When you enter into the city of Arezzo, the sensation is one of stepping back into time. There are monuments, parks, ruins, churches and squares that hold the secrets of generations of Tuscans who have built and protected this amazing city.
My preferred starting point is from the top of the city, using the entrance by Parking Pietri. From here, you step through a small corridor which connects the parking lot with the city and when you do, it feels as you have stepped into a magical place. Your first vision is the Cathedral and a busy little square with medieval towers and a white marble statue controlling the comings and goings in Piazza della Libertà.
The Duomo of Arezzo
It is believed that the Cathedral was built on top of one of the first Christian churches in Arezzo. But whatever they believe, it holds a dominant position - this monument can be seen for miles in the Arezzo countryside with its spire tower making it a distinct landmark.
The building you see now, at the top of the stone steps was started in the early 1300’s and due to an ever changing economic situation, was never really finished until the mid 1500’s with several modern modifications including the bell tower and spire in the 20th century.
If you look on the side of the church which extends from the square to the park (the garden surrounding the Medici Fortress) you will see an unusually elaborate side entrance. This was because after several battles, the city had run out of money and could not finish the church...so, they constructed this temporary entrance.
Look even closer to the wall to the left of the door and you can still see a faint scar which indicates where the church stopped until it was later finished in the 1500’s. The interior of the church houses the history of the city including several monuments which give homage to its particular attachment to the Virgin Mary, as well as the artwork of many prominent artists such as Piero della Francesca and Guillaume de Marcillat.
The Medici Fortress
Walk along the exterior wall of the church to find one of the many the green areas of the city. The centerpiece is dominated by a large statue honoring one of its own: Petrarca, a famous poet. The French styled park has a panoramic view towards the Casentino Valley, the surrounding vineyards, olive groves and the meandering extension of the more residential aspect of the city.
Visit the Medici Fortress
July 1 - Sept 30, 2016
Where: Viale Bruno Buozzi, Arezzo
When: Tue - Sun from 10 am to 2 pm and 4 pm to 9 pm
The Medici Fortress, protected by a shield of trees to the far corner, is in the form of a star with five points. It was built by Cosimo I on top of the existing seats of power of Arezzo in order to reinforce the Florentine dominance in the city.
Stone too build the fortress was quarried from the Roman amphitheatre at the base of the city and though the fort has been restored and dismantled several times, it still remains an important example of military architecture from the 1500’s.
Below the park is the house of Petrarca, who is often refers to as the "Father of Humanism." There is a small entrance fee to see this. In this same little alcove you will find a well from the 15th century, known as the well of Tofano which is immortalized in the “Decamerone”.
Above the house to the left is a small little park which incorporates the remains of the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo from the year 1278 and from its elevated position offers a unique scenic view of the Palazzo Pretorio with its façade covered in fanciful stems from ruling families.
Down this road (Corso Italia) to the left you will find the Loggia designed by Vasari, with its lofty arches and antique doors to what were once stores and shops that lined the square. This area now hosts several little cafés and restaurants, in the summer and spring they spill out onto the loggia and in the winter they are cosy little places which offer a panorama over the Piazza Grande.
This square and its particular slope with a dis-level of almost 10 meters was designed to funnel off water when it rained. Built on what some believe to be the Roman forum, it now hosts the monthly antique fair and the famous Giostro dei Saracino which plays out twice a year.
From the center of the square once can admire not only the Vasarian addition, the skyline of several tower homes from the medieval time, the Palazzo della Fraternita dei Laici but also the creative design on the back of the Pieve and a public fountain from the 1500’s. This square is just one of the several where even the locals take time out to relax with an espresso or meet up for a happy hour drink or a leisurely meal. The lack of cars truly allows you to float back in time and imagine the beauty of it all.
Pieve of Arezzo
Following the road alongside the Pieve you move back towards Corso Italia and the front entrance of the church, with its rather singular facade decorated with numerous columns. Both the back and the front façade contain a mix match of columns in one of the best known examples of Romanesque architecture (some would say, in all of Tuscany.)
The interior of church is rather austere in comparison to the Duomo however, it was intended for a different slice of the Catholic pie, so to speak, and the décor was a stark reminder of who the church spoke to during the religious services.
As you leave the Pieve and start to walk down the main road, you will notice that the city scenery begins to change ever so slightly, including more stores and perhaps even more activity. Once you come to via Francesco Crispi, you turn to your left and down just a short ways on the right hand side is a green park where you can admire what remains of the Roman Amphitheatre, this monument which once held approximately 13.000 persons has been slowly dismantled and is now only a skeleton of what it once was.
A visit to the Archaeological museum behind it will give you a better idea of how it was constructed as well as an insight to the other layers of history hidden beneath and beyond the amphitheatre. This museum is not to missed, well organized with many private contributions it houses an impressive collection of Etruscan and Roman ceramics and glassware. The museum is located only a few blocks from the base of the city and the train station.
Visiting All of Arezzo
Though Arezzo can easily be visited in one day - the town is just as easily divided into two parts: the upper part of Arezzo which houses some of the more distinguished historic palazzos, piazzas and monuments and the lower part of Arezzo which is characterized by a show of modern and stylish shops, a more lively, international setting and a more youthful attitude.
If you are travelling by train or bus, you would be arriving at the bottom of the hill where the public transport (bus & trains) stations are located. With a continuous regional service from Florence and a regular bus service from Siena . . . not to mention the more local trains that come in from Casentino and Cortona, Arezzo is not only very walkable as far as exploring the city but also very accessible from the surrounding areas making it an ideal stop for those who choose to travel without a car.
Starting from the Bottom Up
Though arrival to the city with the public transport might include an uphill walk, if taken in small steps it is easy.
Start by walking up the main road which opens to Piazza Guido Monaco (sometimes also known as Guido d’Arezzo) named after the man responsible for inventing written music...though some many bicker about his place of origin (here or the small town of Talla in the Casentino Valley) it is certain that he revolutionized music by creating the staff notation, or rather as we know them today. This square is open and luminous and attracts a wide range of people during the day.
You’ll also find a nice little bar to the right for a cafe or if you want some delicious gelato I suggest you check out the shop after the square on the left hand side.
Piazza San Francesco
Continue to walk straight up the slight hill and you will come to the Piazza San Francesco, which will open to your right. This square, located close to the principle theater, houses two icons of the Arezzo landscape - the first for its important artwork and role in Arezzo’s history: Pieve di San Francesco and the other has been a part of Arezzo for as long as many can remember: il Caffe dei Costanti.
Both merit a visit - even if for two different reasons. The church, has one of the most famous opera of artwork by Piero della Francesca, the Legend of the Cross. Though the interior of the church suffered damages when Napoleon’s troops swept through the city, the newly restored frescoes over the altar are enough to enchant you with their color, their perspective and the fantasy of Piero. There is a ticket to enter but, the interior is truly a special part of Arezzo.
The café across the street, opened in 1809 has seen Arezzo pass through many milestones, and in one way or another it has been apart of the city and its growth for too many years not to be recognized as a historical monument.
Once you have had a chance to explore the square, stand with your back to the church and take a trip down via Cavour on your left and then another left on via San Lorenzo. It will lead you directly to The Medieval and Modern Art Museum which exhibits several great artists that have worked not only in Arezzo but, also within the famous "Florence - Siena - Perugia" triangle. This triangle represents an area where the local artist would travel looking for work in the major medieval cities, sharing their interpretations of color and perspective.
The contained size of the Museum makes it inviting even for the youngsters and the large and colorful paintings will surely manage to stoke their imagination - if not, then perhaps the impressive collection of medieval articles, ceramics, weapons and more will do the trick.
A small detour to the end of Via XX Settembre to the Casa Vasari, definitely one of the more memorable figures to have emerged from Arezzo. Though perhaps more famous for his collection of information regarding artists some of whom we known only through his writing, Vasari was also a talented artist and architect and this house showcases his talents. More of his work can be seen in the art museum mentioned above, in the Loggia next to Piazza Grande and throughout Tuscany especially in Florence. Proceed down the road will bring you to San Domenico and a quiet hidden square that still shows the traces of an ancient watering well used by the city. The interior of the church is simple yet it frames a beautifully restored wooden crucifix from Cimabue as well as a particularly captivating wooden carving of the Virgin Mary and child.
For those who started the tour at the train station you can follow via Madonna Laura for the last push to the top of the hill which will open to the Cathedral on your left and the Piazza on you right. Start from the top of the article and follow the itinerary down to the base of the city. For those of you who started from the top and parked your car in Pietri, you can slip out the door in the city walls located behind the church.