Plans to curtail the number of tourists who flock to Verona for a selfie beneath the balcony where Romeo is said to have wooed Juliet have been blocked amid a feud over the site that has lasted more than a decade.
Tourists can enter the tiny courtyard – free-of-charge – simply to take a photo of the balcony or to rub their hand on the right breast of a bronze statue of Juliet as part of a ritual that is said to bring luck in love.
But the experience is far from romantic: before Covid-19 struck, up to 1,000 people at a time would cram into the 400-metre space while creating long queues on Via Cappello outside.
The vast majority forgo a visit to the adjacent Casa di Giulietta, a museum which houses a collection of paintings, Renaissance-era costumes and the bed that featured in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
Several Verona mayors over the last 10 years have tried to introduce measures to manage the flow, but always come up against fierce opposition from the owners of the handful of businesses located in the courtyard.
The site still drew big crowds last summer despite the pandemic, and security guards were hired to ensure no more than 24 people entered the courtyard at a time.
The current mayor, Federico Sboarina, tried to go a step further by installing turnstiles at the site, with visitors booking entrance tickets online. But the owners of the two gift shops and a B&B appealed to the administrative court of the Veneto region, which said the courtyard is not a public-owned space and blocked the proposal.
“The entrance to Juliet’s courtyard is currently regulated by security guards and so it’s inexplicable that we cannot do the same with turnstiles,” said Sboarina. “Given the Covid protocols and public safety, we can no longer allow overcrowding in the courtyard.”
Over the long term, the authorities were aiming to use the turnstiles to limit the courtyard’s visitor numbers to no more than 44 at a time.
The Casa di Giulietta is a renovated 13th-century residence that once belonged to a noble family, the del Cappellos, who are believed by locals to have inspired the fictional family of Juliet Capulet in Shakespeare’s play. The balcony was added to the building in the 20th century.
Despite the story being fictional, the courtyard attracted 3 million visitors a year before the pandemic.
“And of this number, not even 300,000 went into the museum,” said Vincenzo Tiné, the Veneto region’s superintendent for cultural heritage who supported Sboarina’s plans. “Instead, they went to take a selfie under the false balcony of Juliet.”
Tiné added: “The business owners are obviously interested in maintaining an influx as it means custom. But Verona suffers from over-tourism and we need a solution.”
The exit of the Teatro Nuovo also backs on to the courtyard. Zeno Poggi, the president of an association that manages the theatre, said: “We need to resolve this problem but with good sense. The solution needs to be agreed by everyone.”