‘For I will raise her statue in pure gold,
That whiles Verona by that name is known,
There shall no figure at such rate be set
As that of true and faithful Juliet.’
In fair Verona stands a forlorn Juliet Capulet, better known as Giulietta Capuleti, in the courtyard of la Casa di Giulietta, where she has been since 1972. She is a bronze statue, appearing almost golden, wearing a long nightgown, with one hand holding the edge of the skirt and another hand clasped over her left breast. She is beautiful, yet she wears a melancholic expression with her head tilted to the side and her eyes slightly downcast. Here she waits faithfully until she beholds her Romeo again.
There are in fact three – or four – such Juliet’s, two of which are in München, Germany, one of the partner cities of Verona, Italy. What is interesting to note is that the gifting of Juliet replicas to Verona’s other sister cities does not appear to be common practise. Aside from München, Ningbo, a city in China known for its own tragic couple, the Butterfly Lovers, recently received a Juliet statue in 2007, though I have been unable to find any photographic proof.
The two statues in München were gifted in 1974 (note: at least one of them was gifted that year), one standing by the Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall) in Marienplatz and another in Shakespeareplatz in Bogenhausen. They bear the inscription Julia, the German version of her name.
I had lived in München before but had never heard about the second Juliet until last week. I decided I would pay a visit to this little-known Juliet on Valentine’s Day. I took the S-bahn to Leuchtenbergring (though taking the U-Bahn to Prinzregentenplatz would have been closer) and walked to Shakespeareplatz. Shakespeareplatz is an elevated park (or square) in the middle of a quiet neighbourhood with large houses or villas dating back to the early 1900-1920’s. There is a playground in one corner and the Juliet statue faces the corner across the park.
Unlike the popular Juliet in Marienplatz, with an obvious golden left breast and left arm, this Juliet was a darker bronze, untouched by the throngs of rude tourists seeking good luck in love. She looked lonely, as if she were the one banished to another land, never to see her love again. Nevertheless, it was far more peaceful here. I regretted not bringing a rose for her, not that I believed it would bring me any luck, but it was my Valentine’s tradition to always have a rose.
‘Heaven is here,
Where Juliet lives, and every cat and dog
And little mouse, every unworthy thing,
Live here in heaven and may look on her,
But Romeo may not.’
By the time I made my way to Marienplatz to see the other Juliet, I saw that someone had already left a single rose for her. Legend has it that leaving a rose and/or cupping the breast of Juliet will give one the chance of undying love – if you believe such things. Luckily at the time, I did not have to witness the tourists and locals hanging on her arms or groping her breast. I snapped a photo of Juliet, made a wish, and went on my way.
The tale of a pair of star-crossed lovers from feuding families who were forced apart and only reunited in death is, for many, a silly love story. Yet it has somehow touched the hearts of millions throughout centuries, drawing visitors to Verona and leaving hundreds of letters for Juliet. Of all the heroines, Juliet must know and understand love best. Perhaps it is the pain, the ache we feel vicariously. To be separated, unable to see one another, never knowing when the next meeting would take place, is suffocating. We hope against hope that better times will come. Yet in the final scene between the ill-fated couple, our hopes are shattered and we are left pondering if only’s. If only Romeo had read the letter. If only he had waited and not drunk poison. If only Juliet had woken up earlier. Then what would have happened? Would there have been a happy ending? And if it had ended happily, would it still have moved us?
Sometimes, it’s the tragedies that make the best love stories. This couple may have been on a whirlwind romance but when faced with obstacles, they persevered and had hope. For them, there was no one else, not even if they had lived for decades to come.
Now, you may see it differently and argue otherwise, but as I stood looking at the Juliet’s on Valentine’s day, I felt that she knew my sadness best. She would hope that my future would be more felicitous.
If you are looking for a new book to read, I recommend one of my favourites, Juliet by Anne Fortier. Coincidentally, I’d first seen the novel in Munich in 2011 but did not read it until I’d returned to Vancouver. It is my favourite retelling of Romeo and Juliet. The novel is set in two different time periods, taking readers on an adventure filled with mystery and romance around Siena, Italy (rather than Verona). I won’t spoil it but it leaves readers satisfied and hopeful.
Rumours had it that the novel would be adapted for film but I have not read any more updates since. Let’s hope the rumours are true. 🙂