The Roman amphitheater, together with Juliet's House, is surely the most important symbol of Verona. The Arena was built at the height of the city's development, at the beginning of the first century AD, on the large space in front of the city walls. The amphitheater was in fact outside the city and its vision, in the distance, imposing in front of the city, must have been a breathtaking spectacle. The Arena is the third largest Roman amphitheater in Italy, after the Colosseum in Rome and the Arena of Capua. However, it is one of the best preserved, so much so that it is still used today. The Arena is in fact the seat of the Verona Opera Festival, which every Summer brings inside its two thousand year old structures some of the most famous operas of the Italian and European musical tradition. The Arena is actually the largest open-air opera house in the world, capable of holding up to 17,000 spectators. Thanks to the perfect acoustics with which it was made, the opera in the Arena can be performed without amplification. Singers and musicians do not use microphones. In recent years, the Arena has also been used for modern music performances such as rock, pop concerts and musicals.
The original use of the Arena was obviously not music but gladiators fights, a great passion of the ancient Romans who built an amphitheater in every city of a certain importance, a bit like today's football stadiums. The gladiators were mostly slaves, trained to fight, who faced each other at the center of the amphitheaters. They were divided into categories (galdiatorial classes) according to the type of armors and weapons they used. The most important were murmillo, retiario, secutor. They often faced each other in duels to the death. Amphitheaters were also used for fighting between men and ferocious animals (venationes), public executions and games of skill and entertainment.
The Arena in the Centuries
All the rulers who took turns in the government of city took great care of the Arena, which, with its important and constant presence, runs through the entire history of Verona.
The Middle Ages
It seems that Theoderic the Great, king of the Ostroghots who often resided in Verona, already began the first restoration of the imposing Roman building soon after the fall of the Roman Empire in V century A.D.. The terrible earthquake of 1117 heavily damaged the Arena of Verona. On this occasion the outer ring collapsed, leaving only a small portion of four arches standing, the characteristic "wing" of the Arena. The outer ring was the most imposing, consisting of three rows of overlapping arches, all in limestone and decorated with frames and statues.
In the 16th century, in the middle of the Venetian era, a great restoration work was carried out to consolidate and rebuild part of the collapsed elements, especially in the cavea. The Arena began to be used again as a place for shows. In fact, the "hunt" took place there, a sort of bullfight fought between a bull and a mastiff, and it was also used as a venue for musical and theatrical performances. In fact, even in the Middle Ages the Arena had been used for tournaments and public gatherings, often to attend executions.
In the 20th century, the Arena became the site of the famous opera festival. Legend has it that the idea of staging the opera in the amphitheater of Verona came by chance to Giovanni Zenatello. The tenor from Verona was with some friends inside the Arena and sang an opera aria for them. Everyone realized the perfect acoustics of the building and so, almost for fun, they thought of making it an opera house. More than a hundred years later, the Arena still hosts major musical performances every year. The size of the Amphitheater also allows the creation of imposing and complex stage sets, which are part of the success of the event and have revolutionized the way in which the opera is staged. Over the years, famous names of the opera have sung in the Arena: Maria Callas, who had her debut here, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo.
The Visit to the Arena
The Arena is part of almost all of the guided tours of Verona, and even for those thematic itineraries that do not include the explanation of Roman monuments, it is always possible to include a view of the amphitheater of Verona, which can also be visited internally.
For information, details or to ask the tourist guides of Verona to organize a guided tour for you.