That’s Amore: Letters to Juliet in Verona, Italy

That’s Amore: Letters to Juliet in Verona, Italy

An army of letter writers is keeping Romeo and Juliet’s romantic legacy alive in Verona, Italy.

This article appears in Vol. 33: Collective.

Shakespeare chose Verona as the setting for Romeo and
Juliet at the end of the 16th century, he’d almost certainly never
visited the ancient Italian city. Despite this, his words captured
Verona’s beauty to such a degree that, 400 years later, the
“star-cross’d lovers” and their tragic fate are the city’s main

Each year, many thousands of visitors flock to what was
supposedly Juliet’s balcony, the faded crest of the Cappello
household visible in the medieval courtyard. The historical
connection is shaky, but Juliet’s house has become the shrine to
Shakespeare’s tragic heroine, and Verona a place of pilgrimage for
hopeless romantics. While some carve their names into its stone
walls or kiss their significant other on the nearby Ponte Pietra,
many heartbroken lovers appeal to the mythical Juliet by

Anyone familiar with the 2010 film Letters to Juliet, starring
Amanda Seyfried and Christopher Egan – with a questionable English
accent – will know the story. Visitors stuff letters into cracks in
the walls and a special post box, asking Juliet for counsel on
their love lives. Such notes are posted from across the world, too,
often simply addressed “Juliet, Verona, Italy”. Most interesting of
all, someone replies to them.

The letters started arriving in the 1930s, at which point the
caretaker of Juliet’s tomb, Ettore Solimani, felt compelled to
write back in sympathy. What began as an occasional correspondence
gradually grew into a full-blown industry. “It’s hard to keep track
of all the letters, but now we receive more than 10,000 a year,”
says Giovanna Tamassia, the glamorous guardian of all things Romeo
and Juliet in Verona. She’s the President of the Juliet Club, a
role she took over from her father Giulio when he passed away three
years ago.

Under Giovanna’s direction, letters are gathered in a tiny
office, where 15 permanent secretaries and an army of international
volunteers reply to every single one. The secretaries – mostly
women – come from all walks of life: students, authors, travellers,
retired diplomats. They have no formal qualifications, but are
trained by existing secretaries in how to answer people’s romantic
problems, striking a balance between kindness and practicality.
They order the letters by language before archiving them in a
papery labyrinth. “It’s become a wonderful part of Verona’s
culture, everyone in the city knows that,” Giovanna tells me over
the phone. “We receive letters in Arabic, Russian, Finnish, even
braille. The main theme is love issues or the search for love.”

Generations are seen as superficial or addicted to social media, but when I read their letters, I know it’s not true.

Giovanna Tamassia, President of the Juliet Club

In the name of research, I put Juliet’s secretaries to the test
with a letter of my own. My original plan had been to make up a
tale of heartbreak so that I could pass on any sage advice in this
article. But as I sat, pen in hand, the third draft of my letter
scribbled out before me, I was shocked at how introspective I felt.
Was I missing my ex-boyfriend? What about that Italian summer
romance that never materialised? “Juliet, am I in love with my best
friend?” I finally wrote, shocking myself as I dived into details
of our trans-Atlantic escapades.

One of my friends had a similar experience. Sentimentally
unsettled, she cried as she jotted down her dating disasters.
“Writing out your own thoughts is a kind of therapy for people,”
Giovanna muses. “It’s a way to make your thoughts clear. Telling
someone you don’t know can be easier than confiding in a

The secretaries have noticed that people from different
countries write about love in different ways. In letters from South
America, passionate descriptions are reminiscent of telenovelas;
Japanese writers tend to be more reserved with their emotions. “But
love is felt deeply all around the world,” Giovanna says with
certainty, a fact cemented by the letters she receives day after

The letters’ content has changed somewhat during Giovanna’s 20
years of responding, but she continues to be touched by the depth
of feeling that young people express. “These generations are seen
as superficial or addicted to social media, but when I read their
letters, I know it’s not true. Teenagers write about self-esteem,
about first love, their deepest fears and family problems. I don’t
know if I can answer them nowadays; I have two daughters so the
advice I give is more like a mother than a friend. But I still like
reading them.”

Among the angsty confessions of sleeping with one’s ex and
stories of unrequited love, these private correspondences are also
a medium for current social issues. Giovanna tells me about letters
dealing with interracial relationships and those in which financial
worries add strain to romances. “Sometimes you have people from
religious backgrounds, maybe a young Hindu or Muslim asking for
Juliet’s help in an arranged marriage. Recently, we had a chaste
Christian from the US seeking advice on being submissive to her

“It’s not easy to give the right answer,” she continues. “Maybe
there are some situations that don’t belong to our way of life
here. You’re just an Italian woman or an English visitor coming to
help, so you try to give kind words, the feeling that there’s
someone out there who reads and answers and cares, without

Unlike mindlessly swiping through dating apps or struggling to
keep a romance going over FaceTime,
there’s solace in the slowness of handwritten letters. People can
email the Juliet Club too, but this only makes up 10 per cent of
the correspondence it receives. There’s something strangely
beautiful about pouring your heart out to a fictional 16th-century
martyr about Hinge and ghosting and morning-after pills, and half
believing that she’ll understand. The real Juliet Capulet, if she
existed, would have died from that fatal dagger wound around 700
years ago. What would she have thought about Tinder

“I like to think she would have been pretty open-minded,” says
Giovanna diplomatically. “Shakespeare’s world was undeniably very
different to today, but Juliet was a very strong character. She had
the strength to fight against her parents, she had the courage to
take the poison to fake her own death, to be put in a grave, to
wake up among all those dead bodies. She risked everything for
love; I think she would have understood.”

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