VERONA, Italy — As visitors tour the cobblestone streets of Verona, they often stop in amazement at the arched entrance that leads to “Juliet's House.” There, a stone gallery displays thousands of love messages that have been carved, spray-painted or written on post-its and then glued on the stone with chewing gum.

Inside the courtyard, a bronze statue of the fictional Juliet Capulet stands at the bottom of the balcony where — according to William Shakespeare — she stood one starry night, sighing after Romeo's daring courtship. In front of the balcony is “The Terrace of Love,” owned by a theater company that has created an option for serious romantics who want to follow the love note tradition, but eschew vandalism.

"We have a terrace, which we repaved with small marble tiles where people can now engrave their names," said Carlina Degli Albertini, public relations director for the Verona Theater. "They can leave their own love messages, their own thoughts, and keep it forever."

Just in time for Valentine's Day, the Stabile di Verona Theater is pushing the Lovestone fundraising project, which charges couples 100 euros to immortalize their love. Unlike most initiatives in this town, where the myth of Romeo and Juliet has been used for profit, Lovestone helps fund the arts.

The Stabile di Verona Theater dates back to the 19th century when a consortium of patrician families was looking for ways to boost Verona’s cultural scene. Today the theater's small decorative seats and deep red curtains are missing the time when theater thrived.

"Lovestone was born because the Italian Ministry of Culture was cutting funds for the arts," said Degli Albertini. "So all Italian Theaters are looking for initiatives to finance themselves."

Through Lovestone, Degli Albertini expects to fund a large part of the theater's total production costs in the coming years. While some theater companies have the funds to operate only for a few months every year, Stabile di Verona hopes to continue putting on Shakespearean plays year-round.

A total of 59,000 tiles lay across the terrace floor. Each one is only 3 square inches wide, which means costumers must be short and sweet. Some of the lovebirds simply put their names inside a heart. Others chose a few powerful words:

"Destiny keeps us afar, but our heart will always keep us together," wrote one young couple who traveled from southern Italy to Verona for this one purpose.

"It's nice when they come in and you see how long they sit and think, searching for the right words," said Beatrice Vicenzi, the Lovestone project manager. "However 95 percent of all our customers do it online."

“Leo and Jess,” who ordered their stone online, took a metaphysical approach, writing "Winter gardens, our feelings where the heart burns.”

“Alberto and Laura,” were more pragmatic: “The only important thing is the mark of love we are leaving.”

Vicenzi said orders piled in before Valentine’s Day, and that it wasn’t just couples who left the lasting testaments to love. One man walked in and purchased four, one for each of his family members.

Those who buy a stone receive an exact replica of the one that will remain in Verona delivered inside a red velvet bag within a few weeks. About once a month, Lovestone employees compile the orders and assemble 20 at a time on a digital matrix. A small robot then takes that information and engraves it on each tile with a laser. Those who purchase their tile in person can design the stone in their own handwriting.

The walls of London's Globe Theater inspired Lovestone. The replica of the theater where Shakespeare staged his plays at first allowed visitors to leave their sonnets, rhymes or romantic phrases in exchange for a donation. Degli Albertini said she hopes to repeat that model in Verona, where almost 1.5 million tourists visit Juliet’s House every year.

More Valentine's Day dispatches:

Afghanistan: Love in the time of Taliban

BeNeLux: Is chocolate recession-proof?

Ghana: Cocoa crops threatened by disease

India: A million Romeos, a million Juliets

Jordan: A high price for true love

Nigeria: Love helps couple cope with HIV

Saudi Arabia: Kingdom of forbidden romance


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