Torre dei Lamberti
The Lamberti Tower is the highest building in Verona, and even modern houses cannot exceed its 83-meter height, because it is prohibited by the city charter. Previously, such a restriction was logical: any tall buildings would obscure the view from the main tower.
Why was the Lamberti Tower important? Because to protect the city, not only the walls themselves were important but also the constant monitoring of what was happening behind them. In Verona, patrols walked along the walls for this purpose. If they noticed any danger, they could give a signal (for example, lit a fire), and then their fellow guardsmen at the Lamberti Tower would ring the bell, warning the townspeople about an emergency.
The “Lamberti” in the name of the communal tower is the memory of the family that once began to build it for their own housing. But they never lived here: the municipality needed this building.
It took literally ages to build this tower: while the government of the town passed from hand to hand it wasn’t the right time for construction. To stop this, in 1403 a lightning struck the tower and stopped works for 45 years. Nevertheless, the Veronese were persistently raising up the tower walls. Meanwhile, prisoners lived inside, along with those whose work was related to the tower: sentinels, jailers, and ringers. They were paid a small salary, but they did not pay for housing and, also, were exempted from taxes and military service.
In total, the construction lasted from 1172 to 1464, when they erected a roof over an octagonal gazebo for bells. These massive bells are genuine masterpieces.
The largest one weighs 4,215 kg. and is decorated with inscriptions, patterns, coats of arms, images of saints, evangelical symbols, and even an appeal of the bell to the people: “I, the bell, cast for the money of the Sovereign Venice and thanks to Alexander’s mastery, spread ringing blows. Calling in all directions, I declare to the people solemn rituals in honor of the Divine, punishment for the guilty, joy to the fathers”.
Usually, bells call people to Mass, while here they were used to regulate the working hours of artisans or to summon a city council. If they called out of schedule, it was either a fire signal or a call to arms. Another minor bell rang every hour, which was very useful when there were no pocket watches. By the way, the clock that now adorns tower has been there since 1779 and it still shows the right time, falling behind for no more than a couple of minutes.
Now the courtyard of the Palace of Justice meets you with calm and silence. Over the past century, the area has lost its significance. Throughout the 16th century, there was a grain market, controlled by the Venetian governors, but in 1576, after a crop failure and the ensuing epidemic, the market changed its purpose. They sold flour for the poor at reasonable prices in small shops, located around the perimeter.
And what was there in the building surrounding the courtyard? This striped structure is called the “Palazzo Della Ragione” (“Palace of Justice”). Initially, there was a city council and other important organizations: salt depots, customs, which monitored silk production, a tribunal, and a pledged property warehouse. Later, a college of notaries and the city archive moved in. Under the Venetians, there were judicial offices, representatives of professional corporations, sanitary services, and the tax chamber. There was even a prison, placed directly under the roof: three wards for men and one for women.
After the withdrawal of Venice in 1797, the palace changed again: the French partially sold it into personal property, preserving only one wing of the building for public needs, such as salt and tobacco depots, and the tax department. Naturally, privates preferred to buy premises on the ground floor to turn them into apartments and shops. Since the middle of the 19th century, there was an art academy, so that one could see artists and their fans passing by in the courtyard.
In the 20th century, the entire building was given to lawyers, as is evidenced by a plaque with the inscription “ufficiali giudiziari” (“bailiffs”): it’s still on the wall of the arch through which you have passed into this courtyard. They forgot to remove it in 1980 when the court was transferred to another building, and this one was simply left empty to wait for the restoration, which ended only in 2007.
Nowadays, the palace houses a Gallery of Modern Art, in one of the halls of which weddings are held. Such a strange combination happened for a historical reason. When there was a college of notaries in the palace, they had to take an oath on the Bible before starting their work. For convenience, a small chapel had been installed directly at the premises. In this chapel, the Bible was stored and the walls were painted with frescoes that have survived to this day.
Since there is a beautiful hall in a beautiful place, why not use it for weddings? Besides, there is an impressive staircase along which brides so spectacularly walk these days, completely unaware of the fact that once criminals were walking the same steps heading for trial. In any case, it was here that human destinies were decided and are still being decided.