The beautiful city of Arezzo
Although (unfairly) less known internationally than other cities like Florence, Siena or Pisa, Arezzo is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful towns in Tuscany. Its cultural heritage is truly vast and varied; moreover the city stands out for having given birth to artists and intellectuals of absolute level like Giorgio Vasari and Francesco Petrarca.
Now we see together which are the main places to visit in Arezzo:
- Roman Amphitheater and Archaeological Museum
- Piazza Grande
- Fortezza Medicea and Passeggio del Prato
- Duomo di Arezzo
- Palazzo dei Priori
- Palazzo Pretorio
- Museo Nazionale d’Arte Medievale e Moderna
- Basilica di San Francesco
- Chiesa di San Domenico
- Museo di Casa Vasari
Roman Amphitheater and Archaeological Museum
The first stage is dedicated to those who, like me, is fond of archeology.
A few steps from the train station we find the remains of a Roman amphitheater that emerge from a well-kept lawn. Built around the second century after Christ, the Arezzo amphitheater has a very large arena, slightly smaller than that of the Colosseum in Rome, although it had a much smaller capacity than the Roman “cousin” (probably around 10,000 people). Venues for events and concerts, especially during the summer, the amphitheater of Arezzo is a truly suggestive place and a must-see on a city tour.
Close to the arena you will notice a more recent structure that recalls the architecture of Roman theaters with its arches. It is the former monastery of San Bernardo, which was built right on the ruins of the ancient amphitheater. Here is the Museo Archeologico di Arezzo, where finds ranging from prehistory to the Roman age are kept and exhibited.
The Piazza Grande of Arezzo is a real show, with its irregular pattern, it is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful squares in all of Tuscany. On each side you can appreciate historic buildings that create a unique and varied frame making us travel through time from one architectural style to another. In the highest part of the square we find the Renaissance Palazzo delle Logge, with the famous Logge del Vasari. On the left we have three buildings very different from each other, namely the Palazzo della Fraternita dei Laici, partly Gothic and partly Renaissance, the Palazzo del Tribunale (XVII-XVIII century) and the apse of the Pieve di Santa Maria (the entrance is in Corso Italia).
The Pieve absolutely deserves a visit, both for the historicity of the monument (its construction dates back to the XII-XIII century) and for its beauty and its peculiarities. The entrance, as we said, is on Corso Italia, where we can admire a façade characterized by from a forest of columns and arches. Interior has the typical austerity of many medieval churches and preserves some artistic masterpieces such as the polyptych by Pietro Lorenzetti and the baptismal font.
Continuing the tour of Piazza Grande, you can appreciate a series of medieval buildings such as the Torre Faggiolana, the Palazzo Cofani-Brizzolari and the Lappoli tower-house.
Speaking of Piazza Grande, we must mention the Giostra del Saracino, an ancient knightly tournament in which the four historic districts of the city challenge each other to conquer the Lancia d’Oro (the golden spear). The carousel takes place twice a year, in June and in September, while the first weekend of each month the square is animated by the Fiera Antiquaria (antiques fair), one of the most important at national level.
Fortezza Medicea and Passeggio del Prato
Perched on the hill of San Donato a short distance from Piazza Grande, the Medici Fortress is an imposing pentagonal-based structure that was built during the 16th century for the will of Cosimo I de’ Medici. Recently restored, the fortress has been the subject of a series of archeological excavations that have brought to light the remains of the church of San Donato (dated around the year 1000) and a pavement of Roman origin. Thanks to its raised position, the fortress guarantees a spectacular view of the city and its main monuments.
After visiting the Fortress, you should head towards the Duomo through the Passeggio del Prato, which is the most important city park. It is a large area with lots of trees and lots of greenery, embellished by the large marble monument dedicated to Petrarca.
Duomo of Arezzo
The cathedral of Santi Pietro e Donato was built starting from 1278 to be finished only in … 1914! Actually the Duomo of Arezzo was completed much earlier but since the façade had remained unfinished, and at the beginning of the twentieth century it was decided to replace it with the current one.
The Duomo is a large Gothic church that can be easily observed from any point in the city thanks to its raised position.
Inside you can admire some works of art of great value such as the seven windows of the cycle by Guillaume de Marcillat, the Arca di san Donato, the Maddalena by Piero della Francesca and some works by Andrea della Robbia.
Right in front of the Duomo, we find the Museo Diocesano di Arte Sacra. Here there are many works of art among which some medieval crucifixes and a series of paintings by Vasari.
Palazzo dei Priori
Arriving near the Duomo, you will certainly notice a beautiful medieval building with a tower and battlements. It is the fourteenth century Palazzo dei Priori, that is the seat of the Municipality. Over time, the building underwent several changes that led, among other things, to the creation of a courtyard with loggias during the sixteenth century. Inside the building you can appreciate some works of art made by various Arezzo masters.
The Palazzo Pretorio of Arezzo is located a stone’s throw from the Duomo and is easily recognizable thanks to the numerous coats of arms on its facade. Each of these coats of arms represents one of the Florentine captains who succeeded the city government between the 14th and 18th centuries. Once used as a prison, today the palace houses the Biblioteca della Città di Arezzo (City Library).
Another building worth visiting in this area is the house of Petrarca, where today the Accademia Petrarca di lettere arti, e scienze is based.
Museo Nazionale d’Arte Medievale e Moderna
The Museo Nazionale d’Arte Medievale e Moderna of Arezzo is located in the beautiful Palazzo Ciocchi in via San Lorentino. A must for art lovers, the museum houses works by various artists from Arezzo from the 13th to the 16th centuries; among the most important names we can mention Giorgio Vasari, Bartolomeo della Gatta and Luca Signorelli.
Basilica di San Francesco
The Basilica di San Francesco in Arezzo is one of those churches that are not particularly striking on the outside, maybe because its façade has remained unfinished, but inside preserves real artistic masterpieces that cannot be overlooked during a visit to Arezzo. Walking along its nave you can admire the first frescoes, some fragmentary, that accompany us towards the main chapel where Piero della Francesca has created one of his greatest masterpieces: the cycle of frescoes of the Legend of the True Cross.
Chiesa di San Domenico
The last church I want to mention in this guide is that of San Domenico. It is a Gothic-style church built in the 12th century based on a design by Nicola Pisano. Inside you can admire several works including one that is fully part of the must-see things to see in Arezzo, the wooden crucifix by Cimabue, a true painting masterpiece of the thirteenth century.
Museo di Casa Vasari
We close this tour with the Casa Vasari Museum. A rare example of a Renaissance artist’s house, the museum preserves many paintings, frescoes and decorations made by Vasari himself and his students.