The Italian Almanac

Juliet's house in Verona

Scrubbing the Balcony

Verona is closing Juliet's House to scrub off messages left by visitors to the star-crossed lover's shrine. Cleaners will blast away graffiti plastering the balcony from which William Shakespeare's heroine is thought to have summoned her Romeo. They'll also pick off hundreds of scribbled notes stuck to the marble walls with bubble gum. Officials have been forced into the clean-up after a failed attempt to bring the site into the modern communications age.

A strict graffiti ban was issued and visitors urged to send their vows by e-mail and SMS to a huge computer display in the house's lobby. To officials' dismay, the youngsters who flock to the site opted to stick to their plastic markers and gum. ''We thought we were making it easier for them. But I suppose a certain element of romantic furtiveness was lost,'' said Giovanna Crippa, a city council official overseeing the scrub-down. ''The important thing is the House will be in pristine condition for Valentine's Day, when the influx of visitors is bigger than normal,'' she said.

Verona makes much of the House - and the revenue it draws - despite historians' claims there is scant evidence it is the locale immortalised by the Bard. The Romeo and Juliet industry shows no sign of flagging, Crippa says. ''It's now the second most visited site in Italy after the Vatican Museums''. The more poetic messages left here are often cited in foreign newspaper and magazine articles about trips to the home town of Shakespeare's famous couple.

The residence is believed to have once housed Juliet because it was the family home of the Cappello family, who, according to legend, were the Capulets of Shakespeare's play. In fact the address is Via Cappello, Number 23. Experts believe the real Juliet Capulet (Cappello) would have lived in the house in the 12th century, if she really existed.

The highlight of any visit to the home is Juliet's balcony, where visitors try to re-enact the famous ''Romeo, Romeo'' scene. Apart from leaving love messages, there is also a ritual linked to the bronze statue of Juliet which stands in the courtyard. Visitors to the house often caress the right breast of the statue as it's believed to bring good luck - a tradition the city council has no intention of banning, for the time being at least.