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Verona Arena

History and Architecture

The Verona Arena (Arena di Verona in Italian) is a breathtaking Roman amphitheater that was built in the first century AD (although the precise date is not known, since it was not inscribed anywhere in the structure). It is estimated that, in its first years, the arena could host 30,000 people, who reached it from all over the Empire. Today, because of the demolition of some parts of the site and because of safety rules, it can accommodate only half that crowd.
Picture of the Verona Arena by flickr user Chaim Gabriel Waibel under license Creative Commons
The precise date of construction is not the only thing that is unclear about the first years of the arena. Another enigma regards exactly what kind of games and shows were offered to the public. It is certain that ancient sports and hunting games were played. It is very likely that there were gladiator fights as well. Sadly, persecution of early Christians might have taken place in the Arena as well.
Since it could provide good protection, the arena was used as a hiding place during the wars following the fall of the Roman Empire. When these wars subsided, different governments found very diverse uses for the Verona arena:
  • Again, as a site for animal and human fights (Dante describes one of these cruel fights in the Inferno)
  • As a confinement site for people who were not liked by the government
The works to restore the beauty of the arena began only in the 19th century. Napoleon was the last ruler who used the arena for reasons other than culture (he made a concentration camp for his prisoners out of it); after that grim period, the arena began to be used for operas, ballet and concerts.
The most famous productions that have taken place in the Verona Arena are:
  • In 1822, after the Congress of Verona, the opera Santa Alleanza by Gaetano and Gioacchino Rossini was conducted by the latter in the arena
  • In 1856, there was a complete opera season for the first time
  • In 1913, with the Aida performance, the arena was officially devoted to opera and ballet (except for the occasional filming of some historical movies)
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