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The Province of Arezzo, located in
the easternmost part of Tuscany, is one of Tuscanys
best kept secrets.
The north-eastern part of the
province is mountainous with four valleys; Valdichiana,
Valtiberina, Valdarno and Casentino and two rivers (Arno
and Tevere). We were about to discover why this area
should become part of a visit to Tuscany.
The low hills of the western part
of the province are covered with grape and olive groves
while the lowlands of the south bathe in sunshine.
The city of Arezzo is situated on a
hill that rises gently in a fan shape from the city gates
to its highest point. As you ascend it goes from its more
modern era to its ancient medieval beginnings at the peak
where the Cathedral, City Palace and Medici Fortress are
surrounded by trees and parks.
The stazione (train station) is
just outside the gates. Straight ahead is the Corso
Italia, the wide main street that runs up through the
center of the fan all the way to the top of the hill.
We walked up Via Madonna del Prato,
which runs parallel to Italia, and becomes Via di S.
Francisco and then Via A. Cesalpino which throughway is
the other main artery to the top.
As we approached Via Cavour at its
intersection with Via S. Francisco, we had to carefully
weave our way around the corner through the crowd. It was
the first Sunday of the month when Arezzo hosts its
famous Antique Fair. From its center in the nearby Piazza
Grande (also known as Piazza Vasari), the antique fair
spills onto the surrounding streets and squares.
This is no ordinary street fair;
this is a serious historical event with offerings for
average shoppers and professional dealers alike. Sundays
are usually very quiet days for visitors in any city but
this is an exception. Plan to stay in Arezzo the weekend
of the first Sunday of the month.
Our destination was Via Cavour, 23,
The Hotel Patio, a transformed historical palace, which is
perfectly located in the center of the city. The large
entryway leads to the reception area where the owner and
her staff welcome their guests. A wide stairway leads to
the seven rooms and suites which surround an atrium.
There is no elevator but the staff will gladly carry your
luggage to your room.
Each room and suite is dedicated to
one of Bruce Chatwin's famous books and decorated with
original furniture and furnishings from the country it
represents. Ours was "Ouidah", from "The
Viceroy of Ouidah", a short story of tropical
madness and cruelty. The Viceroys nickname was
"The Elephant" so the frame of the large wall
mirror is decorated with small elephant heads. A wooden,
beamed ceiling, a bed with a wrought iron headboard,
wicker tables and chairs, a wooden armoire, walls painted
bright yellow and cherry red with bedding and drapes to
match, and a combination of old lighting fixtures mounted
on carved wood plaques and modern wall spot lights
completes the funky decoration. The golden bathroom was a
good size with a stall shower. Both the bedroom and
bathroom had windows opening to the atrium. A very good
breakfast buffet is served in the charming ancient cellar.
Arezzos Antique Fair, the
first of its kind in Italy, was founded in 1968 by
antique dealer Ivan Bruschi who had the passion to unite
his love for antiques with his town of Arezzo. His
devotion to his profession and chosen cause led to Arezzo
and the region becoming a well-known destination for
antiques of all kinds, an economic success story.
One of Arezzo's most elegant 13th
century civil buildings, Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo,
at Corso Italia, 14, where Ivan Bruschi lived and worked,
was beautifully restored to house his prized possessions.
He established the Ivan Bruschi Foundation to fund his
legacy. La Casa Museo di Ivan
Bruschi, now open to the
public, is another significant reason to visit Arezzo.
This extraordinary collection of archaeological treasures,
jewels, ceramics, paintings, furniture, glassware,
weapons, books, porcelains, ivory, etc., is lovingly
presented on three floors. We were captivated by Bruschi's
vision, just as he would have wanted.
Across the street from Casa Museo
Bruschi is the parish church Santa Maria della Pieve, the
largest Romanesque church in the Arezzo region. Its 60m
tower "of one hundred holes" (because of its
double mullioned windows) is one of emblems of the city.
Under the front arch is the marvelously preserved full
color sculpture, "cycle of months", worth
craning your neck to see. In contrast to the sumptuous
decoration of the facade the interior is quite stark.
Corso Italia was packed with folks
hauling their antique acquisitions, shoppers who
preferred new fashion to old stuff, gelato lovers and
folks like us, taking it all in and exploring the streets
and squares appreciating the city design and architecture.
It's a terrific walking city with surprises around every
Via Cavour, which runs through
Piazza S. Francisco, is the main cross street through the
center of the city. Piero della Francesca's brilliant
frescoes Leggenda della Vera Croce (Legend of
the True Cross) are in the church of S. Francisco. This
piazza is immortalized in the film "Life is
We headed to the lower part of town
to visit the Anfiteatro Romano (Roman Amphitheatre) and
Archeological Museum at Via Margaritone. Enough remains
of the amphitheatre to visualize what it had been even if
much of the original stonework was taken to build the
Cathedral. In the summer it becomes a venue for concerts.
The Archeological Museum, in a
former convent, contains marvelous collections of gold
jewelry, 6th century Etruscan terracotta and bronze work,
the famous "coralline vases" made in the local
red vase factories with the insignias of the
manufacturers, mosaic sections of floors and pavements,
sculptures, remains from tombs, ceramics, weapons, with
private collections in separate rooms.
Arezzo once had a thriving gold
manufacturing industry employing about 1000 workers in a
few establishments but the business became more
fragmented as employees left and started their own
Behind S. Maria is Piazza Grande,
the heart of the city, surrounded by a compilation of
architectural styles, Romanesque, Gothic, renaissance and
baroque. The Gothic and renaissance facade of the Palazzo
della Fraternita, the 18th century Palazzo del Tribunale
and the 16th century Logge del Vasari are joined by two
noblemen's tower houses of the 14th century and ordinary
13th century houses bringing harmony to the great square.
It's particularly famous for hosting the "Giostra
del Saracino" (joust of the Saracen) on the third
Sunday of June and the first Sunday of September every
It was late in the day as we made
our way to the Duomo, the bold Gothic Cathedral at the
summit. Particularly significant are the striking stained
glass windows by Guglielmo de Marcillat and Piero della
We found our way to Piaggia S.
Martino 8, just off Piazza Grande, La Torre di Gnicche,
an enoteca and restaurant. It's a 7 table wine bar with
typical local food offerings. After a day of walking it
was a delight to sip some light fruity house rosso and
nibble on fette croccanti, one with melted scamorza
another topped with pomodoro and funghi. This was
followed by two marvelous soups. Pappa con pomodoro,
thick and rich with tomato, onion, garlic, olive oil and
sage (basil is substituted in the summer) and traditional
ribollita was as good as this favorite gets.
The two mains of polpettone (meat
loaf) al vino rosso and maiale arrosto con patate were
somewhat disappointing after the exceptional soups but
very good ricotta and pear tarte was a nice finish. Stick
with cheeses, meats and soups and you will be well served.
If youre planning to be in
the vicinity between March 31 and July 22, 2007 you
should get to Arezzo to see the exhibition, "The
Majesty of Piero: Piero della Francesca and the Italian
Courts. Over 100 15th century masterpieces will be
displayed including the works of Piero della Francesca
and other great artists of the time. Arezzo is an
endearing city to explore.
Speaking of exploring, today we
were off to do just that in the valley and mountains of
We had met a well known artist and
writer, Giovanni Caselli in Toronto last fall and he had invited us
to spend a day with him to get a taste of The Casentino
where he resides. He has written and illustrated a
wonderful book, "Casentino, Its History and
Environment in 58 Walks.
Train tickets for the private line
that runs to the Casentino region are sold at the
Tabacchi in the stazione, not at the regular train
windows. It was a 44 minute ride to Bibbiena, the
administrative center of the Casentino, where we met
Giovanni and his friend Alessandro De Vivo, the artist.
There are no major highways to
disturb the beauty and tranquility, just good local roads
that wind around the mountains and through the valley. It
did not take us long to appreciate why the Casentino has
always been an inspiration for artists with its mountain
landscape dressed in thick forests of beech and chestnut
trees. Agriculture, particularly grains and pig farming,
is the main industry.
This environment has led to a
growing network of agriturismi. We stopped at one such
farm, Fattoria Corsignano, a magnificent property,
surrounded by mountain views, lush landscapes, attractive
stone buildings for lodging, restaurants, meeting and
banquette halls with patios, pools, and lounging areas
and room to roam.
We headed to the land of
Michelangelo's birth. In 1913 a royal decree established
that he was born in Caprese, but for centuries before it
was believed that he was born in the Castle of Chiusi,
some 12km away, where Lodovico, his father, was residing
at the time of his birth.
The village of Chiusi della Verna
sits on high between Casentino and Valtiberina. In August
1995 the European Cultural Association "Michelangelo"
completed the first stage in restoring the 12th century
building which was the seat of the Potestery (Mayor) of
Chiusi della Verna and of the law court. The restoration
is now much more complete thanks to efforts of our guide
Alessandro De Vivo and his wife Mara. When finished the
Potestery will be a cultural center.
The Potestery is
next to the Castle of Count Orlando Cattani who allowed
St. Francis of Assisi to settle here in 1213. In 1300 a
small church was built and named St. Michael Archangel.
It was established to honor the then local PodestÓ of
the Florentine Republic, Lodovico Buonarroti. When his
son was born he was baptized "Michelangelo" in
The fact that Mount La Verna was
represented in Michelangelo's Tondo Doni, the
Crucifixion of St. Peter, the Conversion of St. Paul
established a link between the artist and this place.
Further, he represented Adam about to receive the Divine
sparkle lying on the very rock next to the house in which
his father resided when the artist was born. Wanting to
depict "earthly paradise", Michelangelo drew
his inspiration from this place and for this reason his
Adam's Rock and Mount La Verna are seen in the central
arc of the Sistine Chapel. The news of the discovery of
the view from the rock became official on Oct. 2, 2004
and in the summer of 2005 the exact view was found to be
obtainable from right in front of the Potestery.
It was a cultural and artistic
inspiration to experience the view and the feeling of
being in the place where the great Michaelangelo lived
and worked. To top it off we were invited to have lunch
in the Antica Podesteria (Ancient Potestery) prepared by
the lovely and talented Mara De Vivo who besides proving
she knew her way around the cucina, entertained us with
her delightful singing.
The Art and Tourism
Association offers 20
itineraries and customized tours to discover the region
and the life of Michelangelo. Lunch at the Potestery is
usually included which will allow you to feast, as we did,
on the likes of crostini with cheese and funghi and
sausage, hand made gnocchi with ragu, fallow and red deer
stews, polenta and dolce with Vin Santo.
Other useful websites:
After overnighting in Arezzo, we
were off to Cortona in the morning.
CASTAGNETO CARDUCCI | PISA | FIRENZE | AREZZO
CORTONA | PERUGIA | FOLIGNO | TERNI
ORVIETO | ROMA
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