The historic center of Verona still retains, largely unchanged, the grid structure, with parallel and perpendicular streets (cardus and decumanus in Latin), with which the city was founded in the first century BC during the expansion of Rome in the Italian peninsula. There, where the two main boulevards (cardus maximus and decumanus maximus) crossed, was the forum, the fulcrum of public, social and economic life of every Roman city. Around the forum stood the public palaces: basilica (the cour of law), curia (administrative building) and capitolium, the main temple of the city. In the center of the large square, citizens would meet to discuss business and politics or shop at the crowded market stalls. More than two thousand years later in the heart of the city there is still a characteristic square: Piazza delle Erbe.
The Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages and the urban chaos that followed the collapse of the Roman Empire with its strict urban rules, the square partially changed its shape. From a regular rectangle it became a sort of rhombus, halving its extension but continuing to maintain its role as the socio-economic center of Verona. At the center developed the spices market, the herbs that gave the name to the square, piazza Erbe in fact literally means Herbs square. Spices were the main commodity sold there, but all sorts of bargaining took place. In the middle of the square there is still a stone podium on which are marked the standard measures of the city, which were used to check that the measurement of goods for sale was carried out correctly. During the Scala family period (XIII-XIV century), on one side of Piazza Erbe was built the Domus Mercatorum, seat of the assemblies of the guilds of arts and crafts. Until a few decades ago, the Domus Mercatorum was used as the Verona Chamber of Commerce.
On Piazza delle Erbe there is still a market, with some stalls still selling fruit and vegetables under the characteristic umbrellas, immortalized in the verses of local poet Berto Barbarani and in the works of the painter Dall'Oca Bianca. Over time, however, stalls of souvenirs have become the majority. During the day the square is always crowded with tourists, but in the evening the boys and girls of Verona meet outside the bars that open along the perimeter of the square to have an aperitif and a chat. A bit like the Veronese of two thousand years ago.
Piazza delle Erbe is surrounded by numerous palaces and monuments of various ages and styles such as Palazzo Maffei, a rare example of a Baroque building for Verona, the Mazzanti Houses with its splendid Renaissance fresco, the Torre dei Lamberti, the Arco della Costa, from which hangs a mysterious whale's rib, and the fountain of Madonna Verona, allegorical personification of the city. The Erbe square is one of the most characteristic spots in Verona, where both tourists and Veronese stroll and stop for a cool drink in Summer, an aperitif and a chat with friends. With the richness of its history and the buildings that stand there, it is a fundamental stop of most of the guided tours in Verona.
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