After a long trip down from Salzburg through the breathtaking Brenner Pass I arrived in Verona tired, grumpy, and all for catching an early night in my guesthouse (last minute hostels in Verona not forthcoming, it seems) but instead I decided to head out into the night – and I’m glad I did.
Resisting the temptation to enjoy having a room to myself for the night, not to mention the desire to completely empty and repack my case without worrying about annoying dorm mates – I stumbled out into the drizzle to discover Verona by night. This was my very first visit to Italy so I had two clear agendas for the evening. 1. Pizza 2. Gelato, both of which I highly expected to be THE BEST PIZZA AND ICE CREAM OF MY LIFE (I wasn’t disappointed). Verona was noticeably warmer than the previous places I had visited so I was already in a good mood, despite the persistent rain, as it felt like I had happily stumbled back into late summer temperatures . . . by British standards.
Slowly threading my way through increasingly busy streets I finally came to a large square lined with bustling restaurants and cafes, customers calmly sipping wine at a mass of outdoor tables under awnings. In the centre of the square rose Verona’s magnificent arena. This is a spectacular structure to behold at any time. It dates from around 30 AD and is the crown jewel of the towns multitude of Roman ruins. I have never been to Rome so this was my first encounter with an arena of this kind, and it was not merely the structure on this evening but roars of massive crowd from within which gave me goosebumps. It turns out this almost 2000 year old structure is still used as a venue for music concerts and is still capable of housing 15,000 people.
The atmosphere in the square that evening was electric as crowds queued up outside for a rock concert. For me, as a hapless tourist who had wondered in on this by accident, each roar from the crowd or sound system was a thrill. I think I definitely began to get a better understanding of what these arenas must have been like in their Roman heyday, the buzz and palpable excitement around them, and the focal point they provided for a town.
The next day I paid €6 to gain entry to the arena and I felt like I was walking into a natural structure. The walls were so solid and immovable that it was difficult to remember that this was something that had been built, rather than something which had been carved out of solid rock. I was left with a sense of awe that the Romans had been able to construct something as mammoth and everlasting as this, and I was in even greater awe that it could still be used more or less for its original purpose almost 2000 years later. Incredible.