Question: In what fair city did being a good luck charm make an unlucky girl even unluckier?
Answer: Verona, Italy, home of the Juliet statue
In the courtyard of a 14th-century manse stands a young woman. Cast in bronze, the pensive lass is Juliet, one half of the world’s most famous pair of star-crossed lovers. Her tragic tale touched countless audience members over time and, eventually, they started returning the favor—literally.
At Casa di Giulietta in Verona, the main attraction is Juliet’s statue, which was erected in 1972 as a way to cement the link between Shakespeare’s version of Juliet’s family and the family that lived in this house. There is no record of who started the tradition of rubbing the statue’s right breast for good luck, but the practice caught on immediately, and visitors began to queue up for their turn.
Their ardor for the task has had a few drawbacks. So many people were touching the maiden that it began to wear on the statue. Not only did the breast itself start to crack, but her right arm as well, strained from the weight of visitors propping themselves up on it. In 2014, locals petitioned city officials to remove and repair Juliet. Verona went a step further, commissioning a local forge to make an exact cast of the original statue and make her anew. When she was restored to the courtyard, her fans (local and international) cheered her return.
The tradition, however, may be on its way out. Some locals now discourage rubbing the breast, hoping to avoid a repeat of the damage. Others think society has moved past a moment when fondling a teenager, bronze or not should be encouraged. But Juliet’s lure has not dimmed even so: a quarter million visitors make a trip to see her every year.
11 Things to Know About the House of Juliet
- The Gothic home dates to the 12th century, with expansion in the 14th, and was first owned by the Cappelletti family as a hospitium (an inn).
- Because of the prominence of the Cappellettis, it became local tradition that Shakespeare based Juliet’s family (the Capulets) on them and Romeo’s family (the Montagues) on the Montecchis, who were their social peers.
- Dante referenced the Cappellettis and Montecchis in The Divine Comedy, but did not mention any feud.
- The second family to own it, taking the name “dal Capello” as a nod to the provenance of the house, were pharmacists, and let the hotel fell into such a bad state that Dickens mocked it.
- In 1905, the city took it over and a Burgher of Verona proclaimed it Casa de Giulietta, making the legacy official.
- In the 1920s, the house was re-modeled, with parts of a sarcophagus and marble from the original washrooms configured into a balcony, beneath which the statue now stands.
- Rubbing the breast is not the only tradition: for decades, visitors have crammed love notes into cracks in the courtyard wall or stuck them to the plaster with chewing gum.
- However, in 2012, an ordinance was passed fining anyone caught leaving notes—but with the number of visitors blocking guards’ views, new love notes continue to pop up even so.
- People also write letters to Juliet that are answered by a group that call themselves “Juliet’s Secretaries” and the “Juliet Club.”
- Staff at Casa di Giulietta report that visitors often ask if Juliet really lived there—to which they gently explain that Romeo and Juliet are both fictional characters.
- Real or imagined, Juliet is lucky for Verona: Casa de Cappelletti brings the city around $1.2 million in revenue annually.