Arezzo: a melting pot of art, culture, architecture and history

Arezzo, with its very ancient history, is a melting pot of art, culture, architecture and history. Maybe it will be easier for us to quote what NOT see in Arezzo, because the city is an open air museum of medieval history.

Our suggestion is to decide a starting point (B&B Antiche Mura in Piaggia di Murello, for example) and start walking: in every corner there is something to see, so you just have to stop by and give it a look.

We’d like to give you some suggestions about what is really worth seeing. For example, if you start from the B&B Antiche Mura, you could walk east, towards Via Ricasoli (uphills, if you don’t have a compass!) and you’ll end up just in front of the Cathedral of San Donato: it’s located on top of the hill of Arezzo near to the Fortress and due to its position and majesty, it is visible from every place. It was designed by Margaritone and its construction began at the end of the 13th century. The Cathedral was completed in the 16th century, but its facade was realized in the 20th century. The campanile was erected half way through the 19th century next to the polygonal apse. Inside the Cathedral there are wonderful and important works of art, like the “Maria Maddalena” by Piero della Francesca , the stained glass windows by Guillaume de Marcillat, the Funerary monument of Guido Tarlati and the Main Altar from Giovanni Pisano.

Walking down Via Andrea Cesalpino, you can find on your right the Arezzo’s city hall, which is placed in Palazzo dei Priori. It was built in the 14th century and it has got a characteristic tower where you can find frescoes by Parri di Spinello and Teofilo Torri; you can also find paintings by Giorgio Vasari.

A couple of blocks forward, on your left, you can find Via della Bicchieraia: if you take this street, you’ll end up in Corso Italia, right in front of Santa Maria della Pieve, an impressive church in Romanesque style. The church’s most striking feature is its façade, with a five-arch lower floor surmounted by three loggias, with the number of columns increasing with the elevation. The columns, and its capitals, are each different from the other and one is a statue. The counter-façade has nine windows on three rows. At the high altar is the Tarlati polyptych, representing the Madonna and Saints, by Pietro Lorenzetti. The bell tower looks very solid and shows five rows of mullioned windows.

By walking beside the Church, the amazing Piazza Grande will enroll right in front of your eyes. Piazza Grande, with its unique shape, is one of the most scenographic and evocative squares in Italy. It  is also known as Piazza Vasari, thanks to the amazing loggiato designed by Vasari himself. Palazzo delle Logge was designed by Giorgio Vasari in 1573 and it definitely modified the urbanistic structure of the square, which had already been altered by the collapse of the Palazzo del Comune and the Palazzo del Popolo: its construction required the reduction in size of the old platea communis and the occupation of a whole side with an uninterrupted wall. The final result, anyway, was harmonious, thanks to the simplicity of the architecture and the luminosity of the long portico, under which are situated the entrances to the old shops with their characteristic spallette (little parapets). Though the building of Palazzo delle Logge was very controversial, today it’s a unique masterpiece and a symbol of the city of Arezzo.

Another important building in Piazza Gande is Palazzo Lappoli, which dominates the southeast side of Piazza Grande, which is made up of a row of old houses characterized by high and narrow facades, decorated with wooden balconies.

A well-known antiques market and the Giostra del Saracino, a historical pageant with a challenge between the four districts of the town, are held here. The Court House, the Palazzo della Fraternita dei Laici, the Palazzo delle Logge and the apse of the Romanesque parish church, or pieve, of Santa Maria all face onto the square. On the ground floor of the Medieval buildings surrounding the square, you can shop in the most characteristic antiques shop in Arezzo. On Piazza Grande is standing Palazzo della Confraternita dei Laici: it was built in three different epochs, but the result is wonderful. The lowest part of the building is Gothic (14th century), but it was completed in Renaissance style by Bernardo Rossellino in the 15th century. The bell-gable was designed by Giorgio Vasari (16th century), and it houses one of the oldest working clocks (Felice da Fossato, 1552) that indicates hours, days and the phases of the moon.

Walking up beside the Vasari Loggiato, passing through Piaggia San Martino, you can easily reach in a few steps the Medici Fortress, built in the 16th century by the Medici family of Florence; it’s located on top of the hill and it offers a wonderful view around the city. Gardens, called “Prato”, are all around the Fortress.

From the fortress, you can walk down again towards Piazza Grande (give it another look because it deserves it!) and then reach the Roman amphitheater, which is located in the southern part of Arezzo and can be reached both through Via Margaritone and Via Crispi. The amphitheater  was built between the end of the 1st century and the beginning of the 2nd century A.D. with blocks of sandstone, bricks and marble; it has an elliptic shape and it could probably contain eight thousand people.

After visiting the Roman Amphitheatre, you could walk to Piazza Guido Monaco, a circular square dating back to the 19th century and placed at the crossroad between Via Guido Monaco and Via Roma. In the centre of the square, which has a diameter of 100 metres, there is a monument to Guido Monaco, by Salvino Salvini. The square does not have a high historic importance, but if it’s a warm day and you feel like walking, it’s worth seeing, since it’s very well planned and kept.

Definitely more interesting are the churches you come across, while walking back to North. The first one you meet and can visit is the Church of Santa Maria in Gradi. It dates back to the 11th/12th century, but was re-done in a manneristic style at the end of the 16th century, following a design by Bartolomeo Ammannati. The brick campanile was modified in the following century. The single nave interior contains a very interesting Madonna of Mercy, a 15th century terracotta by Andrea della Robbia.

Further north, you can find the Basilica of San Francesco and the Badia of Santa Flora and Lucilla. The former (placed on Piazza San Francesco) dates back to the second half of the 13th century. Its current appearance, however, is the result of a 14th century Tuscan Gothic restoration, which was inspired by criteria of aesthetic simplicity from Franciscan priests. The magnificent single nave interior has been almost completely restored to its original simplicity. You can see on its right, shrines from the 14th century and reinassance ornaments and, on the left, plain ogival chapels. Anyway, the attention of the visitor is attracted, above all, by the fascinating scenes of the Legend of the True Cross painted by Piero della Francesca on the walls of the central apse between 1453 and 1464 circa.

The Badia of Ss. Flora and Lucilla is a church placed in Piazza della Badia, built by the Benedictine monks during the 13th century and dedicated to the Saints Flora and Lucilla. In the middle of the 16th century, the church was completely restored according to a project by Vasari. The current facade is the result of a desputable early 20th century restoration of Romanesque-Gothic inspiration but the great mullioned window, part of the portal and the side facing via Cavour are original and the manneristic interior shows the genius touch of Vasari; the main dome, an illusion created by false perspective on canvas, was realized by Andrea Pozzo. In this church there is a lot to see: as a matter of fact, to the left of the entrance, there is a fresco of S.Lorenzo of considerable interest, by Bartolomeo della Gatta; on the right, there is a wonderful Cricufix painted on wood by Segna di Bonaventura, and near the altar, which is made of wood and was originally built by Vasari there is a marble ciborium, which is tough to be made by Benedetto da Maiano.

From here, if you had enough of walking around Arezzo and your feet are asking for revenge, you are just a couple of steps away from your starting point, the B&B Antiche Mura, where you can finally rest!

On the other hand If you are fond of churches, there are others to see along your way, like Church of Ss. Annunziata, along Via Garibaldi and Church of San Domenico placed in Piazza San Domenico.

Other curiosities to see if you have some more time are: the Chimaera statue under the Porta di San Lorentino. The statue under the door is actually a copy of the most precious original statue, which is currently the Archeological museum in Firenze. The Chimaera of Arezzo is a bronze statue which was found in Arezzo, in 1553. Of Etruscan origin, probably from 5th century bc, it is one of the most beautiful examples we have of ancient Etruscan art and supposedly it was made as a vow. The archives of the city of Arezzo, in Italy, report the discovery of the “Lion found outside the S. Laurentino Door”, that’s why it’s placed there as a symbol of the city of Arezzo. The Chimaera represents an animal with the body and head of a lion, part goat and a snake like tail.

Last but not least, if you are a lover of Italian literature, you may be interested in visiting the house of Francesco Petrarca, placed in Via dell’Orto No. 28. Petrarca was an Aretine scholar and poet in Renaissance Italy, who lived between 1304 and 1374 and one of the earliest humanists. He would be later endorsed as a model for Italian style by the Accademia della Crusca. Petrarch’s sonnets were admired and imitated throughout Europe during the Renaissance and became a model for lyrical poetry. He’s known especially for his sonnets dedicted to a woman called Laura, which are the highest examples of courtly love poetry. The house you can visit today was built in the 16th century on the remains of a medieval building traditionally held to be Francesco Petrarca’s birthplace. It was half destroyed in the last world war but has been rebuilt and now houses the Petrarca Academy of letter, Arts and Sciences (together with its library). Entrance is free and the opening hours are 10:00-12:00 am/3:00-5:00 pm. Closed on Sundays afternoon and on holidays.

You must be hungry after so much walking: go and see our selected restaurants!

 

B&B Antiche Mura
Street: Piaggia di Murello, 35
Arezzo
Tel.: +39 0575 20410
Email: info@antichemura.info
Website | Maps & Directions

Welcoming: this is the first impression we had, when we arrived at B&B Antiche Mura in Arezzo! Barbara and her father are amazing and very kind people and they immediately let you feel as if you are at home! The second impression was that, though a B&B, the structure was very well-finished and kept, and the impression was confirmed, when we stepped into our room.

The B&B has been totally renovated in 2008 out of a XIII century building and the skillful restoration allowed to preserve the old charm, together with all the modern facilities: white and gold exalt fascinating corners of old history; stone walls are witnesses of time passing by and they emerge from the partition of the reading room on the ground floor, from which the B&B takes its name. When you walk in the hotel, you have to be conscious that you are stepping over thousands years of history, as the remains in the corridor beside the staircase show you, if we look at the floor below you. The choose of colours and furniture, let present and past live together in harmony, creating different atmospheres in each room, all of them cozy and rich in attention to details.

All the rooms are en-suite and each one of them is equipped with LCD Tv, air conditioned, heating system, free Wi-Fi. Available upon request, you can have a bike and motorbike parking for free. Breakfast is included and you can have it by one of the B&B’s partner bars. We chose “GlI Svizzeri”, one of the oldest bars in Arezzo, placed in Corso Italia, because we wanted to experience a “historic” breakfast! If you want to learn more about this bar, just go to the Clubs and Bars page.

Concerning the location, it’s just perfect, because once you are there, you will need no means of transport to visit the city: Arezzo is quite an affordable city to be visited on foot. Actually the best thing you can do is walking around the city, because each corner will impress you!

Just a suggestion: if you decide to go to Arezzo by car, watch out the Limited Traffic Zone, which is into force from Monday to Friday, from 8.30am to 11.00am and from 5.30pm to 8.00pm. There are video-cameras so, if you are not allowed to enter, you’ll be fined! We suggest you two solutions: you can enter the city center in allowed times and then B&B Antiche Mura will give you a kind of pass to park for free in the toll parkings as a guest of the hotel; either, you can leave your car in the public parking in Via Pietri. It is easy and fast to reach, there are free parkings and there is an escalator, which leads you just a few meters from B&B Antiche Mura.

From B&B Antiche Mura, the whole city of Arezzo is at your hand: starting from the Cathedral of Saints Pietro and Donato, which is placed right behind the corner, you can easily reach each corner, included the main square, which takes about a 5/10 minutes walk from the hotel.

If you like historic romanticism and you don’t need a royal suite, we are quite sure you’ll enjoy your stay at B&B Antiche Mura in Arezzo!

Restaurant Ciò che Piace
Street: Via di San Lorentino, 12
Arezzo
Tel.: +39 0575 371287
Maps & Directions

Nice restaurant, in a familiar environment; the staff is polite, though we can’t say there is a special attention to the customer and the service is fast. The quality of the food is good, you can taste typical dishes from the Tuscan tradition in a normal atmosphere, without praise or blame and with a very good price/quality ratio.

We had a typical Tuscan starter, 1 main course (pasta) and 2 second dishes (steak and beef tagliata), one bottle of wine, coffee and we totally spent € 55,00, which is quite a good price, when you eat good quality food.  Yet, we can’t say it was excellent.

In our opinion, it’s the perfect place if you want to eat good food (meat is better than pasta), in an informal environment and without spending hours waiting for a dish.

Farmacia del Cervo
Street: Via Cavour, 38
Arezzo
Tel.: +39 0575 20872
Email: alessiaperuzzi@virgilio.it
Website | Maps & Directions

Whether you stay in Arezzo for a few days or you just stop by, you can’t miss a quick stop at Farmacia del Cervo. If you can speak Italian and you understand what the word farmacia means, don’t worry, we are not recommending you to go to the doctor and get some medications, but we suggest you to have a meal by this restaurant/food store, which is placed in the building, where a pharmacy was formerly placed! It’s definitely unique the choice to keep the name of the pharmacy, rather than changing it with words related to food! The store/restaurant also keeps the old sign and some furniture from  the pharmacy, which makes the atmosphere very different.

We arrived at the restaurant quite late, actually, it was 3pm and they were closing down for the afternoon break. Yet, the owner was very understanding and polite, since he advised us that we couldn’t have a hot meal because the kitchen was already closed, but he wouldn’t let us go without eating, so he offered us to have some amongst his cold dishes selection. He truly apologized for the inconvenience and because he had not that much to offer us….there were approximately 50 cold dishes to choose amongst! He suggested us a few typical dishes in his selection and we had a seat in the nice and characteristic room upstairs, where the care for details is undeniable.

Our selection of dishes was:

Burrata with chuck ham. Burrata is a kind of semi-soft fresh cheese and, since it’s a typical product from the south of Italy, they have it sent directly from region Apulia. Chuck ham, on the other hand, is characteristic from region Tuscany and the taste is something in between ham and bacon. The combination of sweet cheese and salted ham is just superb!

- Beef with mushrooms, carrots and peas: a real delicacy, very tasty and the meat was extremely soft, though it was a cold meal.

Buffalo mozzarella roll with baked ham, served with vegetables. Extremely tasty and fresh, perfect as a summer meal, especially if you dress it with a pinch of salt and some drops of Tuscan olive oil.

We enjoyed our meal in a very cozy and friendly environment, where the whole staff made sure we could enjoy a perfect food experience, despite time was running out and we couldn’t choose amongst all their dishes. By the end of the day, if that was the quality of cold meals, we can’t imagine how hot dishes may be! We’ll definitely go there again to check!

Farmacia del  Cervo also offers you a wide selection of typical Italian products like salame, ham, cheese, sauces and so on. They also sell take-away food: formerly cooked dishes, that you can buy and eat at home.

Bar da Stefano AKA Gli Svizzeri
Street: Corso Italia, 61
Arezzo
Tel.: +39 0575 24337
Email: info@barpasticceriastefano.it
Website | Maps & Directions

Walking in the heart of the historic center of Arezzo, along Corso Italia, one of the main roads of Arezzo full of shops and nice buildings, you will find Pasticceria da Stefano, also known as Gli Svizzeri, which is the original name of the bar.

Being a historic bar of Arezzo, it’s a kind of symbol of the city, and once you step in, you can breathe the atmosphere of past times, thanks to the antique furniture and the courtesy of the whole staff.

We had breakfast at Pasticceria Stefano and they let us seat outside: of course the cappuccino and croissant were excellent, but the sfogliatina stuffed with custard was not only good but stratospheric! We warmly recommend to have one if you have the chance to stop by!

Together with the quoted above, Bar da Stefano also offers an excellent selection of pastries and sandwiches freshly made by the bar’s personelle. Moreover, they also make, upon request almost any kind of cakes for birthdays, weddings and other events, all under the “brand” Pasticceria da Stefano!

Etruscans: the ancestors of the Italian civilization

The Etruscans were an ancient Italic civilization linguistically identifiable around the 700 B.C. Their culture developed from a prehistoric civilization known as Villanovan (ca. 900–500 B.C.). By the beginning of the VII century B.C., the Etruscans occupied the central region of Italy between the Arno and Tiber rivers (in region Tuscany), and eventually settled up to the Po River valley and down towards Campania. They flourished until the end of the II century B.C., when they were fully assimilated into the Roman culture. The origins of the Etruscans are mostly lost in prehistory. We have no literature, no original texts of religion or philosophy testimonials, therefore, much of what is known about this civilization is derived from grave goods and tomb findings.

In Arezzo, the Etruscan itinerary starts from “Gaio Clinio Mecenate”, an archeological museum built on the remains of a Roman amphiteathre. Numerous items tell us of the organization of this civilization and of its extraordinary skills in metal work and pottery. In the museum you can admire a collection of gold work, an important multi-coloured head decoration and a large coin of which there are only other two known examples in the world.

In piazza San Francesco, underneath the church, there are evidences of the Etruscan civilization in Arezzo, with structures dating back to the VI cent. B.C. In piazzetta San Niccolò, recent excavations have brought to light remains of an Etruscan city wall. In the road running by the Medici Fortress, you can see the remains of a temple dating back around the II cent. B. C.

In 1553 the Chimaera was found in Arezzo during the rebuilding of the city walls: it is considered one of the highest examples of Etruscan metal art. It is currently displayed in the National Archeological Museum of Florence, while a copy can be seen under the Porta di San Loretino in Arezzo. You can also read the “What to See” section to learn more about the Chimaera.

Interesting to see are the Etruscan tombs, which can be admired in several areas in Tuscany and Umbria.

Piero della Francesca: a contemporary artist from 600 years ago!

Piero della Francesca, painter and mathematician, was amongst the most emblematic characters of the Italian Reinassance and he managed to blend art, geometry and rationality in a unique way. His Reinassance works of art, deeply influenced other artists, thanks to his constant quest for perspective and light. He was the first artist, 600 years ago, to apply maths and geometry to paintings.

Born in Sansepolcro (Arezzo province) in 1412, Piero della Fracesca worked in several cities, always keeping a strong link with his homeland.  In Arezzo it is possible to admire the famous “Leggenda della Vera Croce” frescoes in the Bacci Chapel and the Maria Maddalena in the Cathedral.

The Piero della Francesca itinerary in the province offers visits in Valtiberina, Sansepolcro and Monterchi, where you can admire many masterpieces from the artist.

Typical of Piero della Francesca’s works are the landscapes, which still today, in some areas, are identical to those painted by this great artist 6 centuries ago.

Arezzo: a history of arts and culture

Arezzo retains many important archaeological finds, testifying the grandeur of arts and crafts of the city over the centuries. Arezzo, an Etruscan city, strenuously opposed the expansion of Rome, securing strong alliances and friendly trade relations, sometimes also opposing the Romans with their arms or diplomacy.

At the time of the Second Punic War, Arezzo proved a loyal ally of Rome, to the extent that its inhabitants got the Roman citizenship as a recognition of their loyalty. Yet, the Roman legions militarily occupied the entire peninsula and Arezzo was forced to turn the city into a new Roman city on the Via Cassia: the ancient Etruscan walls were destroyed and basilicas, amphitheatres, baths, theaters, new roads and aqueducts were built.

The growth of trades gave impetus to the development of the art of pottery, reproducing the magnificent silver and gold pots, inspired to the Greek tradition, using terracotta. At the end of the first century b.C. the “Arretina vasa” had become so famous, to be sought for not only throughout the Italian peninsula, but in Gaul, in Spain and in North Africa. Unfortunately, the advent of Christianity set this art aside, because the decoration of the pots was inspired by the ancient myths or scenes of pagan life.

Later on, Arezzo ended up being a battlefield for the barbarian hordes from the north and the Roman armies sent to prevent their passage. Due to this, Arezzo repeatedly suffered assaults, looting and destruction. It was occupied by the Longobards and the Franks before passing under the Marquis of Tuscany.

Shortly after year 1000 also in Arezzo the democratic orders began to be established together with craft organizations that will lead to the establishment of the free medieval town.

Meanwhile, Florence, allied with Siena, was trying to expand its political influence and to acquire new markets for the sale of its products.

In 1287, Florence and Siena together failed in the siege of Arezzo and were defeated in Pieve del Toppo (1288). The following year, however, all the Guelphs of Tuscany formed a coalition against Arezzo and the other Ghibelline towns and they defeated them in the famous battle of Campaldino in 1289. The 1300s was a period of splendor for Arezzo because the best artists of the time were passing and staying there and universities were established in town. Famous poet Francesco Petrarca was born in Arezzo in 1304. From this cultural pot renowned theologians and jurists were born. But after the death of the great Bishop the city began to decline, and it was passed to rival Florence, and the Duchy of Tuscany (later Grand Duchy). There was a long period of calm, disturbed only by the invasion of the Napoleonic troops in 1799. In 1815, after the Congress of Vienna, Arezzo and the whole province returned to join again the reconstituted Grand Duchy of Tuscany until 1861, when following a plebiscite they were annexed to the Kingdom of Italy.