Val Tiberina


Guide to Sansepolcro near Arezzo in Tuscany

Sansepolcro near Arezzo, the homeland of Piero della Francesca

Sansepolcro is a town in the province of Arezzo that is located in the upper Tuscan Val Tiberina. The hamlet stands in a beautiful position, at the foot of the Apennines, from which it dominates the wide Tiber valley which stretches between the Alpe della Luna, Massa Trabaria, the hills of Umbria, the mountains of Arezzo and the Alpe di Catenaia.

Talking about Sansepolcro we cannot fail to mention his most illustrious son: Piero della Francesca. Piero was one of the greatest Renaissance artists and the city retains some of his works. Among these, there is a fresco in the Palazzo dei Conservatori which represents the Resurrection of Christ. And what if I tell you that “Sansepolcro” or “Santo sepolcro” means Holy Sepulcher? Maybe now you’re wondering if the city has something to do with the Holy Sepulcher where Jesus’ mortal remains were kept…

Piero della Francesca - Resurrection
Piero della Francesca – Resurrection

Why is it called Sansepolcro?

According to tradition, the village of Sansepolcro was founded in the tenth century by Arcano and Egidio, two pilgrims returning from the Holy Land, who decided to stop here to build a chapel where to keep some sacred relics from the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem. Here a monastic community was formed and the village developed which took its name from the Holy Sepulcher.

As often happens, myth and reality are intertwined and it is difficult to understand how much is true in this story, however we know that already in 1012 there was a Benedictine abbey here dedicated to the Holy Sepulcher and the Holy Four Evangelists. Around the middle of the XII century the abbey passed to the Camaldolese and in that period Sansepolcro became a free Municipality. Being in a borderland, Sansepolcro was at war for a long time to defend its autonomy but, during the fourteenth century, it passed from one domination to another.

In 1301 the village became part of the Lordship of Uguccione della Faggiola and after just 20 years it passed to Guido Tarlati which was followed by a short period of Perugian rule and an even shorter of the Visconti of Milan. After the Visconti it was the turn of Città di Castello and finally of the Malatesta to whom the city was ceded in 1370. In 1441, Sansepolcro became part of the domains of Florence and in 1520 obtained the title of city and became a bishopric.

Things to do in Sansepolcro

Between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, Sansepolcro experienced its heyday. At that time the city, which was rich thanks to trade, was filled with monuments, elegant medieval and Renaissance palaces and magnificent churches. A historic center that, despite a long history of wars and earthquakes, retains a respectable historical and artistic heritage and deserves to be visited far and wide.

Chiesa di San Lorenzo

In the southern area of the historic center, near the railway station and some car parks, we find some churches worthy of interest: the Chiesa di San Lorenzo, the former Chiesa di Santa Chiara and the Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Servi. These are all interesting churches but perhaps the Church of San Lorenzo is the one that deserves some more attention. Founded together with the nearby Benedictine monastery in 1556, the church preserves a Deposition created in 1528 by Rosso Fiorentino, a magnificent work, a true masterpiece of mannerist painting.

Taking one of the streets that branch off near the church of Santa Maria dei Servi (for example Via della Fraternità), you will quickly reach the Cathedral of Sansepolcro. Along the way you will have the opportunity to cross the main square of the city: Piazza Torre di Berta. It is a beautiful square, very airy, overlooked by some stately buildings and a tower of medieval origin.

Duomo

Just beyond the main square you reach the Cathedral of Sansepolcro, or the Co-Cathedral of San Giovanni Evangelista. This is the oldest and most important church in the city, and is also the result of the evolution of that abbey founded in 1012 which was mentioned before. Over the centuries the church has been rebuilt and enlarged on several occasions until it reaches its current shape. Inside there are many works that deserve our attention. Among the most important are the so-called Volto Santo (Holy Face), a wooden sculpture probably from the Carolingian era, preserved in the chapel on the left of the presbytery, the polyptych of the Resurrection by Niccolò di Segna (XIV century) which is located on the high altar, and the Resurrection of Jesus by Raffaellino del Colle, another great artist born in Sansepolcro.

What to see in Sansepolcro The Cathedral of Sansepolcro
The Cathedral of Sansepolcro (Photo by Sailko / CC BY)

Leaving the cathedral, before proceeding to the Civic Museum, I advise you to stop and admire the surrounding building made up of squares, arches and prestigious buildings such as the Palazzo delle Laudi, that is the town hall.

Museo Civico

Inaugurated in 1975 inside the Palazzo della Residenza, the Museo Civico of Sansepolcro displays the works of the civic collection that was formed from the nineteenth century and some frescoes from the city churches. In addition to these pictorial works, archaeological finds, terracotta, engravings, prints, goldsmiths and sacred vestments are also preserved.

This is a really important collection, in which authors such as Piero della Francesca, Pontormo, Raffaellino del Colle and Andrea della Robbia are represented, just to name a few. Obviously the great Piero della Francesca has a central role within the collection, among his works you can admire the valuable Polyptych of Mercy, a San Giuliano, San Ludovico di Tolosa and the famous Resurrection.

The museum is located in via Niccolò Aggiunti 65. For all information on timetables and tickets, I recommend you consult the official website.

Aboca Museum

Near the civic museum we find the pleasant little square overlooked by the Chiesa di San Francesco and the Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie. Continuing on Via Aggiunti you can reach other points of interest in the city: at number 71 of the road there is the house of Piero della Francesca and immediately afterwards there are the Chiesa di San Rocco and the Bourbon del Monte Palace where the Aboca Museum is located .

The museum documents and reconstructs the history of herbal medicine and the use of medicinal herbs through an educational course aimed at enhancing the therapeutic properties of herbs. The rooms of the Aboca Museum are rich in extraordinary tools of the trade such as mortars, ceramics, herbariums and books on pharmaceutical botany. Finally, there are didactic workshops, designed both for schools and families, where you can learn more about medicinal herbs and their properties.

For information on timetables, tickets for the Aboca Musem can be found on its website.

Fortezza Medicea

The Fortezza Medicea of Sansepolcro was projected by Giuliano da Sangallo and subsequently completed by Alberto Alberti in 1561. It is a military squared building with four angular reinforcements that is the remake of a previous construction of 1318. In the 19th century the fortress was used as a farm and today it is a private property. Sadly, the structure is not in good condition, the hope is that sooner or later it will be restored and made accessible.

Fortezza Medicea in Sansepolcro
Fortezza Medicea (Photo by CARELLE / CC BY)

Museo della vetrata antica

Housed inside the deconsecrated church of San Giovanni Battista, the Museo della vetrata antica collects windows coming from the collection “Giuseppina Bernardini” and from the donation “Luigi Fatti”. They are mostly works of the 19th and 20th centuries. In addition to the windows, the Museum has a section devoted to the art of glass painting exhibiting sketches and engravings in addition to the materials and the tools used in glass making.

Events in Sansepolcro

During the year there are events of all kinds such as the Fiere di Mezzaquaresima and the wine fair “Sapori di vini”, but the most important and felt event is certainly that of the Palio della Balestra not by chance Sansepolcro is also known as “city of the crossbow”. The Palio has a very long history and has been going on continuously since the fifteenth century. It is a double event involving both Sansepolcro and the city of Gubbio. In fact, every year the Palio della Balestra takes place in both cities, respectively in Gubbio in May and in Sansepolcro in September. Like many other events of this type, the Palio brings together the historical re-enactment of the race which consists of a target shooting with crossbow that sees the two cities compete for victory.

 

Things to do in the surroundings

Eremo di Montecasale

The Eremo di Montecasale is one of the most suggestive places in the whole municipal area of Sansepolcro. Located in an isolated position on the mountains and entirely surrounded by woods, the convent emerges in a fairy-tale way with its small buildings all grouped around the central cloister. According to tradition, the complex was founded in 1192 by the Camaldolese monks and then sold to San Francesco in 1213 who stayed there for a period. Subsequently, other monastic communities followed and the Capuchin friars settled there from the 16th century.

The Val Tiberina has other interesting centers to visit: among these there are Pieve Santo Stefano, also known as the City of the Diary, Anghiari, the city made famous by the battle portrayed in the lost work of Leonardo da Vinci and Caprese where the great Michelangelo Buonarroti was born in 1475.

How to get to Santosepolcro

By car: from Arezzo (37 km) SS73. To reach Sansepolcro from Florence (115 km distance) or Rome (250 km), you will have to take the A1 highway to Arezzo and then continue on the SS73.

By train and bus: by train till Arezzo, from there by bus (lines Etruria Mobilità).

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