Jan. 18, 2008 -- Thousands of scribbled amorous words, hearts, arrows and intertwined initials have been removed this week from the walls of Juliet's house in Verona, Italy, in a radical clean-up of the 13th century structure that is believed to have inspired William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet."
According to some rumors, the cleaning is timed for the likely visit of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and former model Carla Bruni, who might honeymoon in the nearby village of Negrar.
But, according to Vittorio Di Dio, Verona's public works counselor, cleaning brushes and elbow grease are applied regularly every two to three years on the house's medieval walls.
"Love notes are growing and growing everywhere," Di Dio told Discovery News. "You get to the point when you really need a clean-up. The reason for the present cleaning is simple: We must be ready for the big day, Valentine's Day."
Indeed, the house, with the legendary balcony where Juliet Capulet is said to have pined for Romeo, is one of the most visited sites in Italy.
The family home of the Cappello family who, according to legend, were the Capulets of Shakespeare's play, is a place of pilgrimage for lovers from all over the world.
The tradition is to first stroke the right breast of the languid bronze statue of Juliet in the courtyard -- the gesture is believed to bring good luck -- then leave passionate words on the house's walls and Gothic wooden doors.
"The 2005 restoration cost 150,000 euros ($220,000). The building was literally covered with letters, post-it slips, graffiti and chewing gum, used to stick the love notes," Sergio Menon, the engineer in charge of the cleaning, told Discovery News.
"Some say this is decorative, but we believe it damages the site, not to mention it's rather disgusting to see chewed gum."
Love notes were left everywhere -- between the leaves and branches of shrubs, on the walls, doors and windows and almost up to the legendary balcony.
"Just us two, forever," "My heart beats hard thinking of you," "Kill me with your kisses," "You and I breathe together like two nostrils," were some of the amorous words written on the walls.
The love note-writing tradition dates from 1937, when the first letter sent to Juliet was found by her tomb.
"Each year we receive thousands of letters, simply addressed to 'Juliet, Verona.' We have a Juliet Club which collects the missives and replies to everybody. Each year, on Valentine's Day the best letters are awarded a prize," Di Dio said.
Though notes stuck with chewing gum will be strictly banned -- a guard will be overlooking the site -- Di Dio agrees that the love note tradition must be kept and promoted further.
"We need to find a way that encourages visitors to express their intimate thoughts and preserves the site at the same time," Di Dio said.
The idea of making Juliet go digital by giving her own phone number and email address, with the text messages displayed on a giant screen inside the house, failed three years ago. It was too unromantic.
"Visitors who come to Juliet's house want to express their innermost feelings the old fashioned way, by writing them on paper," Di Dio said. He planned to solve the graffiti problem by placing large, removable wooden panels on the walls.
"Visitors will be welcome to write their love messages there," Di Dio said. "In this way we will not lose this genuine expression of fantasy and passion. We will keep the panels and display them."