Everybody knows: Juliet’s courtyard is the most famous place in all of Verona! Millions of lovers rush here to sign their names on the walls or even leave a note in a special mailbox to the left of the arch. These notes are so famous that the plot of the film “Letters to Juliet” is based on one of them.
Should you really visit this court? It depends on what you expect. If you are looking for an authentic residence of the Capulet family, elegant and romantic as in the illustrations for “Romeo and Juliet”, or in movies, you will be disappointed. There are not many charming antiquities left in this courtyard, although the building itself was built in the 13th century. Since that time, the original shape of this tower house has changed: after the tall buildings were banned, they had to shorten it a bit.
But let’s be honest: what else is left to do if everyone wants to see something that does not exist? You have to create it! At the beginning of the 18th century the Veronese took action. The Cappelletti family (as this surname sounded originally) lived in Verona and participated in local politics.
The object carved above the inner arch came to hand, helping to identify the place where they supposedly lived. In Italian, “hat” is pronounced “cappello”, so theoretically this bas-relief can be considered the coat of arms of Juliet’s family. It could be as well a sign board of the hotel, which had been located in this house and looked quite ordinary.
Year after year, more tourists came to visit. Among them, the famous and influential intellectuals, such as Dickens or Goethe. Some of them complained: Verona, of course, was a beautiful city, but Juliet’s courtyard looked cheesy! There was only one way out: to bring the real court in line with its literary and artistic image.
So In 1905, the building was bought from private owners and turned into a museum. Then the beautification started: they transformed it in medieval style with rectangular doorways substituted by lancet ones, and a Gothic style round window that was unexpected and unusual. But this was not enough: the visitors longed for a balcony! And the balcony arrived. Moreover, it was not a trivial remake, but an ancient one. It survived after the demolishing of the houses along the river, necessary for flood control in the end of the 19th century. Thrifty Veronese, forced to destroy beautiful old buildings with their own hands, kept aside frescoes and architectural details.
In this photo you see a bunch of “spare parts” lying in the courtyard of the castle of Castelvecchio. Among them, you can see the balcony, which was attached to its actual position in 1937. What inspired the director of the veronese museums, Antonio Avena, to take such a bold step? It’s art again: in 1936 the first film about Romeo and Juliet was released, and this story became known even to that part of the public that had never been to the theater.
The space around the balcony had to be arranged in accordance with the scenery of the film, including adding merlons to the walls and decorating the museum with frescoes transferred from other houses, and so on.
After all this, the tourists were still dissatisfied. To get to the balcony you have to pay for the entrance to the museum, wait for your turn... Could it be possible to simplify it somehow? Veronese authorities had to satisfy the tourists’ wishes again.
In 1972 the courtyard was embellished by a bronze statue of Juliet. Everyone liked her so much that two copies were made and delivered to Munich and Chicago, while the Juliet that stayed in Verona started to be photographed and embraced by every visitor of the courtyard. All those hugs left their devastating mark. Year after year, polished bronze was turning thinner, until in 2014 holes appeared on Juliet’s left breast, because the statue was hollow.
The damaged Juliet was transferred for retirement into the museum lobby. You can see him even without going inside, she’s clearly visible through the window. During transportation, it turned out that the romantic couples used to push through the hole in her breast their notes and even keys from the locks that were hung in the courtyard on the bars. The second Juliet was put on the empty pedestal. She was created by a sculptor who was a former student of the author of the first Juliet, using a silicone cast taken from the previous statue. But of course, the new one had to be immediately aged by rubbing her breast and forearm to a shine, so that it would correspond to the usual image.
Juliet suffered from an excess of attention from tourists. For many years in a row, the arches and walls of the gateway leading to Juliet’s courtyard were covered with a thick layer of graffiti, notes, photographs, stickers, chewing gums, adhesives, and any other materials on which to write. Everyone wanted to leave their mark. Tourists were climbing up to write their names as high as possible, almost under the ceiling. It was an impossible mission for the guardian to catch and fine the violators, he clearly could not cope with this crowd alone.
In the fall of 2019, the situation changed radically. The restorers didn’t just clean part of the gateway, as it has already happened before.
They scraped off everything that the tourists had stuck, washed the marble to perfect whiteness, and plastered the walls with a categorical admonishment: whoever soils the walls will be sentenced to prison for a year or fined for 3,000 euros! Do you think this will be enough to keep the walls clean?