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Spooktacular Challenge – The devil and the Arena of Verona

Ed over at the Ed Mooney Photography has been running the Capturing History Challenge for several weeks. If you never visited, do it right now! It is a weekly photo challenge for pictures of historic places taken by the participants, going up every Wednesday on Ed’s blog. I’ve taken part once (here’s where you can see the gallery with my Torre dei Lamberti) and plan to do so again. When Ed came up with this idea for a Halloween special edition I just couldn’t resist.

The idea is to enter photos of historic sites with a spooky story or legend attached to them.
How cool is that?

Spooktacular Challenge 2015

Of course, given the subject of my trilogy, I went for a ghost story in my city – Verona – and would you imagine? I found NONE.
There are lots of ghost stories all over the province, usually attached to one or other of our many castles, but none, I repeat, none in Verona.
I mean, how’s that? We have the most famous story about lovers who took their lives for love and no ghost? That’s just disgraceful! Although I’ll admit, Ed might have a point when he tells me, “Maybe ghosts in Verona don’t like to show themselves.”
I just had to cope with that, right? But it wasn’t all bad, because this gave me the possibility to choose for the challenge one of my favourite places in Verona: the Arena.

Arena of Verona - Piazza Bra

The Arena

Arena of Verona (outside)

The Arena has stood here for some 2000 years, she’s an old lady with a lot of history.

She was probably built by emperor Augustus during the I century AD in the local Veronase pink marble. She originally stood outside the city walls so to allow people from the country and neighbouring cities to enter it without entering Verona proper. But in 265 AD the threat of the barbarians prompted emperor Gallieno to build a curtain of walls around her too.

She’s an amphitheatre, the third in size in Italy after the Coliseum in Rome and the amphitheatre in Capua. Today, she can sit about 22.000 people. It appears it was almost 30.000 in her heydays.

Shaped as an ellipsis like all amphitheatres to allow a better acoustic, she’s 74 m. long on her long axis and 45 m. on her short axis. There’s a floor in the centre covered in packed dirt: the ‘harena’ as it was called by Romans. Even if now they aren’t visible, there are tunnels underneath the floor, which once allowed to operate machines for the games. The cavea is made up of 45 rings of steps, each about 45 cm high, that act as seats. No, it isn’t particularly comfortable, believe me on that – though when you go see a show in the Arena you hardly care about it.

There used to be two outer rings of arches, but today only the inner one is still intact with its 72 arches. Of the outer ring, only a small fragment remains, what we Veronasi call The Wing – and that’s where the spooky part of the story comes in.

The legend

Wing of the Arena (outside)

The Arena is an imposing building even today, so imagine what she must have looked like to Medieval people. They believed men couldn’t have built it.
In fact, legend has it that there was once a nobleman who was accused of a horrible crime and sentenced to death. The day before his sentence was carried out, he promised that if his life was spared, he would build a beautiful theatre for the people of the city. He was told they would spare his life if he could build that theatre in just one night.
Desperate, he cried in his cell, and at night the devil appeared. He promised he would build the theatre if the nobleman surrendered his soul to him – which the nobleman did do.
So a hoard of demons rose from the ground and started building the Arena. But when the nobleman saw them, he regretted his pact and started to pray the Virgin Mary to save him, because he repented his former life.
Moved by his pledge, the Virgin Mary sent her angel to toll the morning bells before the sun rose. Surprised by the sound of the bell when it was still night, the demons fled, never completing the theatre, and because the pact wasn’t fulfilled on his part, the devil couldn’t claim the nobleman’s soul.

I agree, this legend doesn’t make much sense.

It actually looks like the outer ring still stood until 1183, when an earthquake badly damaged it. After that, the Arena was abandoned and used as a stone cave. Then in the XVII century, she was restored and started to be used for shows and public assemblies once more.

The Wing

Inside the Arena

"THE DEVIL AND THE ARENA OF VERONA – The Arena has stood in #Verona for some 2000 years. She's an old lady with a lot of #history. And some of it is as dark as it gets #Travel Share on X

The opera season

Wing of the Arena (inside) cavea

In 1913 a Veronese tenor, Giovanni Zanatello, organised an opera show to celebrate 100 years from Giuseppe Verdi’s birth.

There’s another story here, and it may as well be a legend, though not spooky. Mr Zanatello wanted a majestic place for such an important celebration, and of course, he thought to the Arena. But he was unsure whether she was suitable for music and song, so he made an experiment. He stood in the middle of the floor with a piece of paper in his hands. A friend went up to the very last ring of seats. When Zanatello ripped the paper, his friend heard the sound perfectly from where he stood. The Arena passed the test.

The show which was enacted was the Aida, one of Verdi’s most lavish operas. It was on 10th August 1913, one of the most important events of the early 1900s, which called opera lovers from all around the world.

That was the beginning of one of the most renowned opera events worldwide. It still takes place today, probably one the most important events set in an amphitheatre. It attracts world-famous singers, directors and orchestra directors and scenographers every year. The Aida is still the queen of the season, the only show enacted every year.

But the opera isn’t the only music played in the Arena. In fact, she’s a very popular location for rock stars. Sting, Lenny Kravitz, Jamiroquai, Eric Clapton have all performed there. Orchestra director and composer Ennio Morricone has directed several concerts there. In the last decade, rock operas have also been performed, The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Riccardo Cocciante being the first and most popular still today.

Seeing a show in the Arena is truly a magic experience… and not spooky at all.


I have many favourite places in Verona, but the Arena is top of my list, which accounts for me having been carried away with my camera. And you are lucky because the day I went inside to get the photos of the cavea, they were dismantling the structures for the opera season. So the floor and the cavea looked pretty messy, and I restrained myself with my camera.
But hey, I might post again.

All photos by yours truly (Sarah Zama)

THE DEVIL AND THE ARENA OF VERONA - The Arena has stood in Verona for some 2000 years, she’s an old lady with a lot of history., and some of it is as dark as it gets.
THE DEVIL AND THE ARENA OF VERONA - A legend says that the Arena of Verona was built in just one night by the Devil himself in exchange of a human soul. It didn't go well for him
How was the Arena of Verona built? May have been the devil to build it? In just one night? Let's discover it!


  • Lene Fogelberg
    Posted October 31, 2015 at 05:15

    What a magnificent monument! After reading its history I simply have to put Verona on my to-visit list next time I visit Italy! Thanks for sharing Sarah!

    • Post Author
      Posted October 31, 2015 at 07:42

      It is truly magnificent, Lene!
      Standing in the cavea is a very special sensation. Seeing the ellipsys curving around you, white under the sun. I don’t know whether for me it’s such an experience because, as a friend of mine told me, “This is your ancestors’ place, of course you feel it.” It is a strange feeling of belonging.

      The ancient entrance, with its huge stone pillars, and the light cutting in from what is now an alley beyond the Arena, always gives me a feeling of being small and in awe 🙂

      • Lene Fogelberg
        Posted November 1, 2015 at 13:21

        Can’t wait to experience it for myself!

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  • Anabel
    Posted October 31, 2015 at 13:45

    Beautiful! And I like the legend too. I have never been to Verona – it has gone on my list too.

    • Post Author
      Posted November 2, 2015 at 08:04

      Ah, Anabel, I’m happy you like my city well enough to think about coming.
      If you do, remember to give me a buzz! 😉

  • Robin Rivera
    Posted October 31, 2015 at 16:30

    Wonderful photos! I’m always amazed at how well built these Roman era monuments are. I would LOVE to see Aida there. Maybe someday.
    I feel for you, every place needs a great ghost story! I don’t think my little town has one, but where I used to live had many! You could even take a haunted tour every October. Thanks for sharing your pictures.
    Good luck with NaNo! I can’t believe this is year ten for you! Wow! It’s only my third year, and I’m finding that my experience is a lot like how you described in your last post. I’m much more social this year. I think it’s because my stress level is lower, I know I can win if I put my mind too it. Happy Halloween!

    • Post Author
      Posted November 2, 2015 at 08:08

      Well, honestly, I don’t know about seeing the Aida. It’s one of the longest operas they offer in the Arena, about 3 hours long. Reason why I’ve never gone so far 😉
      But during the opera season there are lots of offerings. They say Carmen as envisioned by Zeffirelli is one of the best.

      I can’t believe it’s my 1oth NaNo as well. But at the same time it feels kind of a result in itself.
      Good writing!!!

  • Crispian Thurlborn
    Posted November 1, 2015 at 07:20

    That is a shame about the lack of ghosts. Clearly, they have all packed up and moved to Venice!

    Great article, Sarah! I’ve always had a fondness for all things Roman since that was something I covered at university. Love the photos. They remind me a little of the amphitheater I explored in El Djem when I was on my travels, long ago in the distant days of my youth.

    So… I think Verona needs you to write your own ghost story. “The Lonely Ghost of Verona” a sad tale about the ghost that got left behind… a bit like “Home Alone” 😉

    • Post Author
      Posted November 2, 2015 at 08:11

      Hey, your right. You know, as Tolkien wanted to write a mythology for his people, I should write a mythology for mine.

      Ooops! That bolt nearly turned me into ashes!!!! Missed by a whisker!

  • Julia
    Posted November 3, 2015 at 09:43

    Wonderful photos and story, thanks for sharing. I’m planning a trip to Verona soon and the Arena is on my list of “must-see” destinations now!

    • Post Author
      Posted November 4, 2015 at 20:22

      Hi Julia, thanks for stopping by.
      I’m sure you’ll like the Arena. It’s a special place 🙂
      Enjoy your stay in Verona.

  • cw hawes
    Posted November 4, 2015 at 14:37

    Wonderful article, Sarah, and beautiful pictures. I just may have to add Verona to my gotta see list! 🙂

    • Post Author
      Posted November 4, 2015 at 20:24

      LOL! 🙂
      If you ever happen to be in these parts, don’t forget to give me a buzz. Coffee and homemade cakes are never missing from my home.

  • Ali Isaac
    Posted November 6, 2015 at 16:06

    Hi Sarah, I loved this post! What an amazing place, and so wonderful that it is still in use and cared for and appreciated today.

    • Post Author
      Posted November 6, 2015 at 18:02

      Thanks for stopping by, Ali 🙂
      It is indeed an Amazing place. When firneds visit me, I Always schedule a visit to the Arena. It’s special. For me.

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