Letters, Lessons, and Love in Verona
Verona, a city located on the river Adige in Italy, is famous for its architectural and natural beauty, its opera season performances in the Roman Arena, and its association with Shakespeare’s famous love story of Romeo and Juliet. “The City of Love” attracts thousands of tourists every year who come to experience its magic and romance.
The Tragic Love Story
Did Romeo and Juliet really exist?
While popular tradition says yes, the Veronese chronicles of the 13th century do not provide any historical evidence of the tragic story. According to literary sources, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet took place in Verona in 1302 under the rule of Lord Bartolomeo I della Scala.
The Montague and Capulet families referred to in the story actually lived in 13th-century Verona. Most of us might think of Shakespeare’s classic telling of this tragic romance as the original story, but the first to write about the two rival families was actually author Dante Alighieri in his famous work The Divine Comedy. Shakespeare’s 1597 version popularized the tale, and it soon became a popular worldwide myth.
An ancient vine-covered passageway leads to the medieval Casa di Giulietta. The walls on the outside of the house are covered in graffiti, sticky notes, and heart-shaped locks with initials written on them, and a romantic atmosphere hangs in the air.
Visitors to the city can wander down the small road of Via Cappello to experience the magic of the letters to Juliet.
In this small courtyard, you’ll find Juliet’s famous balcony, and for a small fee you can enter the house and have your own Juliet moment overlooking the scenery. Here you’ll also find a statue of Juliet—and according to local legend, rubbing the right breast of the statue will bring good luck in love.
Opposite the statue of Juliet, a small red mailbox hangs near the tunneled entrance to the courtyard, stuffed with letters of all shapes and sizes.
Letters to Juliet
The tradition of sending letters to Juliet goes back to the 19th century.
In the 1930s, people would leave letters to Juliet in her tomb in Verona, a red marble sarcophagus that has been widely speculated to have been used to bury Juliet, and the crypt is the setting for the tragic finale of the popular story.
Ettore Solimani, the guardian of the tomb at the time, started replying to the letters and offering advice, becoming the first “secretary of Juliet” and kickstarting the tradition.
The Juliet Club, based in Verona, was officially founded in 1972, with the goal to keep this tradition and the legend of Romeo and Juliet alive.
The club receives over 50,000 letters each year, and 45 secretaries from all over the world work on a voluntary, nonprofit basis to reply to each heartfelt message and letter.
The Force of Life
“Love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs; Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers’ eyes; Being vex’d a sea nourish’d with lovers’ tears: What is it else? a madness most discreet, A choking gall and a preserving sweet.” (William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, 1.1.217–221).
Elena, a woman who has worked with the Juliet Club as a volunteer secretary for over 18 years, had her own insights to share about the tradition of letter writing and the love that keeps all of us going.
“We do a great service, but we also get a lot from it,” she says.
Born and raised in Italy, Elena had always known that the Juliet Club existed, but she didn’t exactly understand what they did. One of her friends, the director of the Juliet Club, enlisted her to assist with letter translations, and Elena fell in love with her position as a secretary for Juliet.
“People write to Juliet because she’s a universal symbol,” she says. “She’s a symbol of a strong girl who made very passionate choices.”
Elena expressed that even though Juliet may have been a fictional character, her story is an inspiration for many to keep searching for all kinds of love.
“People of all ages from all countries write about their love problems but not necessarily relation-ships, it’s also about family, friends, love for oneself,” Elena says. “Love is not just about relationships; it’s the force of life, . . . the force that brought us here.”
Whatʼs in a Letter?
Through reading letters from people all over the world, Elena has learned that we are all the same. Elena says that one of the biggest lessons she’s learned as a secretary is that “there are so many things that make us all the same,” and that at the Juliet Club, the secretaries focus on those similarities, on what makes people human.
Love is what makes us human. Through connecting with others, we defy our own limits, and writing a letter is an excellent way to do just that.
The Juliet Club is always looking for additional volunteers, so if you happen to be in Verona, you can be a part of this beautiful mission and respond to letters people have sent to Juliet. Simply reach out to the club via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and give them the details of your travel dates and the number of people participating.
In Verona, you also can take the opportunity to see the Juliet Club letter archives, since they keep copies of all the original letters people send in, dating back several decades.
Write Your Own Letter
“One fire burns out another’s burning, One’s pain is lessen’d by another’s anguish” (William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, 1.2.19–20).
Whether fact or fiction, the legend of Romeo and Juliet lives on through the Juliet Club and the thousands of letters received every year.
Visitors to the city can send their own letters to Juliet by dropping them in the red mailbox at the Casa di Giulietta courtyard, by mailing them from home, or by sending an email.
What should you include in a letter?
First, address the letter to Juliet. it might help to imagine her as a trusted friend or family member, someone you can share your thoughts and feelings with.
Second, find your why. Are you writing for advice? Or maybe you're writing for comfort or general guidance.e Recognizing why you are writing will help you with the direction of your letter.
Third, write from the heart. Writing honestly and openly can help bring clarity to your situation and might even give you the answers you are seeking before receiving a reply from Juliet.
After completing your letter and sealing it with love, it's ready to make the journey to Juliet.
Send in your own letter to Juliet:
Vicolo Santa Cecilia 9,
37121, Verona, Italy