Scala Family Palace

Scala family took power in Verona in 1259 when Bernardino Della Scala, known by everyone as Mastino, was appointed by the tyrant Ezzelino da Romano Capitano del Popolo, something between a mayor and a police commissioner in middle age cities. The Della Scala family were not nobles, they belonged to the merchant bourgeoisie that had developed inside the city states of center and northern Italy in the previous two centuries. Perhaps they owed their fortune to the wool trade, for the quality of which Verona was famous in Europe. Some members of the family had already obtained political positions within the city administration. Their homes, like those of many merchants, overlooked Piazza delle Erbe, the ancient Roman forum, still the center of Verona economic life. One evening, while he was returning home, Mastino was barbarously slaughtered in an ambush for private revenge. Nevertheless the power remained in the hands of the Scala family which established one of the first Signoria (literally rule of the lords), a sort of city state kingdom, in Italy.
His successors believed that the old house was not sufficiently secure or suitable for the new role that the family had now assumed in Verona, especially after Mastino's murder. They sold the palace to the Mazzanti family, whose name it still bears, and moved to Piazza dei Signori, the political center of the city.

Cangrande, Dante, Giotto

The new palace was appropriate to the prestige of the family. Made of bricks, it looked more like a manor house than a noble family residence. On the top, the thick dovetail battlements immediately identified that the Della Scala family belonged to the Ghibelline party. Here, under the lordship of Bartholomeo and Cangrande, Dante Alighieri found hospitality during his exile from Florence, and it was probably here that he wrote parts of the Divine Comedy, at the same time feeling the humiliation of not being in his own house ("Thou shalt prove how salt the savour is of other's bread, how hard the passage to descend and climb by other's stairs"). According to Vasari, Giotto worked here, frescoing some rooms for "messer Cane" (Cangrande), but unfortunately, if they ever really existed, the subsequent changes have erased all traces of it. With the end of the Scaligeri lordship and the arrival of Venice, the new rulers wanted to make clear the passage of power to Verona and placed on the entrance of the old palace the winged lion of St. Mark, symbol of the Serenissima Republic.

Alterations and restoration

In 1815, after the fall of Napoleon who had taken over from the Venetians, Verona and the Lombardy-Veneto region came under the Habsburg rule. The Austrians made the old Scaligeri palace one of their command centers. The building was heavily altered, both in the internal and external structure, turning into a heavy neoclassical palace, architectural style in vogue at the time. With the annexation to the Kingdom of Italy Verona tried to regain the appearance it had in the Middle Ages, at the height of its splendor. The work was entrusted to the architect Antonio Avena who added a certain amount of imagination to his enthusiasm. To recover the appearance that the Scala palaces had, he relied on some sixteenth-century paintings that had the building in the background. The plaster was removed from the facade, leaving the brick exposed, and the Ghibelline battlements were added again. Inside, the original fresco decoration, now irreparably lost, was replaced with decorative elements taken from ancient prints of fabrics. Even if the intervention was later criticized for the excessive freedom that Avena took in imagining shapes and details, the overall impact in the general look of the square are of great effect. Today, the Scaligeri palace is the seat of the Prefettura (sort of central police department) and the Province of Verona.

The Scala palaces are normally illustrated externally together with the other buildings in Piazza dei Signori, one of the fundamental stop of every guided tour of the historic center of Verona. On special occasions, the palace is open to the public and can therefore also be visited internally.