Tuesday to Sunday from 8.30 to 19.30.
A full ticket costs € 10.00 while a reduced ticket (for groups, students and seniors over 60 years) costs € 7.50. Children aged 8 to 14 or schoolchildren pay only € 1.
VeronaCard holders, elderly people over 65 years of age residing in the Municipality of Verona, disabled people and their companions, and children up to 7 years of age are entitled to free access.
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