Inside Verona Cathedral | Photo by Robert Königshausen
Inside Verona Cathedral | Photo by Robert Königshausen

Gems in Northern Italy

by Robert Königshausen
Stripes Europe

Italy is much, much more than Venice and Rome. It has, by far, the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and if you want to see them all, you’ll probably need a lifetime. Better than following the bucket list, you can choose your highlights and get started. Here’s some inspiration.

Verona

City of Opera and Romeo and Juliet. The arena is an old Roman amphitheater, built around 30 AD and older than the colosseum in Rome. For opera fans, visiting an audition, which has been performed here since 1913, is a must.

Shakespeare set his drama, “Romeo and Juliet,” in Verona. The residence of the Del Cappello dynasty was declared as Juliet’s house: Casa del Giuletta, which you can visit in Via Cappello. Step out on the balcony for a picture or leave a love-letter on the wall. The balcony was installed in 1931 and formerly part of a sarcophagus.

Verona Cathedral is probably the most visited attraction. Built around 1187 in Romanesque style, there’s a lot hidden inside. It is a gothic church with plenty of Renaissance decor along with the baptistery from the early Middle Ages.

San Zeno Maggiore: There are several legends about Zeno, a Saint from Northern Africa, who was bishop of Verona in the 4th century. One story claims Zeno was playing a game involving a ball with the devil. Zeno won, so the devil needed to bring a baptism pool from Rome into Zeno’s church in Verona. Because the devil was annoyed about the heavy work, he angrily left scratches on it. (Imagine telling this tale a few hundred years later in the days of the witch trials. They’d burn you alive!)

The building is mostly from the 12th century and has been kept in it original state. There’s a big crypt you can visit with Zeno’s grave in it. The old fresco paintings are still on the walls – mostly in bad condition but untouched.


Archiepiscopal Chapel in Ravenna | Photo by Robert Königshausen

Ravenna

This little town was the last capital to the Roman Empire, the bridgehead of the Byzantine, capital of Theoderich and his Ostrogoth Empire and never destroyed. Therefore, a number of mosaics of the 5th and 6th century AD have survived in a clearly different style as anywhere else – simply because hardly anything else from this time has survived in Western Europe. So step right into a different world and other times.


The famous mosaics in Ravenna's Archiepiscopal Chapel | Photo by Robert Königshausen

All mosaics are still shining as if time had never passed. See Jesus as a shepherd (rather than acting as a judge), saints with friendly faces, a great number of animal and plant motif and mosaic-covered floors.

Po River Delta

If you like birdwatching the saline of Comacchio is for you. See a great variety of birds, big and small. Make sure to come before the migratory birds leave and you can see a great number of herons and even flamingoes!

Pomposa Abbey

Founded around 800 AD on an island in the marsh but now landlocked and abandoned. The inside of the church is completely painted. It’s surrounded by a great number of rice-fields. Around 1040 AD it was led by Guido of Arezzo – famous for inventing the very first gamut and revolutionizing the history of music. Be there at noon and you can listen to the church bells playing a nice tune.

Bologna

San Petronio is a remarkable church and the 5th biggest in the world. Napoleon’s sister is buried here. Charles V was crowned emperor here in 1530 (governing Germany, Spain, and the Spanish colonies in Latin America – so the sun never sets in his empire, as he noted).

But most unusual is a long meridian, 66.8m long, installed by Giandomenico Cassini in 1655. Sunlight comes through a hole in the ceiling marked with sun rays around it onto this line. Every day the sun’s irradiation is different, so this line works as a calendar proving the planet’s movement.

Feeling hungry after this lot of sightseeing?

Italy is so much more than pizza and spaghetti. Just step in and order or buy anything – you can hardly fail. Most ingredients are grown locally, including fresh herbs. Italians have a long tradition of good cooking, nearly everything will be a positive surprise.

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