Verona’s history dates back to ancient times when the Indo-European population (the Euganei and Reti and possibly also the Etruscans) settled at the place where the course of the clear river slowed, caressing the fertile hills that surrounded it. The natural resources of the area made it an ideal location for a new city, the nucleus of which was built atop the hill where San Pietro castle now stands. Verona’s first significant contact with ancient Rome was in 216 BC, when the city allied itself with the Romans at the Battle of Canne. However, it did not officially become a Roman city until 49 BC after which time, because of its political importance and magnificent monuments (second only to Rome), Verona became known as Piccola Roma (Little Rome).
After the fall of the Roman Empire, Verona’s history is confused with legend. What is known is that the Ostrogothian King Teodorico brought his people to the region, choosing Verona to house his court where he ruled from a regal palace he built in the hills. His successor, King Alboino, ruled Verona during the period that the city was the capital of the Longobards of Italy. When Desiderio (the last of the Longobards) was defeated by the powerful Carlo Magno, Magno’s son Pipino elected the beautiful Verona as his place of residence.
During Medieval times, the bitter fight for dominance of Verona between the leading families of the area, ended with the Scaligeri family taking control in 1277 and maintaining rule for the next 110 years. The Scaligeri transformed the city both physically, with the erection of countless magnificent buildings, and culturally, through a strong patronage of the arts. They supported painters and poets such as Giotto, Altichiero, Dante Alighieri (who dedicated the final part of his Divine Comedy to his benefactor) and Petrarch. It was in this period, according to legend, that the tragic lovers Romeo and Juliet were said to have lived, immortalised in the work of William Shakespeare.
Throughout the Renaissance, Verona was a part of the Republic of Venice and it zealously soaked up the splendour of the period’s art, culture and society. The nobility and new middle class of wealthy merchants enriched the city and its populace, constructing sumptuous gardens, ornate palaces, grand houses and magnificent churches that transformed the city into the romantic utopia it still is today. The Verona of this era was at once a social, cultural and economic fortress. In 1796 Napoleon arrived in Verona (then a city of strategic military importance and consequently the site of many fierce battles). While initially Napoleon inspired hope in the Veronese with promises of liberation and independence, he eventually passed control of Verona to the Austrians in exchange for territories closer to France. Consequently, in the first half of the nineteenth century Verona was an important Austrian stronghold, until it was united with Italy in 1866. The many great powers that have ruled Verona during its long history have all left their mark on the city and today, evidence of their presence and influence can be seen in the architecture, art, cuisine and attitude of the community.