Romeo and Juliet

 

Raise your hand if you don’t know the story of Romeo and Juliet, retold countless times in every possible form and media. For those with their arms up: a girl and boy from two feuding families in Verona happen to follow in love against all odds and common sense. They secretly marry and plan to elope, but fate conspires against them. An intricate plan involving Juliet taking a potion that simulates death goes awry, and when Romeo finds her, he believes she’s actually dead. Hence he kills himself just in time to see her open her eyes. Juliet can’t stand the tragedy and suicides too. Love triumphs – in a very awful way, at least.

This tragedy, famously told by Shakespeare in a play, actually has very ancient origins that can be traced to ancient Greece. It is however mentioned in many works including the Divine Comedy, and with each retelling it became more and more focused until the names of the families, the town and even the very palace where Juliet lived have been defined with precision. The latter is of special significance, since that is where Romeo climbed a vine to reach his love’s balcony during an especially romantic night which is key to the story. There is only one problem: this is all just a fabrication. While it is true that Verona had two families bearing the same names of the story, there is no historical proof of any feud, nor of any starcrossed love story between them. In fact, the Cappelletti (and not ‘Capuleti’) family ran a pharmacy and later an hospice in the alleged palace – which had no balcony to speak of until 1938. That would be when the building was renovated into the foyer for a theatre, and architect Antonio Avena thought of replicating the look of the set for the 1936 George Cukor blockbuster movie, itself  inspired by a painting by Hayez. “Juliet’s palace and balcony”, situated in a small internal courtyard, immediately became a tourist attraction visited by people coming from all over the world to profess their love in such a setting, and still is. Today you can even rent the balcony for your marriage photos, but the best part of the (free) visit surely is perusing the thousands of love letters, graffiti and small artworks left by enamored visitors all over the short passage leading to the courtyard. Love really conquers all, even when it is just a movie set.