The Arena is the undisputed symbol of Verona, its most loved and recognizable monument. For the people of Verona it is part of their identity. Even the local daily is named after it. The Arena was built by the Romans in the first century AD and has survived to this day in excellent condition, to the extent that, for 100 years now, every summer it has hosted an opera festival and, more recently, rock, pop, jazz concerts, variety shows, and events. But these days people often forget what the Arena has been for Verona throughout its millennial history, and what it can represent for its future. Here are five things you (probably) don’t know about this world heritage jewel.
1. The Arena was built outside Verona. Today the Arena is usually considered the center of Verona, but the Romans built it just outside the city walls. A small stretch of Roman fortification – some 10-meters long – is still visible at the back of the amphitheater. Even then its role was mainly to provide entertainment (gladiator shows, naval battles, etc.).
2. Stones from the Arena were used to rebuild much of the town. Originally, the Arena was surrounded by an external ring decorated with statues, only a small part of which survives today (which everybody knows as “the wing”) after the earthquake that struck Verona in 1117. Instead of rebuilding the monument, the people of Verona decided to use the rubble and limestone to rebuild their houses, which had been destroyed by the earthquake.
3. The Arena was (also) used as a warehouse. The Gavi Arch, from the same period as the Arena, was a spectacular monument positioned on the main access road to the town (once part of the ancient Postumia Way), not very far from Porta Borsari. When Napoleon conquered Verona in 1805, he considered it a hindrance to his convoys and had it destroyed. The stones were kept under the Arena’s arches until 1932, when the arch was finally rebuilt by the side of Castelvecchio.
4. They want to cover the Arena. The first restoration of the Arena was ordered in the 1500s. These days, the monument’s upkeep costs millions of euros every year. In order to protect it from rainfall (and be able to use it for shows in winter) Verona’s city council intends to launch a competition for ideas about how to build a mobile roof for the Arena. The news has been very controversial in the city.
5. The other side of the Arena. The Arena is famous worldwide for its opera festival in summer. However, for the rest of the year, the Arena’s orchestra plays a leading role at the Philharmonic Theater, where operas, classical music concerts, and ballets are held.