Verona, its history, Hotel Colomba D’Oro
The history of a hotel is like someone’s personality: you can’t purchase one, you just have it or you don’t. At the Colomba d’Oro we are humbled and proud to honor a double heritage: the Renaissance palazzo we call home, and the hotel which opened its doors in 1837 and since then has been hosting the most discerning travelers.
What follows is the “double story” of this icon of Italian hospitality.
Born as a Roman settlement, elevated to the rank of “Municipium” in 49 BCE, at the dawn of the Roman Empire, Verona is second only to Rome itself for its richness of well-preserved roman remains, from the Ponte Pietra bridge to the Roman Theater. The most spectacular, and the best known worldwide, is undoubtedly the Arena. A bronze coin found by archaeologists dates the construction of Verona’s Arena between AD 30 and AD 42, at the beginning of the reign of Emperor Claudius: it is therefore older than the Colosseum in Rome, whose construction is dated between AD 70 and AD 72. Just like the Colosseum, the Arena in Verona was also built to host gladiator fights, that spectators from all over the Roman Empire would have travelled to go and watch. This story begins here because here is just where you find us: literally a few steps from Verona’s main historic landmark.
The history of the building that houses the Hotel Colomba d’Oro begins 700 years ago: at that time, under the Della Scala dynasty, 14th-century Verona was having a golden age. It is the same Verona in which William Shakespeare will set “Romeo and Juliet”, the most famous love story ever told. In the year 1337, our palazzo was built to house the Convent of San Donato alla Colomba (“colomba” means dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit): it was therefore built with a religious destination; but even then it hosted the first tourists in history, that is the pilgrims who went to the sacred places. Verona was governed by Mastino The Second Della Scala, successor of Cangrande della Scala of whom Dante, in exile, had been a guest, and to whom in gratitude he would have dedicated the entire cantica of Paradise.
The Renaissance was a thriving era for art and culture, but very violent for politics. Verona was at war, against a coalition formed in by Venice and Florence in 1337 (just the same year of the construction of our palazzo). 20 years later, under Mastino Della Scala, the castle that today the Veronese call “Castelvecchio” (“Old Castle”) was built as a difensive fortress. Today the castle houses a museum, and it can be easily reached with a pleasant few minutes walk from our hotel.
There are two turning points on the timeline of the Colomba d’Oro: the year 1796, when Verona was conquered by the troops of the revolutionary French Republic led by General Napoleon Bonaparte who defeated the Austrian army; and then ten years later, in 1806: Verona was once again under French rule when Napoleon – this time no longer as a general, but as an emperor – decreed the closure and secularisation of many convents and monasteries.
Thus it was that the Convent of San Donato alla Colomba ceased to exist: but as often happens, an end can turn out to be a new beginning.
With the collapse of the Napoleonic empire and the so called “Restoration” by the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815), Verona passed among the Italian possessions of the Hapsburg Empire. The Renaissance building that had previously housed the convent was sold, and in 1837 the new owner, Corrado Epple, had it transformed into the Hotel Colomba d’Oro: thus it was that the building, built exactly 500 years earlier, was transformed into a hotel.
In 1849 Field Marshal Josef Radetzky, right after having reconquered Milan, took office in Verona as civil and military governor and supreme commander of the Austrian troops in Italy. His residence was in Palazzo Carli, a short walk from the Colomba d’Oro. The following is an excerpt from the February 1931 issue of the magazine “L’Albergo d’Italia”:
“The officers of the Austrian army who garrisoned Verona were regular guests in the elegant halls of the new hotel, and Radetzky himself loved to gather his general staff there for banquets. it is said that one evening, during one of those banquets on the eve of an important battle against the Piedmontese army, the proud general, biting into half a chicken, said: “As I crush this chicken, so tomorrow I will crush the enemy army”.
«The Arena is the only theater in the world where you can also listen to music with your eyes»: these are the words of the tenor Giovanni Zenatello, who in 1913 had the brilliant idea of using the Roman amphitheater in Verona as a venue for opera performances, which had never been done in such large theaters – much less outdoors.
The first experiment was made that year with “Aida” in celebration of the centenary of the birth of Giuseppe Verdi. It was a worldwide success, and gave birth to one of the most loved opera festivals in the world: all the greates, from Maria Callas to Luciano Pavarotti, have performed here, and the Festival is still staged every summer. Given its extreme proximity to the Arena, the Colomba d’Oro immediately became a point of reference both for opera lovers who flocked (as they still do today) from all over the world to attend the shows, and for artists to which represented (and still represents) the most strategic home during the days of their performances.
In 1920, Giovanni and Rosa Tapparini bought the Colomba d’Oro; ten years later, in 1930, they proceeded with a radical refurbishment, transforming it into a luxury accommodation.
Here is an excerpt from the February 1931 issue of the magazine “L’Albergo d’Italia”: “The restoration and furnishing work was inspired by criteria of exquisite good taste, achieving elegance, comfort and luxury without excessive and unnecessary ostentation… all the rooms are truly luxurious, worthy of a true grand hotel”. Sounds like the description of today’s Colomba d’Oro; yet it was written almost 100 years ago. The ownership and management of the Colomba d’Oro was handed down from father to son, from Giovanni and Rosa to Carlo, and then from Carlo to Alberto, until today with the fourth generation represented by Alessandro Tapparini: after more than a century, this is still a proudly family-owned luxury hotel, where passion for hospitality and commitment to service are kept alive thanks to a genuine family tradition.
In the 1930s Carlo Tapparini, after an apprenticeship in Monte Carlo under the great Auguste Escoffier (“king of chefs and chef of kings”), brought the new French “haute cuisine” to the Colomba d’Oro restaurant, which was thus elevated to a world class one, favored by Verona’s jet set for luxurious banquets and gala evenings. That restaurant operated until the 1970s when the proliferation of new restaurants in the neighborhood made it pointless to still have one inside the hotel. Today the culture of high quality catering is still part of the identity of the Colomba d’Oro: our guests can find it every morning in the breakfast buffet, which is served in the same elegant hall that in the past had housed the restaurant.
In November 2000, the Assembly of the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO included the City of Verona in the World Heritage List with the following motivation:
“Verona’s surviving architecture and urban structure reflects the evolution of this fortified town over its 2,000 year history. In its urban structure and its architecture, Verona is an outstanding example of a town that has developed progressively and uninterruptedly over 2,000 years, incorporating artistic elements of the highest quality from each succeeding period….Verona represents in an exceptional way the concept of the fortified town at several seminal stages of European history”.
The enhancement of such a precious historic center continues to evolve: since 2007 the Palazzo della Gran Guardia, a few steps from our Hotel, has been returned to the city after a major renovation and has become the most prestigious convention center in Verona.
Well aware of the privilege of being part of such story and being in the heart of such a unique and precious place, we give our best every day to write new chapters of this adventure.
For almost two centuries the Colomba d’Oro has been the preferred address in Verona for many esteemed guests including royalty, captains of industry, opera divas, writers and rockstars. We invite you, with our compliments, to add your name to the story: you’ll feel welcomed as a family guest.