Luca Ceccarelli, and his 24-year-old bride Irene Lanforti, were the first couple to proclaim vows of eternal love on the world's most romantic of balconies in the small palace in the center of Verona, reputed to be the site where Shakespeare's famous lovers Romeo and Juliet wooed one another some centuries ago.
Verona is the fourth-most-visited town in Italy due to its connection with the famous love story and the city has decided to take advantage of its ties to the star-crossed lovers to draw more wedding tourism to this northern Italian town by launching a "Marry me in Verona" project. So far the city has had over 140 requests to tie the knot in one of the four sites made available for civil weddings, but the most popular venue by far is the site believed to be the home of Juliet's family, the Capulets.
Popular belief links Shakespeare's fictional characters in one of his most famous plays with the downtown building at 23 Via Cappello, which was owned by Verona's noble Del Cappello family since around the 13th century. Even though historians claim that there is scant evidence that this house is connected to Juliet Capulet's family, and the windows, gothic-style doorway and famous balcony were added to the interior facade in the 1930's, the building is now known around the world as Juliet's house.
"It's an especially romantic place for a special moment," said Roberto Bolis, the city's spokesman. "So far we have had the most interest coming from couples outside of Italy; from those Anglo-Saxon countries more familiar with Shakespeare but we have been contacted by a Japanese man wanting to marry a Scottish woman...who knows, maybe they just want to meet midway?"
The next wedding to be celebrated at Juliet's house will be Friday when two Americans, David Malek from Nashville, Tenn., and Valery Frescos, from Raleigh, N.C., are scheduled to wed. Since the project's launch in March, the majority of requests have come from couples in the United States.
Monday, at the first wedding to take place at Juliet's house, the building's small courtyard was crammed with people present for the historic occasion. The mayor, Flavio Tosi, who officiated the wedding, local officials, about 20 wedding guests and dozens of reporters, TV cameras and photographers were all there. "We had to close off the area there were so many people today," said Bolis.
With only a touch of the famous "O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?" love scene the ceremony began with the bride appearing on the balcony calling her bridegroom's name. The bridegroom who was accompanied by a harpist and surrounded by the crowd below in the courtyard. The exchange of wedding rings took place under the watchful gaze of a bronze statue of Juliet which stands in the courtyard.
The wedding couples attire was not very Shakespearian, however, with the groom wearing an elegant modern grey suit and tie and the bride dressed in a white satin knee-length dress, dangly earrings and high heels. "It's an incredible emotion," said the groom. "I felt like I was living a dream."
"It's true, Shakespeare's story is a great love story which ended badly," said the new Mrs. Ceccarelli, "but they loved each other eternally. And we obviously want to stay together all our lives and love each other always."
Anyone can request to marry at one of the four sites in Verona set aside by the city for civil weddings for the cost of 600 euros (about $770) for Verona residents up to 1,000 euros ($1,280) for non-EU couples. City officials say the cost is due to the large amount of administrative work needed for the ceremony.
A normal wedding certificate costs about 50 euros in Italy but the all-inclusive price includes the flower and room dressings inside the rooms, security and a special certificate to commemorate the occasion. Local town officials hope that this new idea will help to make Verona a "wedding capital" and bring tourism back, which has decreased greatly due to the world economic crisis.
"We'll be offering tourist packages, the whole shebang, just like Las Vegas does," said Daniele Polato, the city's tourism councillor. "It's a way of using the city's artistic heritage to help the local economy in these tough times."
Juliet's house is one of the top tourist spots in Verona with about 1.2 million people flocking to the site annually. It was reopened a year ago after a thorough clean-up; thousands of love messages and graffiti left by visiting lovers were scrubbed out. A strict graffiti ban has been issued and visitors are now urged to send their vows by e-mail and mobile phone text messages to a huge computer display in the house's lobby; this hasn't seemed to have stopped the scribbling of love messages on the walls though.
For more information see the town's Web site, but bookings should be made well in advance as getting the right paperwork processed for a wedding in Italy can often involve lengthy bureaucracy, especially if the couple are not Italian citizens.