Arezzo, Italy - One-day Tour


Lightbox (43) Tags: arezzo   europe   italy Posted: Jan. 30, 2009 by Vassilik
Arrezo map and itinerary

Arrezo map and itinerary

A famous fresco in Pieve di Santa Maria (Baptistry Church of St Mary)

Fresco in Pieve
di Santa Maria
(BaptistryChurch
of St Mary)

Restaurant La Buca di San Francesco

Restaurant La
Buca di San
Francesco

T he goal of this photo journal is to give you an idea about Arezzo - a vibrant and lovely city in Tuscany located about 50 miles (80 km) from Florence with the population of about 100,000 people. Arezzo is set on a hill with its cathedral, the Town Hall, Medici Fortress (Fortezza Medicea) and other historical structures on the upper part of the hill, and streets going down towards the lower part with the old gates.

Arezzo was founded by the Etruscans. In 311 BC it was conquered by Romans (at that time the city was known as Arretium) and was one of the centers of power struggle in the Medieval Italy. Beginning from 15th century Arezzo started losing its importance and moved away from the mainstream of cultural and economic development. Strangely, this helped preserve its medieval appeal. In recent times there were massive efforts in restoration: the first wave took place in 1930s when a number of churches were restored according to the prevailing at that time understanding of medieval architecture.

The second rise in restoration was undertaken after the World War II (during the war the city was significantly damaged). As a result, many narrow medieval streets were replaced by broader avenues. Fortunately, the historic center retained much of its Middle Age look and feel that appeal so much to many people. Today, Arezzo is a wealthy city well known for its production of golden jewelry. The city is clean and most historic monuments are restored and taken care of.

If you are a slow traveler, you can stay in the city for more than one day. However, I believe that for many tourists one day in Arezzo would suffice to get familiar with its history and places of interest. It is especially true, if you decide to spend in Tuscany several days (I would recommend four-six days) and visit many of its beautiful cities, towns and historic places. One of the way to do this is to choose one place as a hub (so that you do not need to pack and unpack your stuff every night) and then undertake daily visits to various places to suit your preferences and interests.

If it is your first time in Tuscany, I suggest Florence as such hub. If you decide to visit Arezzo, it takes around 1 hour to get there by train from Florence. And that's what I would recommend to do. This photo journal assumes that you arrive to the city at around 10 am with the intention to spend about five hours and return back. Accordingly, your itinerary will have Piazza Repubblica as its starting point (see the map of the central part of Arezzo on the left side with the itinerary we propose). You will go uphill first and, after reaching Duomo, will go back completing the loop at the railway station.

It is not going to be a long walk - in fact, if you wanted, you would be able to complete this loop in an hour. But it would be impossible to enjoy this gem of Tuscany in such a hurry (as well as to taste its local cuisine at lunch). The itinerary we offer covers all important places of interest with one exception, the so-called Casa del Vasari - the house of one of the most outstanding persons in Arezzo, a painter, an architect and art historian.

Finally, for lunch, I recommend two places: the first, Pasticceria Gli Svizzeri (Corso Italia, 61, an old-fashion pastry shop and cafe) if you want something light. For more substantial lunch go to La Buca di San Francesco, a restaurant (established in 1929) on Via S.Francesco, 1 near the Church of San Francesco. The restaurant is located in a basement, and that explains its name ("la buca" means "the pit"). Yet another place to relax and eat close to the church is Caffè dei Costanti, the oldest cafe in Arezzo. It was opened in 1804 as a lounge bar of the Civica Accademia dei Costanti, an exclusive club for the town nobles. Later on the cafe was opened to the public. It is appreciated for its home-made ice-creams and delicious pastry according to old recipes. In 1997 it was chosen as the setting for several scenes in Roberto Benigni’s film La vita è bella which made the cafe known throughout the world.

Stazione Arezzo (railway station) on Piazza della Repubblica. That's where our tour starts. When you exit the station, turn right to Via Piero della Francesca. In about several minutes of walking you will see an intersection with Via Vittorio Veneto

Via Vittorio Veneto - Porta Santo Spirito leads to Corso Italia. You may think of this point as an entrance to the historic center. Incidentally, the neighborhood of Porta Santo Spirito is one of the four participants (yellow and blue colors) of famous Giostra del Saracino in Arezzo, taking place the last week of June and the first week in September. Anyway, just turn left and go through the Porta. Veer right through smaller streets to reach the Amphitheatre.

Via Margaritone and surrounding streets host mercato (market) at some 
days of the week

Via Margaritone and surrounding streets host mercato (market) at some days of the week. Via Margaritone is the one you need to find Anfiteatro (Amphitheatre) Romano. If you are traveling on one of those days when streets markets are open, you will see a picture like this: stalls with household goods, foodstuffs, cheap clothing and flowers.

Italian selling techniques are not that different from American ones: after all, the world has become very small. But scenes like this certainly add to the character of this city.

Anfiteatro (Amphitheatre) Romano. If you expected to find another Coliseum like the one in Rome, you would be greatly disappointed. Instead you will see some ruins surrounded by a fence with a lot of warnings of what you cannot do. If you are really interested in Roman Empire culture, you will be better off if you visit Museu Archeologico located nearby on Via Margaritone, 10 (in the 16th century building, originally the place of Monastero di San Bernardo). From Amphitheatre keep moving uphill on Via Margaritone until you reach Piazza Sant'Agostino

The Church of St. Augustine ( Sant'Agostino) was founded in 1257 by friars of the Order of Augustinian Hermits. The church was modified in the 14th and 18th centuries. The bell tower was finished in the second half of 15th century. Martin Luther visited the church to celebrate Eucharistic Mass in 1510 while traveling to Rome (when he was still an Augustinian friar).

Inside the Church of St. Augustine - currently appears in the Rococo style with its elegant and ornate lines. Carlo Francesco Rusca is among artists completed the plaster work. There are numerous works of art inside including the ones by Salvi Castellucci and Bernardino Santini.

Return from side streets to Corso Italia.

Corso Italia is a pedestrian street with tempting bars, cafes and pastry shops as well as ancient towers and medieval palazzi. As someone wrote, when you walk on Corso Italia, you begin to understand why Italian filmmaker Roberto Benigni chose Arezzo as the stage for his Oscar winning "La Vita è Bella." Indeed life in Arezzo is beautiful.

But you can come across scenes like this as well. I cannot say though that this is something you can see very often. In fact, there are many signs that Arezzo is a wealthy city. Streets and buildings are mostly very clean and taken care off. The majority of historical monuments are restored and open to the public.

Church of San Michele has a simple facade (that many tourist guides define as modern). Whether it's modern or not, but I think that its beauty is in this simplicity of shapes and decorations.

Church of San Michele - this photo shows details of the decoration and mosaic above its entrance.

Gli Svizzeri, antica pasticceria (pastry shop). This shop was opened long ago in 1857. But since then it has seen several owners. As far as I know, up until recently it's name was Pasticceria Carraturo. Fortunately, with the new name the charming atmosphere of the place did not go away. If you are hungry, this may be a good place to stop and eat.

La torre (bell tower) di Pieve di Santa Maria dominates Corso Italia. It is one of the largest and most attractive Romanesque baptisteries in Tuscany and the emblem of Medieval times in Arezzo. It was first built in the 12th century on the site of a Roman oratory. It was enlarged and completed in the following two centuries. Its architect is unknown.

Pieve di Santa Maria (Baptistry Church of St Mary) The  facade comprises three rows of "loggie" one on the top of the other with a different number of columns in each one. Its splendid bell tower sometimes is called "the tower of hundreds holes" and was added to the church in 1330.

Some of these columns date back to Roman times. According to a legend, the place for the church was chosen when in year 362, Donato, the bishop at the time, was beheaded on the top of the hill. His head started rolling down the hill and stopped at the place where the church is now.

Bas-relief of the lunette with archivolt containing allegoric representation of twelve months. Unfortunately, elaborate filigree of arches and decorations has been seriously damaged by weather and time.

Pieve di Santa Maria (Baptistry Church of St Mary), the Romanesque nave. The relics of San Donato (Saint Donatus of Arezzo) are still kept in the church. He is the patron saint of Arezzo, and considered a bishop of the city. Note that it's prohibited to take photos in the proximity of the altar area of the nave.

Inside Pieve di Santa Maria (Baptistry Church of St Mary) - as you can see, the overall impression is much more gloomier than in Gothic churches evolve from the Romanesque style. The latter is characterized by the solidity and strength. Architectural elements include Roman arches (much simplified), massive walls with small openings and piers to support arches. As the majority of Romanesque buildings, the church has a wooden roof with truss' and tie beams.

Turning right from Corso Italia to Piazza Grande. This historic square is our next destination. From Pieve di Santa Maria walking uphill, take first right and you will see immediately the Vasari Loggia along the north side of the piazza. Giorgio Vassari is probably the most outstanding citizen of Arezzo. He is best known for his biographies of famous Italian Renaissance artists, but he was also a  painter and especially a good architect. The loggia on Piazza Grande is not the only structure of this type Vassari created. Another one is The so-called Vasari Corridor over the Ponte Vecchio in Florence.

Piazza Grande (courtesy of Wikipedia, Enlightenmentreloaded). As the main marketplace of the city, it played an important role in city's life. Currently, it's one of the historic attractions in Arezzo. It has a sloping pavement in red brick with limestone geometrical lines. There are many historic buildings on this square including the apse of the Pieve, the Fraternita dei Laici, the Law Court, Palazzo Lappoli, Palazzo Cofani as well as already mentioned Vasari Loggia. It is also a place for the Giostra del Saracino ("Joust of the Saracin").

The Vasari Loggia on Piazza Grande as seen from the square.

Bars in the passageway of the loggia on Piazza Grande. If you travel during summer time, it may give you a nice refuge from the burning Tuscan sun.

Plenty of young artists trying to capture the beauty of Piazza Grande

Some nice buildings on the Eastern side of Piazza Grande

Palazzo Lapoli on Piazza Grande - a medieval building built in the 14th century with a beautiful wooden balcony and a tower next to it. It was designed by Giorgio Vasari for Cosimo I Medici.

Local terracotta arts and crafts at Da Arete shop on Piazza Grande. You can find more art shops (and artisans at work) if you go to Via Borgunta that starts at the south side of the Piazza.

Apse of Pieve di Santa Maria is one of the buildings on the west side of the square. Unfortunately this part of the church was badly restored at the end of 19th and is far from the original Romanesque design.

T-shaped crossroad of Via Borguto and Via Pellicceria - let's use this off the beaten tourist path to get to the Arezzo's Cathedral (turning left). But before, you may want to turn right and explore the Church of Sant Agnese (see next photo)

The Church of Sant Agnese on via Pellicceria - founded in early Medieval period, it was rearranged in Romanesque style in 1200s. Its present appearance is the result of restoration in 1930s. Among its holy ornaments and Baroque canvases are the works of Bernardino Santini and Domenico Ernini.

Before you reach Arezzo's Duomo, you will see the city largest park, Parco il Prato with the statue of Petrarch. You can see it in the background of the picture on the right (a massive white marble monument sculptured by Alessandro Lazzerini of Carrara in 1928 - rather ugly for my taste). Francesco Petrarca was born in Arezzo, and Petrarch’s house and museum is not far from the park (Via dell'Orto, 28)

If you cross the park, a beautiful panorama will open up with views of typical Tuscan landscape with olive trees and vineyards. It's definitely worth while to stop there and take your time while watching that eternity in front of you. It's so peaceful and cozy, and it seems that someone created this on some purpose.

The South (right) side of the Duomo- the Gothic Cathedral of Saint Donatus (San Donato) in Arezzo. It had been what is called a work in progress: started in 1277, completed internally 1511, with the work on facade started in 1880 and completed in 1935.

The apse of the Arezzo Duomo (Cathedral) with beautiful stain glass windows. Its neo-Gothic bell tower is standing separately from the Cathedral. It was finished only in1859.

The Communal Palace in Arezzo (Palazzo dei Priori) - City Hall. It is located at the place of Palazzo dei Priori (13th century) and was completely rebuilt in 1454 by Domenico del Fattore and Bartolomeo Serragli. Even later, the structure had numerous restorations and renovations. One of the massive restorations took place after the partial collapse of the building in 1650.

Wedding ceremony in Arezzo in front of the City Hall

Art exposition in the internal court of City Hall (Palazzo dei Priori). This sculpture is certainly a reference to the Chimaera of Arezzo, a well known example of the Etruscan art. I do not know though the allegoric meaning of mice added to the statue.

Internal court of City Hall (Palazzo dei Priori). Most of the 16th century interior structures of the City Hall are still in place.

View on Via Bicchieraia from Via Andrea Cesalpino - and we are going back to the railway station down the hill. This street has more modern appearance even if there are still old buildings here and there.

Basilica of San Francesco is a 13th century church in Arezzo dedicated to St Francis (San Francesco) of Assisi. It's a very popular tourist attraction because of Piero della Francesca's frescoes (recently restored) Legend of the True Cross. You can find plenty of information about them on the Web. If you want to visit the church, keep in mind that without a reservation it's very difficult to do this. The duration of the inside tour is 30 minutes, and no more than 25 visitors are allowed at any time. It's prohibited to take photos inside.

Post and Telegraph office is an example of a relatively modern building. And we are very close to the final point of our excursion - the Arezzo railway station.

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