This is one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in northern Italy, built between the 9th and 12th centuries over the 4th-century shrine to Verona’s patron saint, St. Zeno (who died 380). Slightly northwest of the old city's hub but still easily reached by foot, San Zeno (as it's often referred to) is Verona's most visited church. Spend a moment outside to appreciate the fine, sober facade, highlighted by the immense 12th-century rose window, the Ruota della Fortuna (Wheel of Fortune).

This pales in importance compared to the facade below -- two pillars supported by marble lions and massive doors whose 48 bronze panels were sculpted from the 9th to the 11th centuries and are believed to have been some of the first castings in bronze since Roman antiquity. They are among the city's most cherished artistic treasures and are worth the trip here even if the church is closed. Not as sophisticated as those that would adorn the Baptistery doors of Florence's Duomo in the centuries to come, these are like a naive illustration from a children's book and were meant to educate the illiterate masses with scenes from the Old and New Testaments and the life of San Zeno. They are complemented by the stone bas-reliefs found on either side of the doors, the 12th-century work of Niccolo, who was also responsible for the Duomo's portal. The 14th-century tower on the left belonged to the former abbey, while the free-standing slender campanile on the right was begun in 1045.

The massive interior is filled with 12th- to 14th-century frescoes and crowned by the nave's ceiling, designed as a wooden ship's keel. But the interior's singular highlight is the famous triptych of the Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints, by Andrea Mantegna (1459), behind the main altar. Napoleon absconded with the beautiful centerpiece -- a showcase for the Padua-born Mantegna's sophisticated sense of perspective and architectural detail -- which was eventually returned to Verona, although two side panels stayed behind in the Louvre and in Tours. Look in the small apse to the left of the altar for the colored marble statue of a smiling San Zeno, much loved by the local Veronesi, in an act of blessing.