The story
of Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet’s
Lovers’ Walk

The story of Romeo and Juliet starts and develops in Friuli. The two protagonists Lucina and Luigi belong to the powerful Savorgnan family. On February 26 1511, there is a carnival party in the family palace of Udine where seventeen-year-old Lucina sings accompanied by the harpsichord, enchanting the cavalry captain Luigi Da Porto, who is stationed in Cividale del Friuli. A spark ignites between them. But a cruel fate would have it that, a few months later, Luigi is seriously injured in a battle in the Manzanese. All seems lost, especially when, a few years later, Lucina is engaged to marry Francesco Savorgnan, to bring political peace between two feuding families. Luigi does not despair and writes the story of Romeo and Juliet, setting it in Verona and deliberately disguising it as a literary fiction as to hide its true autobiographical nature.
According to Cecil Clough, a student of Italian from the University of Liverpool, it is an autobiographical tale that feigns being set in 1303 in Verona, rather than in Friuli, in which the families Montecchi and Capelletti replace the original Savorgnan del Torre and Savorgnan del Monte.
The Novella was then anonymously published for the first time in Venice, by Bendoni, then by Pietro Bembo, a culture expert and enthusiast, and an advocate of the vernacular in literature of the time (as well as a former lover of Lucina’s mother). It then went on to become one of the most beautiful novellas of the Italian Renaissance, and was first translated into French and then English. Thus it arrived in London where, in the form of a long poem, it became the source of reference for William Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet. These studies were completed and published by Albino Comelli and Francesca Tesei with the book “Romeo and Juliet, the Friulian origin of the legend” Maremma edition Florence.


The two noble lovers were of Friulian and Venetian origin. Their names were Lucina Savorgnan and Luigi Da Porto.


Lucina Savorgnan del Monte

(c. 1493 – 16 January 1543)
Historical documents claim that Maria Griffoni, Giacomo Savorgnan del Monte’s widow and Lucina’s mother, was the owner of the castle, the village and the villa of Ariis. It is likely that Lucina lived in the villa and moved between the Savorgnan properties in Friuli and Venice where her mother resided, under the control of her brothers-in-law.
riis’ villa is located on the banks of the river Stella, which connects it by water to Venice. It had large salt warehouses, which at the time was important as a system for storing food.

Luigi Da Porto, Savorgnan della Torre

(Vicenza, August 1485 – Vicenza, 10 May 1529)
Born into a noble and powerful family to Bernardino and Elisabetta Savorgnan, sister of Antonio Savorgnan, he was quickly orphaned and was entrusted to his paternal grandfather. The Da Porto family were related to the family of Elisabetta Gonzaga, Duchess of Urbino. Luigi completed his education and courtier apprenticeship in Urbino between 1503 to 1505. In Urbino he met Pietro Bembo, a scholar and advocate of the use of the vernacular, with whom he established friendship and mutual esteem. Being of an ambitious nature, in 1509 Luigi Da Porto was put in command of 50 cavalrymen by the Republic of Venice. On March 16, 1510 he was sent to Friuli and assigned to border operations, far from the battlefields that he considered important: “Nonetheless, I am very sorry to go, for having to leave as good a war as this of Veronese is”. He went on to be assigned the command of Cividale del Friuli, near the “Arsenale Veneto” gate, and in March 1511 Luigi Da Porto was assigned to the Venetian garrison of the fortress of Gradisca d’Isonzo. During these months he had several clashes with the German regiments, until the battle of June 20, 1511 near the Natisone River, in which he was stabbed in the neck and was left paralysed. Thus he retired from military life, moving first to Venice and then to Vicenza,
where he died on 10 May 1529 from an unspecified illness.
A refined but little known writer, he wrote the famous Novella, Le Rime (Rhymes), published in 1539, as well as about seventy historical letters, published in 1857, on the political and wartime events following the Cambrai league.


On February 26, 1511 Maria Griffoni Savorgnan organized a masked party in the Palazzo Savorgnan in Udine (today Piazza Venerio) which was also attended by her daughter Lucina who was about 17 years old. All the nobility attended in the partyincluding Luigi da Porto, captain of Cavalleggeri Veneti in Cividale del Friuli.

The Young Lucina ...

The young Lucina was remembered by Gregorio Amaseo at the party in Udine:
“… the Medema evening, having arrived at the house of Madonna Maria Savorgnana, where she danced, playing with the melody of a harpsichord, and singing worthily was Madonna Lucina, her daughter, a pilgrim damsel, and seen some dancing there until late.”


The Palazzo dei Savorgnan, where they met, was located where the current Piazza Venerio is, indicated in the old geographical maps as “plazze de rovine” (square of ruins). In 1549, the Savorgnan Palace was confiscated and destroyed following the crimes committed by a family member.. On the current pavement around the square the plan of the old building is depicted in dark stone, as it stood at the beginning of the 16th century.


Luigi Da Porto would have liked to marry Lucina who was tutored by Girolamo Savorgnan del Monte after the death of her father. Their union was made impossible due to his injury and the disagreements between the the Savorgnan del Monte side of the family and his mother’s side, the Savorgnan del Torre.


On February 27, 1511, the day of Shrove Thursday, Antonio Savorgnan simulated an Austrian attack on Udine,which, according to some historical sources, was carried out by Cividale soldiers commanded by his nephew, Luigi Da Porto himself.

Antonio Savorgnan at that point gathered...

Antonio Savorgnan at that point gathered the people to rise up and defend the city. In the chaos of the situation, he led the masses, who together formed the Zamberlani faction, towards the nobility, massacring large numbers of noblemen, particularly members the Della Torre family, referenced in the land of Friuli, Strumieri, and pro-Austrian. Many members of the Della Torre, Colloredo, della Frattina, Soldonieri, Gorgo, and Bertolini families and others were murdered, their bodies were stripped and abandoned in the streets of the city centre, or dragged through the mud and then thrown in nearby cemeteries. The rebels put on the noblemen’s clothes, staging a macabre masquerade and imitating their original owners, actually embodying the spirit of “inversion of roles” typical of a carnival. The noblemen who escaped retreated to their castles, or way beyond the Tagliamento river, in the western Friuli. Other sources portray the incident as a loss of control over the subjects on Antonio Savorgnan’s part and that he actually helped save some rival families from the massacre. On the evening of Shrove Thursday 1511, Antonio Savorgnan had two of his henchmen murdered to prevent them from testifying about his subterfuges to trigger the revolt. Their corpses, plus that of another witness, were thrown into the well of San Giovanni, on the corner of via Savorgnana and via Stringher.
Only after a few days did an armed contingent from Gradisca arrive in the city, who managed to restore public order, but they didn’t stop the carnival procession mocking the murdered nobles.
In the meantime, the trail of violence spread like wildfire to the neighbouring territories of Udine and slowly throughout the whole region.
Months later, faced with a threat to raid Udine and following the promise of advantageous conditions, Antonio too surrendered to the invader. The republic, betrayed, did not take it well and condemned him.


Luigi da Porto, as well as a writer, was a knight and Captain to the Venetian army stationed in Friuli. He had a life as a man of the Renaissance court: adventurous, and full of duels, love and literary idleness, topped with a tragic epilogue due to his injury.
At the Natisone river, on 21 June 1511, the soldiers of Venice faced the militias of Maximilian. The battle was bloody, Luigi da Porto was stabbed in the neck with a sword and was left paralysed. At first he was transferred to Udine and then to Venice. He spent part of his recovery between Vicenza and Montorso Vicentino, devoting himself to studying and writing.


The Savorgnan family had birthed two lineages: the Savorgnan del Monte and the Savorgnan del Torre, the latter to which Antonio Savorgnan belonged. In 1487, Antonio acquired great political and military power, on a mandate from Venice.

Following Antonio Savorgnan’s betrayal...

Following Antonio Savorgnan’s betrayal, the Council of Ten announced a prize of five thousand ducats. It was, on his eventual return from exile, a sum for his murder. Although he had taken refuge with some men from his entourage in nearby Carinthia, his popularity in the homeland of Friuli still remained strong which was proven when, in October 1511, the Udine community requested he be pardoned before the Council of Ten. On May 27, 1512, some Friulian castellans, including Gian Enrico Spilimbergo, Girolamo di Colloredo and Gian Giorgio di Zoppola, attacked him at the church of San Giacomo in Villach, Austria and killed him in a nearby cemetery.

Luigi da Porto described it in these terms:“This man […] is of such authority in these parts that no lord of Italy is greater in his state, nor does he have obedient subjects such as the popular peasant Forlani that he has up to now had, and perhaps for all of time will have, with so much veneration they hold for him .”(Letter to Antonio Caccialupo, February 28, 1512).


The shame that came with his betrayal fell on the Savorgnan: Del Torre family branch who, with their representative now gone, was stripped of their assets, which were given to the Del Monte branch. The conflict over the assets, however, was bitter so the Serenissima proposed a matrimonial truce between the two sides. In 1515 Venice asked Girolamo Savorgnan del Monte, Lucina’s uncle and tutor, to marry one of his daughters to Francesco Savorgnan del Torre, exonerated heir of the traitor Antonio Savorgnan,Girolamo refused, but the following year Francesco married Lucina and together they had two sons: Giovanni (1518) and Niccolò (1524).
Peace was restored, but the news takes Luigi by surprise, who felt lost. A reminiscence of Dante (the allusion to an alleged rivalry between Montecchi and Cappelletti, canto VI of Purgatory, v. 106), convinced him to retell his sad tale on paper.


Between 1512 and 1524, after the Battle of Manzano, Luigi Da Porto moved between Venice, Padua, Arzignano, Vicenza and Montorso Vicentino, where he began to write the Novella that he would dedicate to Lucina Savorgnan.
Its working title translated to: “Newly found story of two noble lovers with their pitiful death which has already occurred in the city of Verona in the time of Mr. Bartolomeo della Scala” .
The novella has elements that are also found in other earlier works (like thwarted love, clandestine marriage, and fake death), such as a story by Masuccio Salernitano, “Mariotto and Ganozza” from 1476, which comes the closest to the Da Porto’s version.
The uniqueness and literary value of this novella compared to earlier ones is the ability to insert itself into a likely historical setting.


The Novella is preceded by a prologue with a dedication to the “BEAUTIFUL AND RADIANT MADONNA LUCINA SAVORGNANA”

Poscia che io, già assai giorni con voi parlando, dissi di voler una compassionevole novella da me già più volte udita, ed in Verona intervenuta, iscrivere, m’è paruto essere il debito in queste poche carte distenderla, sì perchè le mie parole appo voi non paressero vane, sì anco perchè a me, che misero sono, de’casi de’ miseri amanti, di ch’ella è piena, si appartiene; ed appresso al vostro valore indrizzarla, acciocché, quantunque tra le belle donne a voi simiglianti prudentissima vi conosca, possiate, leggendola, più chiaramente vedere a quai rischi, a quai trabocchevoli passi, a che crudelissime morti gli miseri e cattivelli amanti sieno il più delle volte d’Amore condotti.
Ed anco volentieri alla vostra bellezza la mando, perchè avendo io fra me diliberato, ch’ella siasi l’ultimo mio lavorìo in guest’arte, già stanco e sazio di essere più favola del volgo, in voi il mio sciocco poetare finisca; e che come sete porto di valore, di bellezza e di leggiadria, così della picciola barchetta del mio ingegno siate; la quale, carca di molta ignoranza, d’Amore sospinta per li men profondi pelaghi della poesia ha molto solcato, e ch’ella a voi giugnendo, del suo grand’errore accorta, possa ad altri, che con più scienza e miglior stella nel già detto mare navigano, e temone e remi e vela donando, disarmata sicuramente alle vostre rive legarsi. Prendetela adunque, Madonna, nell’abito a lei convenevole, e leggetela volentieri, sì pel soggetto ch’ è bellissimo, e pieno di pietate mi pare che sia, come anco per lo stretto vincolo di consanguinitade e dolce amistà, che tra la persona vostra e chi la descrive si ritrova: il qual sempre con ogni riverenza vi si raccomanda.
Siccome voi stessa vedeste, mentre il cielo verso me in tutto ogni suo sdegno rivolto non ebbe, nel bel principio di mia giovanezza al mestier dell’armi mi diedi, ed in quello molti grandi e valorosi uomini seguendo, nella dilettevole vostra patria del Friuli alcun anno mi esercitai, per la quale secondo i casi, quando privatamente or quinci or quindi servendo, mi era bisogno d’andare. […] Per la qual cosa partendo io da Gradisca, ove in alloggiamenti stava, e con costui e due altri miei, forse d’Amore sospinto, verso Udine venendo; la quale strada molto solinga, e tutta per la guerra arsa è distrutta in quel tempo era; e molto dal pensiero soppresso, lontano dagli altri venendomi, accostatomisi il detto Peregrino, come quello che i miei pensieri indovinava, così mi disse: «Volete voi sempre in trista vita vivere, perchè una bella crudele, altramente mostrando, poco v’ami? E benchè contro a me spesso dica; pure, perchè meglio si danno, che non si ritengono i consigli, vi dirò, Patron mio, che oltre che a voi nell’esercizio che siete, lo star molto nella prigion d’Amore si disdica, sì tristi son quasi tutti i fini, ai quali egli ci conduce, ch’è un pericolo il seguirlo. Ed in testimonianza di ciò, quando a voi piacesse, potre’ io una novella nella mia città avvenuta, che la strada men solitaria e men rincrescevole ci faria, raccontarvi; nella quale sentireste, come due nobili Amanti a misera e pietosa morte guidati fossero». E già avendo io fatto segno di udirlo volentieri, egli così cominciò: “


At the end of the handwritten copy Luigi Da Porto dwells on the ingratitude his fate in love had left him with.

” […] Quante ce ne saranno ora che prima ancora di veder morto l’amante avranno pensato di trovarne un altro, e non di morirgli accanto? Che se vedo alcune donne contro ragione dimenticare ogni fede e ogni ben servire, e abbandonare non morti ma alquanto percossi dalla fortuna gli amanti che ebbero più cari, cosa si deve credere che esse facciano dopo la loro morte? Miseri gli amanti di questa età che non possono sperare, né dando lunga prova di servire fedelmente, né morendo per le loro donne, ch’esse muoiano mai con loro; anzi sono certi di non essere più cari a quelle se non possono gagliardamente provvedere ai loro bisogni.”


The Novella’s storyline is set conveniently in the time of Bartolomeo I della Scala, in 1301-1304, in Verona. In the Scaligera city, also full of Renaissance culture, the symbolic places are “tinged” with theatricality, leading us, in Shakespeare’s scenes of Romeo and Juliet, to relive the medieval period in which the work was set, and to discover the most romantic places in the city.


Verona: where the love story takes place. In Luigi Da Porto’s time, it was a strategically important city for Venice. References and descriptions in the Novella evoke images of Udine’s urban features and of its political divisions at the time.
Mantua: the city where, according to the story, Romeo flees to, and where the Chapter of the Friars takes place. It was here in real life, that Antonia and Elisabetta Gonzaga lived, who were great friends to Luigi.
Lodrone: in the Novella Lodrone is the count promised to be married to Juliet, but in reality he turned out to be the noble Trentino family, who were old friends of the Da Porto family. In September 1511, a Lodrone mediated between the Emperor Maximilian and his uncle Antonio Savorgnan in discussions over crossing over to the Imperial side.
Franciscan Friars: living alongside the Savorgnan Palaces, where Luigi or Lucina may have lived or at least frequented, the Franciscan Friars were constantly in touch with Romeo and Juliet in the novella. The Savorgnans and the Convent of the Minors were also connected physically by a convenient passageway, and conducted many activities together.
The Tomb: there was a cemetery next to the Church of San Francesco in Udine, that was historically reserved for the friars and other conventuals to the Savorgnans. In the Novella, friar Lorenzo says to Juliet “You know that the ark of your family Capelletti is placed outside this church in our cemetery”. And then she too would be layed to rest there.
Peregrino: from Verona, Peregrino was an archer who was always alongside Luigi Da Porto. A character who accompanies him in the long and boring marches and who he confides in and loves to talk with. As Luigi himself described him: a “lover, spirited soldier, storyteller”.


The tale contains an autobiographical element for, behind the characters of Romeo and Juliet, Luigi himself and his cousin Lucina Savorgnan can be seen hidden. They both were involved in the feuds between the Strumieri and Zamberlani that inflamed Friuli in the early sixteenth century and which culminated with the revolt of the Cruel Fat Thursday on February 27, 1511.
Moreover, in the detailed descriptions i Luigi Da Porto’s novella, a strong likeness to the urban environment of Udine is portrayed.


Writer Luigi da Porto was also a knight and captain of the Venetian army, stationed in Friuli where, from the eastern border, the troops of the Habsburg Empire had arrived. He led a life as a man of the Renaissance court: adventurous, full of duels, love and literary idleness, with a tragic epilogue due to his injury.
At his side there was always an archer from Verona named Peregrino. Luigi da Porto always had him by his side on his long and boring marches when he would to talk with and confide in him.

As they march through the countryside …

As they march through the war-torn countryside, Peregrino asks Luigi Da Porto:
Volete voi sempre in trista vita vivere, perché una bella crudele, altrimenti mostrando, poco vi ami?
Continua dicendo che, anche se sa che i consigli è più facile darli che seguirli, il suo signore non dovrebbe tormentarsi troppo a lungo, poiché è pericoloso seguire l’Amore, che quasi sempre conduce a una triste fine. E per testimoniare quello che dice, gli racconta un avvenimento della sua Verona: la storia di due nobili amanti che seguendo la propria passione sono morti miseramente.


During a break in the fighting, Da Porto and the archer Peregrino move from Gradisca to Udine by foot, when Da Porto tells the archer about his disappointing love life. Peregrino responds by recalling a story in which it is said “to be long in the prison of love is unbecoming, so sad are almost all the ends to which it leads us, that it is a danger to follow it“.


The Novella was written by Luigi Da Porto between 1512 and 1524. It was printed anonymously in Venice between 1530 and 1531, and was reprinted, again anonymously, in 1535. In 1539 it was reprinted with a linguistic revision by Pietro Bembo (advocate and scholar of the then vernacular in Italy) together with Da Porto’s poetry.
In the following decades various adaptations appeared (by Matteo Bandello, Gerardo Boldieri and Luigi Groto). It was also translated into French in 1559 and appeared in 1562 in an English poem by Arthur Brooke. It was from these works that between 1594 and 1595 William Shakespeare could write his literary masterpiece. There are currently two handwritten copies of this novella.


The story reinterpreted by William Shakespeare was performed for the first time on January 29, 1595 in London, in the Curtain Theatre.


Romeo and Juliet, born from Luigi Da Porto’s pen, have become the most famous couple in the world.


A story that has become the universal symbol for love in the world.


The two noble lovers have become an opportunity to discover the cultural, social and historical aspects of the Renaissance period, between Veneto and Friuli.
He, Luigi Da Porto, Romeo, a “masculine” expression of the strength and nobility of chivalry, which can be seen in the defensive and military structures. She, Lucina Savorgnan, Juliet, a “feminine” expression, of subtle refinement and decorum, which can be seen in the arts, public buildings, squares, noble residences in the cities and in the surrounding countryside that accompany you on Romeo and Juliet’s Lovers’ Walk.

Learn more here.