Sunday, August 12, 2007

Casa di Giulietta , Verona

Perhaps the strangest thing we encountered on our recent visit to Italy was La Casa di Giulietta in Verona. The house originally dates back to the 13th century but has been modified over the years including a 1930's reconstruction of a renaissance balcony. The original owners of the house were the Dal Cappella family and their coat of arms is over the arched entrance to the courtyard. The similarity between the family name and Capulet, led some to surmise that they may have been the inspiration for Shakespeare's story, however, it was during the inter war depression that the legend really came into it's own. The City Council, or what passed for the tourist board in the 1920's turned the property into a museum, began advertising the new attraction as Juliet's House in the hope that the increase in tourism would kick start the local economy, and create a few jobs. However, it has taken on a life of it's own. Visitors flock from all over the world to touch the right breast of the bronze Juliet statue (for luck) and leave messages asking for Juliet's help in matters of love. These notes are stuck to the walls in the entrance archway by means of gum which has been chewed by both partners in a relationship for maximum effect. Not to be outdone the 13th century convent of San Francesco al Corso, which by 1935 was controlled by the Civic Museums, was opened at the site of Juliet's tomb. Even here the walls are graffitied with messages and requests for help in matters of love.

Okay I confess that I paid money to go into the tomb, but I should say that the convent complex has been turned into a nice little museum/gallery and was in itself worth the three euro entry fee. However, the museum are cynically perpetuating the racket by virtue of having one room, a restoration of a complete set of mural decorations rescued from a riverside palazzo's that was demolished to make way for flood defenses, which is hired out for wedding ceremonies.

I suppose what I find most disturbing about this is that this is another example of people not being able to separate fact from fiction. Just as the Da Vinci Code has visitors flocking to Roslyn many of who are convinced that it has links with the Priory of Sion (which doesn't exist) and the Freemasons (who exist but apparently have nothing to do with Roslyn), the house and tomb have people visiting who are so blinded by their own fantasy that they not only want a fictional character to be real but they also want this figment of a dead playwright's imagination to fix their broken hearts and relationships. From an anthropological view it is interesting as this is effectively the creation of a saint/goddess together the associates pilgrimage and ritual, but on the other hand it could also be said to be a study of just how gullible people are.

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