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The Verona Arena (Italian: Arena di Verona) is a Roman amphitheatre in Piazza Bra in Verona, Italy built in the 1st Century AD. The Verona Arena is the world’s 3rd largest amphitheatre to survive from Ancient Rome.
It is among the best preserved ancient structures of its kind, which is why it is still in use today. Once holding nearly 30,000 people, nowadays, for security reasons, the maximum attendance is 15,000 people.
The building itself was built in AD 30 on a site which was then beyond the city walls. The most solemn monument in Roman Verona, with various orders of tiers of seats and, in the center, an area or arena for gladiator shows, struggles with wild beasts or other events of a popular nature.
It was built with well-squared blocks of marble in the 1st Century AD, between the end of the reign of Emperor Augustus and the start of Emperor Claudius’s reign. The round façade of the building was originally composed of white and pink limestone from Valpolicella.
It is one of the best-conserved monuments of its kind. The perimeter of the current seating stalls is 1283 ft, and including the wing it is 1427 ft.
The amphitheatre is built from 3 concentric circles, of which only 1 side of the external ring remains. It is commonly referred to as the “Wing”. The ludi (shows and games) staged there were so famous that spectators came from many other places, often far away, to witness them.
The tiers of the amphitheatre are all made of Veronese marble. Underneath the tiers there are galleries, cells and passageways (which cannot be visited today) which once served and still serve, in part, for the complex operation of the amphitheatre.
After a major earthquake in 1117 almost completely destroyed the structure’s outer ring, except for the so-called Ala (Wing), the stone was quarried for re-use in other buildings. Nevertheless, it impressed medieval visitors to the city, one of whom considered it to have been a labyrinth, without ingress or egress.
The Roman amphitheater has been used continuously throughout the centuries to host shows and games: gladiator fights during Roman times, tournaments in the Middle Ages and from the 18th Century until the present day the arena is the setting for Verona’s spectacular opera performances. The Arena is the most renowned Veronese monument.
Today the Arena is set in the Historical Center and acts as a backdrop for Piazza Bra. But once upon a time, when the Romans built it, the monument was located at the margins of the urban area, outside the circle of the walls.
The Arena summarizes in itself almost 20 centuries of local history. Through time, it has become the very symbol of the city.
The fame that the amphitheatre has enjoyed in the civic consciousness of the Veronese has gradually led the monument to increasingly assume the character of the very symbol of ancient nobility. It is from here that the measures for its conservation, and many deep restorations, originate.
Ciriaco d’Ancona was filled with admiration for the way it had been built and Giovanni Antonio Panteo’s civic panegyric De laudibus veronae, 1483, remarked that it struck the viewer as a construction that was more than human. In 1913, the Arena was finally discovered for what it has become known for today, as the first true and most important open-air opera theatre in the world.
The first interventions to recover the arena’s function as a theatre began during the Renaissance. Some operatic performances were later mounted in the building during the 1850s, owing to its outstanding acoustics.
And in 1913, operatic performances in the arena commenced in earnest due to the zeal and initiative of the Italian opera tenor Giovanni Zenatello and the impresario Ottone Rovato. The initial 20th Century operatic production at the arena, a staging of Giuseppe Verdi‘s Aida, took place on 10 August of that year, to mark the birth of Verdi 100 years before in 1813.
Musical luminaries such as Puccini and Mascagni were in attendance of that original performance. Since then, summer seasons of opera have been mounted continually at the arena, except in 1915–18 (for WWI) and 1940–45 (for WWII).
In modern times, at least 4 productions (sometimes up to 6) are mounted each year between June and August. During the winter months, the local opera and ballet companies perform at the L’Accademia Filarmonica.
Modern-day travelers are advised that admission tickets to sit on the arena’s stone steps are much cheaper to buy than tickets giving access to the padded chairs available on lower levels. Candles are distributed to the audience and lit after sunset around the arena.
Every year over 500,000 people see productions of the popular operas in this arena. The arena has featured many of world’s most notable opera singers including: Giuseppe Di Stefano, Maria Callas, Tito Gobbi and Renata Tebaldi among others.
A number of conductors have appeared there too. The official arena shop has historical recordings made by some of them available for sale.
In recent times, the arena has also hosted several concerts of international rock and pop bands, among which Adele, Elisa, Laura Pausini, Pink Floyd, Alicia Keys, One Direction, Simple Minds, Duran Duran, Deep Purple, The Who, Dire Straits, Mike Oldfield, Rod Stewart, Sting, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Peter Gabriel, Björk, Muse, Leonard Cohen, Paul McCartney, Jamiroquai, Whitney Houston, Mumford & Sons, Kiss, Spandau Ballet and 5 Seconds Of Summer.
In 1981, 1984 and 2010 it hosted the podium and presentation of the Giro d’Italia with thousands packing the arena to watch the prizes being handed out. The opera productions in the Verona Arena had not used any microphones or loudspeakers until an electronic sound reinforcement system was installed in 2011.
On 24 September 2012 Leonard Cohen performed here as part of the First European Leg of his “Old Ideas” World Tour.
On 25 June 2013, Paul McCartney performed at the venue as part of his 2013 Tour.
Spandau Ballet played a concert at Verona Arena on 6 July 2015, as part of their Soul Boys Of The Western World Tour.
On 21 September 2015 the operatic pop group Il Volo performed in Verona for their final date of the Grande Amore Tour. The evening was recorded and broadcast by Rai1 and gained a share of 23%.
On May 28th and 29th 2016, the English singer Adele performed in Verona as part of her Adele Live 2016 Tour.
We hope you enjoyed today’s journey to Verona, and look forward to having you join us again soon. Who knows where we’ll wind up next?
Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!
Weiss, Roberto. The Renaissance Discovery of Classical Antiquity, 1969.
“Verona Opera Festival Outfitted with New Audio”. AVTechnology. 7 February 2011.
Verona Arena website (in English)