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On the traces of Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet in Italy


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On the traces of Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet in Italy.  Collage by Tatiana Kuznetsova for www.romeo-juliet-club.ru


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Joyful story in 3 parts with prologue and epilogue

(written in Russian by Olga Nikolaeva, translated into English by Romano Vatteroni)

Stories and Pictures of the film scenes' locations (Italy, 2003):


1. TUSCANIA - Romeo and Juliet's secret wedding and their death; Capulet's crypt; Laurence's cell;Friar John with his donkey, Romeo and the nurse talking of the marriage.

2. GUBBIO - The first appearance of Romeo; Benvolio and Romeo; Montague's house; Citizens' fight; Mercutio and Benvolio waiting for Romeo; Romeo's and Tybalt's duel; Romeo in Mantua.

3. PIENZA - Capulet's house and courtyard, The feast; Mercutio's speech in honour of Queen Mab

4. ARTENA - Juliet's garden and the balcony; Romeo climbing Capulet's wall, Juliet waiting for the nurse and talking to her about news from Romeo.


VERONA - the native places of  Romeo and Juliet's legend;  Juliet Club.

COSTUMES - where the costumes and the bed of the film's heroes are situated now. Our encounter with Maestro Zeffirelli.

With Leonard Whiting in Artena, 2009





Starting the trip through the film locations from Rome, the house of CinziaOnce we had the chance to learn that the author of the early Italian story about Romeo and Juliet first called it "JOYFUL STORY..." and we think that there was nothing amazing in it despite the sorrowful ending of the tale. One must note that in this context the word "joyful" does'nt mean "merry" nor "amusing", but understands Happiness in the highest meaning of this noun: the capability of experimenting THE great Love, the sacred gift from heaven of which Romeo and Juliet were so generously endowed. This "tragic happiness" is still in our days giving us enlightenment and inspiration. Our story too will be joyful, because it deals with the realization of a dream born from love and living in the name of it. Long ago, still in our school days, we saw for the first time Zeffirelli's movie "Romeo and Juliet" and it stayed with us forever, becoming the basis of our enthusiasm for Italy, interlacing it with our personal life. Since then we saw that movie many times taking for granted that the background of it was the real town of Verona. Панорама реальной Вероны, которую можно видеть в начале фильма Дзеффирелли  -  panoramic view of real Verona seen in the beginning of Zefforelli's filmOnly long time later we learnt about the places where the filming took place indeed. To visit these locations seemed to us an unrealizable dream. Several small towns scattered through central Italy far from usual touristic routes... Even if we could go to Italy (indeed we have been several times in Verona),  how could it be possible to reach such villages and how to find the locations we looked for? But one day our dream became true thanks to friends from the Italian Shakespeare Association - Cynthia and Romano. They became our good wizards and helped us in realizing a fascinating trip (we would say a sort of pilgrimage) to the places linked with "Romeo and Juliet" movie heroes. We sincerely thank them for this "joyful" discovery of Italy. One cannot help recalling Germaine De Stael' s novel "Corinne ou de l' Italie" in which the Italian heroine disclosed to her foreign friends the unique beauties of her Motherland.






Tuscania is a small town located at less than 100 km. north-east of Rome- Its name derives from Etruria (Etruscania), a vast area inhabited by the misterious, highly cultured and wealthy people of Etrurians or Etruscans since the eighth century B.C. Despite the fact that the area they ruled before Romans extended from the Emilian Adriatic sea down to Campania past Neaples, only the central Italian region of to-day Tuscany inherited their name. Strangely enough, Tuscania in not situated in Tuscany but in the Latium region on the border with Tuscany. It is known that this small fascinating town, attracted Maestro Zeffirelli with its ancient basilica of St. Peter, located on a hill in the vicinity. Under the vaults of this church and in its gloomy crypt have been shot the most joyful scene of the movie (the wedding) and the most tormenting one (the death). Also the scene of Romeo's dialogue with Juliet's nurse and that of friar Laurence's cell have been shot there.

Together with our dear friends we approached Tuscania by car anxiously anticipating the looming up of St. Peter's.. And finally, there it is, so small, with its toysh look, in the distance. We stopped for a little while, enough to get in love with its picture-like aspect and imprint it in a photo. The wind was blowing clouds through the sky and the sun appeared on the ground in stripes.  The hill and the church now would shine brightly in the sun then would get dark by the next coming cloud. Within short we got to the external walls of the temple. Before entering those sacred vaults we chose to walk around. Gusts of wind slashed our clothes, swelled our hair, though the sun was shining gently. In the churchyard we noticed a stone arch. In the movie, by that arch passed with his donkey Friar John sent by Laurence to Romeo with the fatal letter. How charming is the rose-window on the church entrance!  Although, in effect, it is not the window shown in the movie, as the latter had been created anew in Cinecitta after the style of the facade of another  ancient Tuscania church of Santa Maria Maggiore...

And now we are inside San Pietro. Under the archs, running along the walls, there is  a small stone ledge similar to a long stone bench. Here Romeo gave Juliet's nurse the news about the secret wedding. Here is the opening on the left side of the altar through which Juliet impetuosely rushed out  in her flapping dove-grey veil and threw herself  towards her joyful-tragic fate. Here are the arabesqued tiles that  "so light a foot will never wear out" (as written by Shakespeare). Five steps lead up to the altar with sacred images on the walls, where Laurence blessed the union of eternal love. Here is the precinct straight in front of the altar, with round mosaics on the floor, where stood on their knees our young heroes Romeo-Leonard and Juliet-Olivia, slightly scared by their own resolution. We scrutinize every corner of the church. Vladimir films everything. I look for Cynthia's eyes. It is important for me, in such moments, to exchange a glance with somebody who understands and shares my own emotions. Through years and distance to find such a person! Tears overwhelm me. How could I ever think that one day I happened to be here! We again take some shots, then through steps we go down to the crypt.  Along these stairs Romeo with a torch in his hand ran down to the place where, by the Director's will, was set up the gloomy Capulets tomb (in the movie Romeo seems to get into the family tomb straight from the street). Feeble electric lamps lit images of Saints on the wall and Madonna's on the apse, in front of which was Juliet's death-bed. From back, through small windows, the day-light penetrates in (in the movie this part of the crypt had been fenced by a wall.) Again, here is the granite column with carvings on the top that was clearly visible in the movie beside Juliet's coffin. I was so regretful not to have taken with me at least a little flower to be left in the crypt as I usually do when I visit Juliet's tomb in the real Verona! What could I do?... Next time... We would have liked to stay there and dream a little longer, but we had to visit also the town. When in the town we again enjoyed the view of the church, this time from far and on the back side. Later we found an ancient public fountain, very similar to the one where Mercutio "took a bath" in the movie. The old Tuscania lanes are lovely and we strolled around for a long while.


Cinzia and Olga on the background of San Pietro hill in Tuscania a view of San Pietro basilica in Tuscania with Friar John's arch The arch near which Friar John went with his donkey - the yard of San Pietro in Tuscania Olga, Cinzia and Vladimir near the entrance of  San Pietro. Tuscania Inside the church of San Pietro. Tuscania the altar of San Pietro church. Tuscania
the secret marriage rite of Romeo and Juliet The scene of Romeo and Juliet'secret wedding was shot in San Pietro  San PIetro.  Mosaic floor  before the altar -  wedding place in the film before the altar inf San Pietro. Olga and Vladimir
Romeo enters the grave place of Capulets -  the crypt of San Pietro in reality Juliet stabs herself  -  the scene was shot in the crypt of San Pietro. Tuscania San Pietro crypt. The apse, in front of which Juliet's death-bed was in the film  The wedding photo of Nadine and Roberto visiting the crypt of San Pietro

Olga and Vladimir inside the crypt of San Piero church - Capulet's family grave in the film

Mercutio before the church portal in the film Santa Maria Maggiore basilica in Tuscania looks like church front in the film The portal of Santa Maria Maggiore in Tuscania
Mercutio's fountain in the film The ancient public fountain in Tuscania looks like the one of Mercutio






Our acquaitance with the place were have been shot  the most dynamic scenes (scuffles, duels) of Romeo & Juliet movie took place in a damp and rather cool day. The sky grew dark and threatened to rain. The atmosphere in front of us was in sharp contrast with the sensation of fiery sun, burning streets and dusty stones that reigned in the movie. The weather seemed more suitable for the final of the drama. Nevertheless we decided not to loose heart and to muster our optimism.

Mount Ingino on which the town bravely climbs up, had its top covered with a veil of clouds. Close to its peak there is the basilica where rest the relics of  Saint Ubaldo, Gubbio's patron. In the same  basilica are kept three giant candles, the so called "ceri", that every year, on the occasion of the Saint's feast are run across Gubbio by the strongest men of the town. Gubbio is rich in ancient monuments, traditions and handicraft handed down to our days. The perfectly kept medioeval architecture gives a particular charm to the old town. No doubt these features were very important for the filming, but we deem that Maestro Zeffirelli was allured by Gubbio not only for its architecture; the peculiar relief of the town in which we can catch tension and dynamism supplied the suitable locations for the most vigorous scenes. Most of Gubbio ancient houses are built in light-grey stones, but this colour is not synonym of monotony; it has a sort of pearly look with shades of pink and beige. For long time I considered that colour Verona's colour, until I went there and I realized that Verona buildings in effect have more mellow and warm colours: pink, straw-yellow, brown. Just as an anticipation, I would say that Pienza left me an impression of "tasty" colours: apricot, plum, custard-yellow, tea. Towns in Italy are so different from each other! Let's go back to Gubbio.

All four of us followed the route traced by Cynthia. In order to start the climbing of the entagling streets and to find the places immortalized by the memorable scenes of the movie, we skipped the San Francesco Monastry complex and stopped in the lower square of the town. Here is an interesting construction dating back to the Renaissance "la Loggia dei Tiratori"(Crossbowmen Corporation Loggia). Such building consists of two different levels; the upper one looks like an open verandah with a lot of four-faceted columns. Cynthia explained us that here was set the scene where in the morning after the dance Benvolio and Mercutio discuss how Romeo should react to Tybalt's letter. During the conversation the two characters were on this stone "verandah" and behind them one could see a dim view of the town. After the Loggia, we started walking up the colourful streets towards the next object of our research, in the meawhile getting amazed by the beautiful buildings and tempting little shops selling souvenirs and other items. After a while we reached the most important historical square:"Piazza della Signoria". From here you can enjoy the most breathtaking view of the town, and here are also two representative palazzos, the most famous of which being Palazzo dei Consoli. By the way, it was its embatteled tower that appeared a few seconds during the episode of the movie when the bell announces the scuffle between Montagues and Capulets. Every year in Piazza della Signoria take place pictoresque competitions: the "Corsa dei Ceri"(the giant candle race) the 15th of May, and the "Palio della Balestra" (crossbow palio), the last Sunday of May, both attracting lots of tourists. Not far there is a small round fountain with a very funny name "Fontana dei Matti"(the fools' fountain), linked with a strange tradition, the details of which will not be explained here. You can spot this fountain in the movie if you look carefully the scene of the brawl between citizens, one of which is shown while jumping onto the fountain bowl edge. In that scene you can also see clearly the façade of a building , actually "palazzo del Bargello".

We went on but all of a sudden the rain, that till a second before was just drizzling, started pouring over us mixed with hail. Why should the weather have prepared for us such obstacles? But it is hard to scare us as we have to fulfil our sacred task. We just opened our umbrellas and spreaded ouselves against the walls of some building. When the rain got a little lighter, we resumed heroically our way.

By Via della Cattedrale we approached the most important places related to the movie. Rain by this time abated and we got excited even if soaked. After the rain, the smell of the tree foliage became sharper and we could hear birds singing from wet gardens. We stopped under a dark arch leading to a small crossing square. A narrow and steep street (Via Ducale) opened in front of us. It is right along this street that in the movie Romeo thoughtfully came up with a flower in his hand, then he stopped against the corner of the building, and for the first time we could see a close-up of his face. This house with a Gothic style entrance, into which in the movie an injuried guy was taken, now is in front of us. In a side there is a sort of brick parapet, on which in the movie Benvolio was seating with a book in his hand waiting for Romeo to come closer. Here we shot some photos and video pictures and Vladimir tried to mimic the heroes of the movie. According to the subject, around here there should be the house of Montagues family. In effetct a short passage lead us to Palazzo Ducale exit gates, a beautiful example of Renaissance architecture in Gubbio. In the movie this is Montagues' house and these gates served as background for the scene of Romeo's departure to Mantua. Beyond the door there is a small courtyard with elegant columns and pink walls. All this is practically unshown in the movie with the exception of a few columns that just flashed behind some Montagues' shoulders rushing to the fight. Right in front of the building, some steps lead to an ancient Cathedral that is not shown at all in the movie. Not far from the Cathedral there are the Museums premises, in the labyrint of which we found a cul-de-sac runner with vault ceiling and lateral arch openings. In this location was shot the scene "in Mantua" when Balthazar gave Romeo the news of Juliet's death. The entrance was closed due to restoration works and our attempts to overcome the fencing were frustrated.

Most of tourists do not go further up the level where Palazzo Ducale and the Cathedral are located. We still had to visit the place used as natural background for the scene of the brawl between Romeo and Tybalt. After a short climbing we found ourselves in a desert street that in front divided into two lanes, in the middle of which  there was a stone construction. This is clearly visible in the movie. Along the right lane came up the gang lead by Tybalt, soon after having wounded to death Mercutio. Here Romeo reaches them showing the handkerchief stained with his friend's blood, here started the fierce fighting, the heroes jumped onto the ground in front of the house a side of which was reinforced with a tall stonework. For a while the brawl took place in this square and near it (until the characters "runned into" a Cinecittà pavilion where the figthing went on and ended tragically). In the movie it is shown a tree growing in that small piece of ground; that tree is still there, it is a fig and naturally after so many years it looks much bigger. We took a few pictures in this place. Romano and Vladimir just for fun took a warlike position pointing their umbrellas against each other. Leaving the place we took from the ground some stone chips as souvenir.

Our unforgettable romantic walk through Gubbio came to an end; tired but happy we went down to the foot of the mountain where we had left our car. Next morning we planned to be in the town of Pienza.

But now we had to harry to the lake Trasimeno, in the farm "le Tassinaie" to pay visit to Nadine, a fascinating and hospitable lady who owns and manages a holiday farm where we should stay overnight. Amid a colourful landscape, atop a hill, there is a beautiful and solid building in the style of and old farming house. Aside there is a small tower "la Torretta". Inside it there is an apartment decorated with the Zeffirelli's movie heroes Romeo and Juliet that  we enjoyed to see at Nadine's invitation.


Gubbio, the view of  Mont Ingino Gubbio. Loggia dei Tiratori - where Mercutio and Benvolio were waithing for Romeo Gubbio. The Fool's Fountain - the place of citizens' fight  in the film Gubbio. Vladimir seating at the place of  Benvolio
Morning after the ball. Mercutio and Benvolio are in the place in reality called la Logia dei Tiratori . Gubbio   Gubbio. The lane - Via Ducale (to the right of the door) along which Romeo came up Gubbio. The brick parapet, on which Benvolio was seating with a book
Vladimir is standing at the same place of Romeo Romeo's first appearance in the film (at the corner of the real Via Ducale in Gubbio) Gubbio. Vladimir at the place where Romeo sat in the film Romeo talking to Benvolio in the beginning of the film
Romano, Cinzia and Vladimir near the entrance to Palazzo Ducale- Montague's house in the film The gates of Palazzo Ducale in Gubbio - Romeo's departure to Mantua was shot there The  couryard of Palazzo Ducale - Montague's house in the film Gubbio. Inside the Museum of the Cathedral - where the scene of Romeo in Mantua was shot
Gubbio. The place of the fight between Romeo and Tybalt . The fig tree shown in the film The fight between Romeo and Tybalt in the film Gubbio. Vladimir and Romano at the place of Romeo and Tybalt's fight Gubbio. The lane (to the right of the fight square) where the gang lead by Tybalt went in the film







Our short stay in "Le Tassinaie" should deserve a separate account. But today we mentally move to Pienza in order to meet with the places where have been shot the most vivid and positive, definely Renaissance-like, scenes of "Romeo and Juliet" movie: the pictoresque feast held in the Capulets' house, the first encounter of the young heroes during the clamorous dance. Also our reminiscence of the hours spent in that small "elegant" town are adorned with joyful shades consistent with the mood of its architecture. The morning we left for Pienza was sunny and there was no trace left of the clouds and rain that roared on the eve. Nature generously gave us the chance to fully enjoy the most beautiful landscapes that streamed beyond the car windows. We left behind us Umbria with Gubbio and entered the expances of Tuscany.

At this point of the report we would like to make a short digression about the story of Pienza. Once, in distant ages, in these ancient places lived Etruscans, and later Romans set up their dwellings. During the middle age, upon one of the hills in front of Mount Amiata, there was a small town, or better a village, by the name of Corsignano. It could have remained ingloriously mingled in boundless Tuscan fields and motionless hill waves if in that "shell" would'nt have appeared a wonderful pearl: an amazing architectural complex, one could say almost the embodiment of the Ideal Town dream, within the limits of a city square. The village of Corsignano was the borning place of a famous humanist, scholar and writer: Enea Silvio Piccolomini who was elected Roman Pope in 1458 . He ruled under the name of Pio II down to his death in 1664. These few years became a flourishing period for the Piccolomini's native village. The Pope devised to embody here the new town-planning concepts. The realization of the building projects, inspired by the Renaissance patterns, was granted by architect Bernardo Rossellino. Building works were carried out in four years; the result was a bright trapezoidal shaped square, with the Cathedral in front and shapely palaces sideways. The Pope's palace was built on the right of the Cathedral were Pio II was actually born. In 1462 the town received its new name of Pienza, and for a short period the Pope's court was held there. Unfortunately, after Pope Pio II's death the grand projects of further transformation of the town were not carried out. Nevertheless, what had been built till then reflects the completness of the whole work. Five centuries later the internal court-yard and some of Palazzo Piccolomini premises have been immortalized as Capulets' mansion in the Franco Zeffirelli's movie.

But let's go back to our days in Pienza. As soon as we got into the town we had to rush in full haste through the main street to its heart: Pio II square side to Palazzo Piccolomini. The building opens for visits only on given hours and we should have got there before noon. We arrived within a hair's breadth for the last visit and we had the happy chance not only to visit the refined mansion of the famous humanist, but also to walk along the same stairs, corridors and halls were the movie's events took place. Here we could recall Juliet's light run in her legendary red dress, when she was called out by her nurse in the scene before the dance. The Capulets' room scene was shot in Pio II's sleeping room. Is was easy to recognize the icon on the wall and the sumptuous bedstead with canopy. On the edge of this bed Juliet was sitting adjusting her sleeve ribbons while her nurse went into raptures with endless accounts of her youthful mischieves. Somewhere around here, in the palace corridors, Signor Capulet was listening to Paris's , marriage proposal and then both of them went into a polished wooden study (actually Pio II's library) where the householder gave Pietro directions for the dance. To our huge regret we were not allowed to take pictures inside the palace premises, but we could take a few photos going out into the loggia. From there an amazing view opens onto the hilly valley of Orcia river and onto an extinct volcano cone. On the left are visible the Cathedral apse and belfry, and below the precise geometrical designs of a pensile garden. We went into an inner small courtyard framed by a beautiful archade. In the movie the aspect of this courtyard was completed by a stone well in the center. One recalls a short episode, when after the dance, a puzzled Juliet stopped here in the darkness pricking up her hears to a distant voice calling Romeo, and in the mean time her nurse accompanied by Pietro went up the stairs into the house calling her darling.

The Cathedral bells chimed. We looked around for known movie foreshortenings. The palace colour was extremely pleasant to our eyes, looking like a mixture of tender peach with tea-rose shades in the background, and grape-pink with light bronze on the wall paintings. The frescos were scarsely visible on the walls between the windows while stood out better on the fringe over the archs. One unintentionally recalls that Verona once was called the town with painted walls. Along the fringe at regular distance are arranged relief medallions with Piccolomini's heraldic signes: a crossed shield. But in the movie in their place we see a hat-like symbol (in Italian CAPPELLO means HAT) which represents the real coat of arms of the Veronese family DAL CAPPELLO, the Shakespearian Capulets. In the movie also the palace striped walls  were shown with Veronese architectural features. Besides the windows, also the first floor loggia (now glazed-in) looks onto the courtyard. It is right here that resounded the desperate cries of the nurse after having uncovered Juliet's senseless body. We have not been able to spot where the Juliet's sleeping room interiors had been shot, but according to the movie such room was located rather far from her parents' apartments, presumably in that part of the building that we could not visit. We could'nt either locate exactly in which premises of the palace was shot the dance scene, maybe in that small room (although in the movie it looked larger) the doors of which lead straight to the small courtyard. It was not possible to recognize it because there were neither bulging columns nor heavy curtains, and no light-blue circle at the center of the floor, where the guest by the name of Leonardo performed the famous song. In other words, all the details that in the movie seemed so clear to us, very likely were only part of the.setting. In any case we were happy to see everything that was visible.

It is interesting to remarke that both in theatre and cinema the mansions of Capulets and Montagues are represented as somptuous Renaissance palaces, while Romeo's house and Juliet's house in the real Verona look much more austere and recall small walled houses. Literary sources date Romeo and Juliet's story back to the very beginning of the 14th century. The feud between the two Veronese families took its root in the previous century, when the struggles between the two party groups, Guelphs and Ghibellines were fully seething. With the passing of the time this political hostility turned into internal power struggle that reflected in the life style. There is a curious research version according to which the words "Montecchi" and "Cappelletti" (as they sound in Italian original) are not proper names but the denominations of the Veronese factions of Guelphs and Ghibellines. In the literary fiction "Montecchi and Cappelletti" became family names. It is certainly true that in the real Verona lived families bearing similar names: Monticoli and Dal Cappello. If only somebody some day would be able to make out all this mess!

But let's go back to Pienza. We took some photos in Palazzo Piccolomini courtyard, gave a farewell glance around and went out into the sunny square. We could admire once more its armonious feature, the demure beauty of the church façade and of the encircling buildings. If you want to stay alone in this place you should get here in early morning or late evening. In the F. Zeffirelli's movie we see the night aspect of this square, or more likely a part of it. Of course you remember the scene when the cheerful young men company, headed by Mercutio and Benvolio, are about to go to the feast in Capulets' house. Romeo tries his best to withheld his chums and first of all himself, but Mercutio bursted into his "forte": the Queen Mab's speech. Then this noisy procession with torchs went into the square from a small lane on the left of the Cathedral, ( in the movie only its base is visible). Crossing the square with the roaring music the company stopped a while in the place where Mercutio put on a death mask. In this episode, behind the movie heroes' shoulders, a part of a stone well flashed for a while. This well is in effect one of the most beautiful in Italy, its author being Architect Rossellino who raised Palazzo Piccolomini and other buildings in this square. In the middle of the touristic season the Rossellino's well, that local folks call Pozzo dei Cani (Dogs' Well), is literally covered with people who mostly even do not imagine the importance of that place. Going on in following the movie heroes, we must recall that Mercutio, after having put on the mask, turned into a dark street (actually Corso Il Rossellino) and walking along a projection by the palace wall (shaped as a long stone stool) started his flamboyant Queen Mab's Speech. Flaring up he jumped onto a small square at the end of the street were Romeo tried to calm him down. In reality, in that place there should be a small square in front of St. Francesco's church, but it seems that the friendly hug scene between Romeo and Mercutio was shot with a studio setting background.

Let's come back again to our days. Carrying out our farewell walk in Pienza, we got into a street starting from the Cathedral and running along the steepy hill slope on which the town rests. Here there is something like terraces with stone parapets, excellent places from where to look at the outskirts. A vast panorama opens in front of the eyes of the bewitched traveller as a sort of artistic canvas: many-coloured field quares, soft outlines of hills and far mountains. A similar panorama is visible in the movie during the scene in which Friar Laurence collects medicinal herbs. At the end of our walk our attention was attracted by the names of the nearby streets, that in an amazing way were tuned with the theme of our journey: "Via della Fortuna" (Street of Fortune), "Via dell'Amore" (Street of Love), "Via del Bacio" (Street of the Kiss).

Having left Pienza we immediately made for Siena in order to visit the major Cathedral of that town. By the Cathedral there is a special show-room, the "Biblioteca Piccolomini" (Piccolomini's Library) with wonderful frescoes by the famous painter Pinturicchio illustrating some episodes of Pio II's life. Eleonora di Aragon on the fresco of Pinturicchio looks like Olivia dressed for the feast.


Pienza. The distant view of Palazzo Piccolomini and Cathedral apse Pienza. The view of the Cathedral apse and Orcia valley from inside Palazzo Piccolomini Pienza. The view of the garden and Orcia Valley from inside Palazzo Piccolomini

Capulet's house in the film - Palazzo Piccolomini in Pienza

Pienza. The entrance to Palazzo Piccolomini from the open gallery on the second  floor

Vladimir, Olga and Cinzia in the courtyard of Palazzo Piccolomini in Pienza

Pienza. The real look of the wall decoration of Palazzo Piccolomini

The film room of  Lady Capulet was shot in the former bedroom of Pio II Palazzo Piccolomini. The real interior of  the former bedroom of Pio II Pienza. The real look of the courtyard of Palazzo Piccolomini, without a well  The courtyard of Palazzo Piccolomini transformed into the Capulet's one for the film

Eleonora di Aragon on the fresco of Pinturicchio looks like Olivia dressed for the feast. Siena. Piccolomini Library

The Capulet's feast  in the film. On the left -  the view of the courtyard of Palazzo Piccolomini

The first version of Romeo and Juliet's encounter near the well in the courtyard

Pienza. PIo II Square. The Cathedral and the well of Rosselino where Mercutio appeared with a mask Mercutio with a mask near the well of Rosselino Pienza. Pio II Square. Fasade of Palazzo Piccolomini and the well of Rosselino Pienza. Panoramic passage and a magnificent view of Orcia Valley






How to trace the balcony and the garden seen in the movie? During our last year journey we were not able to solve this problem. Our visit to Pienza convinced us that the location of the famous scene shot on the balcony was not Palazzo Piccolomini. But sometimes fortune helps the most stubborn investigators. We had then only a part of the article by Roger Ebert "That Balcony in Verona" (now we have the entire text of the article written in 1968). The few lines we read said about a small town situated not far from Rome.

Ebert's words led Cinzia to do some considerations. We could not control right away the conjectures that followed due to lack of time. But after a couple of weeks from Vladimir's and my departure from Italy, Cinzia and Romano, paying a visit to their relatives in Artena, Artena. The lane near Palazzo Borghese, where Mercutio, Bevolio and the guys went after the ballrealized without any doubt, that it was exactly the small town so long hunted for. Cinzia recognized the ancient alley and the big rocks thanks to which Romeo could climb over the wall and get into the Capulets' garden. Then she realized that the garden and the balcony had to be inside the Palazzo Borghese territory whose entrance was forbidden. The view of this estate, once magnificent, now reveals its decay and ruin. Walking along the alleys ,desert in those days, Cinzia and Romano met only a priest that was preparing the church for the mass. They asked him for some information about the palace. It came out that the priest remembered the times when there was shot the movie "Romeo and Juliet". He told that the filming took place in the palace where the old prince was still living and that it went on for a few nights in a row. The pitiable condition of the palace was explained by the fact that the problem of the inheritance was not yet solved and thus nobody was taking care of the restoration of the palace and the garden. The present owner is living in a side house as the main wing of the palace requires heavy restoration works. Walking around the walls sorrounding Palazzo Borghese, Cinzia recognized the small porched balcony with the long flight of brick steps run down by time and weathering, where, in the movie, Juliet was waiting impatiently for her nurse bringing Romeo's news.

Going on in our "pilgrimage" about the movie's locations in the spring of 2003, we had the opportunity to vistit Artena with Cinzia and Romano. It was a tepid May day, we got out of our car by the town entrance in order to enjoy the view in front of us. The tiny town is literally spread on the mountain, chained by terraces and landings.

The view of ArtenaHere are a few notes about Artena, to whom they may interest. The small town is located at 40 km. south from Rome. As Romano told us, the first settlement here was founded by the Volsci people long before the Roman ruling. In 404 BC the site was destroyed by Romans. In the Middle Ages it became a sort of highwaymen fortress and even nowadays the common people call it  "Town of Brigands". In the XVI century Artena became property of the Borghese family. Cardinal Scipione, member of said family, built up here Palazzo Borghese and also the famous Villa Borghese in Rome. The influence of Borgheses in Artena went on to the XX century.

Paolo V Borghese (1618) , Rome, Borghese gallery

Scipione Borghese (1632), Rome, Borghese Gallery

Palazzo Borghese in the most outstanding building of the town. Climbing over the fencing wall we tried to catch a glimpse of the inside from the street, but the luxuriant foliage of the straggling garden hampered the view. Cinzia had warned me beforehand :"I fear you will be disappointed", understanding the bad conditions of the building. But how can you talk of disappointments when each and every stone in that place was full of significance for me! I recalled the enthustiastic school-girl I was once whose boundless dream was becoming true thanks to the help of Fairy-Cinzia. The only thing that embittered me it was the impossibility to go into the palace area and spend a little while in the locations of the movie. Cinzia and I looked exactly like the fox in the tale, running around and stretching out our necks. It was at this moment that Romano, on an invaluable impulse of altruism rang at the bell of the gate calling the palace owners. In that moment our hearts almost stopped beating: Romano had started talking to somebody inside the house begging to let in some ardent fans of Zeffirelli's movie who had come purposely from faraway to visit that legendary place. They invited us to enter. A gentleman met us, he was Valerio Borghese, the 35 year old owner of the palace, light eyes and blond hair. He showed a great surprise for our visit, as nobody before us had ever so obstinately looked for the locations linked with the filming. We followed him and got into the living premises. A Russian double-headed eagle was stuck over the entrance of his house. In past times that symbol was located on the main gate of Villa Abamelek, the Russian representative estate in Rome; after the Russian revolution in 1917 the eagle was removed, Valerio's grand mother picked it up and placed it in her estate. Valerio's wife , Elena, came out to be Russian! Despite the two nice children's (Tatiana and Andrew) restlessness she offered us her best hospitality and invited us to have a coffee. We talked for a long while. At the same time Cinzia e Romano were chatting with Valerio. Later on they told me his story.

Valerio junior's grand father was the second child of Don Flavio Borghese, prince of Sulmona and other small Lazio towns, his name was Don Giunio Valerio Borghese (Rome 1906 ' Cadiz 26.7.1974). In 1931 in Florence, where his wife's family recovered after the Russian revolution and where ran a small antique trade, he married with Daria Olsuffiev, daughter of Earl Vassilij Alexeevich Olsuffiev and Countess Olga Pavlovna Shuvalova (Moscou 5.6.1908 - Rome 4.2.1963). They gave birth to four children. The last of them, Don Andrea, was Valerio jun.'s father. Don Andrea when a boy worked as a movie actor in Italy under the stage-name of Andrea Scirè (his mother's family name). His most famous movie is "Amici per la pelle" (Close Friends) directed by Franco Rossi. Valerio jun.'s grand father, at the times of the second world war, was one of the most outstanding generals, commanding the tenth M.T.B division. At the end of the war he was practically sent into exile and fell into poverty. His children were forced to emigrate abroad in order to start a new life. Andrea Borghese moved to Australia where later Valerio jun. was born. Grown in an Anglo-Saxon background, Valerio studied English literature. During his classes at the upper schools he had the chance to see for the first time the Zeffirelli's movie "Romeo and Juliet" that usually show in English and American schools within Sheaksperian courses. Here Valerio recognized Palazzo Borghese belonging to his family, the place where he used to spend his holidays. When the time came to share the inheritance among his survived brothers and numerous cousins , he asked for the premises furnished by his grandmother where now he lives and the part of the palace and garden were the Zeffirelli's movie had been shot. In the coming years Valerio's intention is to restore the part of the palace belonging to him and to bring back to the previuos splendours the garden. His grandmother had created a wonderful Italian garden that after her death (and already at the times of the filming) went to ruin. He also plans to open it to the public for cerimonies, banquets, visits and other summer happenings. Besides he plans to set up inside the City Hall a permanent exhibition of play bills and photos from Zeffirelli's and other movies shot in Artena. At the present Cinzia is helping Valerio in gathering memorabilia related to the movie "Romeo e Juliet". Valerio stated that he will be glad to let the movie fans visit the locations inside the garden of the palace.

Juliet at the balcony in the film of Zeffirelli

Artena. The place where Romeo climbed over the Capulet's wall thanks to the big stones in the corner

Artena. Romano imitates Romeo climbing up the wall from the stones

The view of the garden  of Palazzo Borghese in Artena

Artena. The walls of Palazzo Borghese beyond which the imaginary Juliet's garden was situated

Artena. Palazzo Borghese. Small porched terrace looks very like Juliet's movie-balcony

Romeo and Juliet at the balcony that was built especially for the film and then was removed

Romeo is climbing up the balcony of Juliet in the film

Vladimir and Romano are at the place where Romeo was standing under Juliet's balcony

Juliet is waiting for her nurse with Romeo's news. On the right - the steps in the garden of Palazzo Borghese

Olga and Cinzia are at the steps where the scene of Juliet and her nurse was shot. Artena,

Artena. The view of the garden and the long brick steps where the scene of Juliet and her nurse was shot

The place on the wall of Palazzo Borghese where Juliet's movie-balcony was constracted


Following Valerio, Romano goes along the path where  Romeo ran after having jumped down Juliet's balcony. Artenawe went up the half-demolished brick steps leading to the porched terrace where was shot the scene of  the anxious conversation between Juliet and her nurse. Answering our questions about vain searches for the balcony of the movie, Valerio explained us that the balcony had been built up in a side specially for the movie. We immortalized on photos and cassettes the wall with the window where, according to Valerio's words, there was Juliet's movie-balcony. Anyhow, as the roof of the porched terrace was thickly covered with wisteria  and it could  represent the real balcony, we could easily figure to ourselves  Olivia and Leonard frozen here  in a love embrace. We took some shots here too. Not long before we had seen an alley in the thicket along which Romeo ran after having jumped down Juliet's balcony.Leaving this "love garden", I shyly picked as keepsake a light- purple wild rose "which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet". We are deeply grateful to Valerio and Elena and also to Cinzia and undaunted Romano for this unique opportunity to realize the romantic dream of our youth.


On our way back we stopped in front of Zeffirelli's house. Villa Grande is not far from Appia Antica road and we intended to catch just a glimpse of the place where our beloved Maestro lives. By the gate we loitered a while just to remain there a bit longer not knowing what to do. the postbox of Franco Zeffirelli in Villa GrandeThen our noble paladin Romano rang at the bell and asked the inside people to let in a couple of Russian admirers of the Director just to have a closer look of his house and garden. (Once Romano had act as interpreter for a few minutes between Zeffirelli and Serghej Bondarchiuk). They let us in. Is it necessary to explain what we could feel just seeing the post box with the name of our idol? We could draw on to the house and talk to a man who met us. Romano started telling him something while we took some photos close to the house. Zeffirelli in that period was not at home and even his secretary was absent. They proposed us to come again the following day to speak with his secretary but we decided otherwise. Anyhow we saw in the courtyard those Rumenian dogs that the Director had picked up in Bucarest and about which we read an article.


Cinzia and Olga before Villa of Zeffirelli in Rome

 Villa Grande - the house of  Franco Zeffirelli in Rome

We shared our impressions on Artena with Nadine and Roberto when we went there to visit again their enchanting Farm-house Le Tassinaie. They gave us the wonderful chance to spend the night inside La Torretta (Little Tower), in one of the world most romantic sleeping rooms, where the bed was crowned by a fresco depicting Romeo and Juliet's meeting at the balcony.


La Torreta (Little Tower) in the estate of Nadine and Roberto . Le Tassinaie. Umbria. Italy

The bedroom in Torreta with the grawings of Romeo and Juliet by Sergio Jacopelli

The first floor of Torreta. Cinzia and Olga under the painting of Olivia


 In April 2003 Nadine and Roberto married under the vaults of an ancient church in Tuscania, where had been shot some scenes of the marriage between the heroes of the Zeffirelli's movie.


Roberto and Nadine on their wedding day. 2003







At the end of our journey we went to our beloved Verona. The real Verona had not been used as location for the filming of Zeffirelli's movie, but its urban nature will always be the scenery for the legend of the two lovers. One can easily be convinced of it looking at Juliet's House, statue and Tomb or passing by Romeo's House. After all Verona is simply a wonderful town! Vladimir and I had visit Verona more than once. Cinzia and Romano had visited there many times their close friends, but this was the first time we visited Verona together.

entrance ticket for the Shakespearian exhibition in FerraraHaving left Rome in the morning bound for north, we drove all day long. On our way we could stop in Ferrara, native town of both Este Dukes and Cinzia, to visit the painting exhibition "Sheakespeare in the Art". In the rooms of "Palazzo dei Diamanti" there was exposed a series of works by famous romantic painters: Turner, Fussly, Leighton, Hayez and others inspired by Sheakespearian subjects. We looked at the exhibition with great interest, but of course our attention was focused on the paintings relating to Romeo and Juliet. Particularly we found wonderful the Leighton's "Reconciliation between Montagues and Capulets over their children's corpses".

By the evening of the same day we reached Verona. The day after we were waited at the Juliet's Club. The head of the club Mr. Giulio Tamassia, Giovanna, Elena and other friends met us very heartily and finally they met the organizers of the Italian Sheakespearian Society Cinzia and Romano. After an exchange of news the Verona guys gave us some letters arrived long ago in Russian to be translated. Romano translated those in Chinese. We also had the chance to meet Solimano Pontarollo (one can say "a sea of charm"), a friend of Cinzia and Romano's, very temperamental and insuperable stage actor in the role of Romeo during the Verona Medieval Feasts. Later, together with Cinzia we rushed to Via Cappello, 23 to see the beloved props from the Zeffirelli's movie, that since Autumn 2002 are kept in the Juliet House museum.

Verona. Romano, Olga and Cinzia at the bridge called Ponte Pietro in Italian Juliet Club in Verona. Cinzia, Romano and Olga with Giulio Tamassia, the head of the club Verona. in Juliet Club.






During our previous journey Cinzia told us that the costumes of the main heroes of the Zeffirelli's movie were kept in the Palazzo Pitti's Galleria dei Costumi in the wonderful Florence. Once she enjoyed their view, and the close contemplation of Danilo Donati's design materpieces aroused in her an indelible impression. We are talking about the dance and marriage costumes worn by Romeo and Juliet. When last year we reached Florence with Cinzia, we could not see them in Palazzo Pitti, as in those days the movie costumes were not shown because they had been sent somewhere else for a thematic exhibition. Holding our bitter tears we went on to delight our eyes with the painting masterpieces inside Palazzo Pitti Museum. In December of the same year Cinzia informed us that a Danilo Donati's work exhibition was held in Rome in those days. Of course the exhibition included also the Romeo and Juliet's costumes. Cinzia and Romano had the chance to visit that rare display and we from faraway Moscow rejoiced for them. And now we not only "reached" the costumes, but also the legendary nuptial bed of the movie heroes! As everybody knows Verona is one of the towns most loved by Franco Zeffirelli. On the occasion of Maestro's jubilee, the inhabitants of Romeo and Juliet's native town payed their tribute of consideration to the famous 1968 screen version. Into Romeo and Juliet's Museum.they moved for eternal memory the famous bed designed by Renzo Mongiardino, the two costumes of the main movie heroes and also six sketches created by Zeffirelli's hand. I don't know what the props room keeper thought of us as we loitered there very long, we would get in and out continuously taking photos. How could we ever had imagined something similar in the times of our school days when our souls were enraptured by the first notes of Nino Rota's melody resounding in the dark cinema. The wooden bed is kept in a room similar to Juliet's bridal chamber. In front of it there is a display of some movie shots. Into two glass containers are shown the Romeo's costume (from the marriage scene) and Juliet's (form the scene in the garden with the nurse). In the end, Cinzia and I went out into the balcony, that contrary to that in Artena, still exists. Before leaving the gentle Verona, by our tradition, we visited Juliet's tomb and laid down white lilies.


Romano at Danilo Donati exposition in Rome, between  Juliet's costumes of ball and death scenes

Danilo Donati exposition in Rome. Romeo's and Juliet's ball costumes

Danilo Donati exhibition in Rome

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Juliet's House - museum in Verona. Cinzia and Olga among the props from Feffirell's film - the bed of Romeo and Juliet

Vladimir and Olga near the bed and costumes from the film of Zeffirelli. Juliet's House museum in Verona

The wedding costume of Romeo from Zrffirellli's film. Juliet's House museum in Verona

Juliet's dress from the scene with the nurse in Zeffirelli's film. Juliet's House museum. Verona

Juliet and Romeo near the bed in the film

The bed from the film of Zeffirelli. Juliet's House museum in Verona.

Juliet taking the potion on her bed

the porched terrace of Palazzo Borghese n Artena used instead of the movie-balcony

Juliet - Olivia at the bacony constracted for the film. Palazzo Borghese. Artena

The porched terrace of Palazzo Borghese in Artena seems to be the movie-balcony

Olga and Cinzia at Juliet's Balcony in Verona

Verona. Cinzia and Olga beside the statue of Juliet in the courtyard of Juliet's House

Our traditional lilies for Romeo and Juliet.. Vladimir in Juliet's Tomb in Verona





Mille Grazie Caro Maestro!


with Franco Zeffirelli at the exhibition in Moscow, 2004

Olga presenting the magazine with the story to Franco Zeffirelli




 Text and images - Olga Nikolaeva - www.romeo-juliet-club.ru

 Photographs - Olga Nikolaeva, Vladimir Nikolaev, Cinzia Storari, Romano Vatteroni and Nadine Buhler.

Romeo and Juliet pictures - collections of Cinzia Storari and Olga Nikolaeva.

Photos of Franco Zeffirelli belong to Olga and Vladimir Nikolaevi

 Фотографии Дзеффирелли принадлежат Ольге и Владимиру Николаевым

Рассказ опубликован в журнале Cara Giulietta... N.26, Verona, Italia

и передан режиссёру.


Франко Дзеффирелли  и Ольга Николаева , создатель сайта Ромео и Джульетта www.romeo-juliet-club.ru     Москва  2004


With Dear Maestro in Moscow, 2004




Romeo and Juliet Site - Map



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