A brief history of Arezzo

As one of Italy’s more vibrant economic and cultural towns, Arezzo (city population 90,000) is an engaging venue for everyone.
Its strategic location at the meeting point of several trading routes and its abundance of raw materials have made Arezzo one of Italy’s most prosperous towns from ancient times to the present. Evidence of the various cultures that have called Arezzo home (from the Etruscans to the Romans and on into the Christian period) is everywhere.
Located in the heart of Tuscany and occupying a site that controls the major passes of the central Apennines, Arezzo was a key settlement of the Etruscan federation, which left many important testaments and grew to be an independent republic in the Middle Ages. In 1289, however, its Ghibelline allegiances led to a catastrophic clash with the Guelph Florentines at Campaldino; though Arezzo temporarily recovered under the leadership of the bellicose Bishop Guido Tarlati, it finally came under the control of Florence in 1384.
Its individual history became subsumed in that of Florence and of the Medicean Grand Duchy of Tuscany. During this period Piero della Francesca (c. 1415–1492) worked in the church of San Francesco di Arezzo producing the splendid frescoes, recently restored, which are Arezzo's most famous works. Afterwards the city began an economical and cultural decay, which ensured the preservation of its medieval center.
Today Arezzo is the center of Italian gold and silver manufacturing. The city has a strong presence in the fashion industry and is a major producer of wine and olive oil exported all over the world.
In addition to commerce, Arezzo has a long tradition of internationally renowned cultural events that revolve around the literary world of the Petrarch Academy, the art history studies of Piero della Francesca and Giorgio Vasari and the musical world of Guido d’Arezzo, inventor of modern musical notation.

What to see in Arezzo

Located in the heart of the historic center of Arezzo in the homonymous square, it owes its fame not only to the beauty and charm that emanates, but above all to the fact that it is the guardian of the pictorial cycle of Piero della Francesca admired by all the world: “The Legend of the True Cross” (1452_1466), inspired by the Golden Legend of Jacopo da Varazze on behalf of the Bacci family.

Its handsome Medieval square with the elegant loggia designed by Vasari (the same Vasari who planned the Uffizi in Florence.) is one of the city’s main attractions, used in the Oscar winning film “Life is Beautiful”.
Piazza Grande is also a great place to relax and have lunch, without the crowds that usually fill the squares of tourist destinations. The famous loggia, which once hosted artisan stalls, is now home to trattorias and coffee shops. and on the first weekend of every month Piazza Grande becomes the grand setting for the most popular Antiques Fair, which is the biggest in Italy and takes place on the first weekend of every month.
A walk in the streets around Piazza Grande reveals picturesque corners, old “botteghe” and Medieval buildings like the Palazzo Pretorio, its facade covered in coats of arms. The Palazzo dei Priori in via Libertà near the Cathedral is a splendid example of civic Gothic architecture.

Another must-see place in Arezzo is the gothic-style Church of San Domenico, located on the outskirts of the city center. The Romanesque church houses the famous wooden Crucifix painted by Cimabue, which is one of the masterpieces of the 13th century. This exceptional piece of art is the first of two crucifixes accredited to the Italian painter and is well worth a visit on your trip to Arezzo.

Beyond this, the impressive Church of Santa Maria della Pieve and the Cathedral are also definitely worth a visit. The church is documented since as early as 1008, and, during the communal period of Arezzo, it was the stronghold of the city's struggle against its bishops. After the latter built the nearby Cathedral and palace, the church, which had been already rebuilt in the 12th century, was further renovated with the facade and the apse, and the interior was remade in Gothic style (13th century). The bell tower, finished in 1330, is in Romanesque style.

The Arezzo Cathedral is dedicated to San Donato who was bishop of the city in the fourth century (he is also its patron) and to St. Peter to whom was dedicated a pre-existing church at this point that was demolished to build the cathedral, a building that began in 1277 at the behest of the then Bishop Guglielmo of the Ubertini better known as Guglielmino.
A great ecclesiastical figure, but also a military commander. It was he who led the Ghibelline troops of Arezzo against the Guelph troops of Florence in the famous Battle of Campaldino of 11 June 1289. From inside you can see the beautiful stained glass, a real rarity in the Italian panorama, they were built by the French resident in Arezzo Guillaume de Marcillat. The windows allow only a feeble light to penetrate making it almost impossible to admire the paintings on the first three bays of the nave. Tourists can admire the beautiful terracotta of Della Robbia, kept in the Chapel of Our Lady of Conforto, separated from the nave by a huge transenna.
Continuing along the central aisle, just ahead soon after the body is the most important: the tomb of Bishop Guido Tarlati, who led the town of Arezzo to the revival at the beginning of the fourteenth century. The tomb is decorated with marble reliefs, attributed to Giotto, that illustrate the life and military career of Bishop. On the right side of the tomb, tourists can admire the small fresco that is the Maddalena, undertaken by Piero della Francesca, the only work by the great painter outside the parish church of San Francesco.

Art lovers will enjoy Casa Vasari, the house of the Italian Mannerist artist Giorgio Vasari, a two-story palace that he bought in 1540. He decorated the main rooms himself, achieving a remarkable illusionist effect using different techniques. More works by Vasari and other Renaissance painters can be admired in the Museo d’Arte Medievale e Moderna.

The National Archaeological Museum of Gaio Cilnio Mecenate houses a vast collection of objects from the Etruscan and Roman eras in Arezzo. This museum is connected to the Roman Amphitheater of Arezzo and together these places recount the history and the ancient origins of the city. It is one of most important archaeological museums in Tuscany, second only to the museum in Florence.
The museum’s most internationally renowned items include the collection of earthen vessels, known as the “coral vessels.”  These vessels were produced in Arezzo between the first half of the 1st century BC until midway through the 1st century AD. The exclusive production of the vessels in Arezzo made the town famous throughout all of antiquity. One of the rarest of these vessels is the Crater of Euphronios, dating back to 500 BC. It depicts the struggle between the Greeks and the Amazons and on the shield of the warriors is the symbol of the Chimera, which would later become the symbol of the town of Arezzo.

This is a medieval jousting contest held every Summer, with the numerous participants dressed in magnificent costumes. But it is also a competition between the quarters of the city whose representatives are recognized by their colours. Porta Crocifera is in red and green, Porta Sant’Andrea in white and green, Porta Santo Spirito in yellow and blue, and Porta del Foro in crimson and yellow.

The most beautiful park in the city sits upon the highest point in Arezzo along with the Medici Fortress. This spot affords breathtaking views of the towers of Arezzo on one side and of the Casentino valley on the other. 
Like an emerald nestled between the Cathedral of Arezzo (locally known as the “Duomo”) and the Medici Fortress, the Prato Park of Arezzo is the oldest park in the city. The vast green space of this park has an elliptical shape and is crowned by very old maritime pine trees. It was first used during the reign of the Medici’s as a place where nobility could go out for a stroll. In 1928, a large Monument to Francesco Petrarca was erected by King Vittorio Emanuele II in the middle of the park to commemorate Arezzo’s most revered poet from the 1300’s. Today the park is known as ‘lover’s lane’ and is the setting for the Antique Fair in September, for festivals, for live music performances and for nature lovers. It’s the perfect place to relax with family, to play sports and to immerse yourself in history. Going through the Prato Park, you can get to the very beautiful Medici Fortress in Arezzo. 

Located on the top of the Colle di San Donato, the Medicea Fortress is a significant example of the defensive military architecture of the sixteenth century. Under the direction of Antonio da Sangallo the Younger and Nanni Ungheri, the fortification was built between 1538 and 1560, on the area of ​​the ancient medieval citadel, which was razed to the ground. In the construction a large part of a previous trapezoidal fort was incorporated, which dated back to the beginning of the sixteenth century: two ramparts and some sections of the curtain are still visible in this fort.
The building is inserted into the city walls and consists of an irregular pentagonal shape to adapt to the terrain with bastions of considerable height. Very innovative – for those times – was the setting of the western ramparts and that of the internal environments, consisting of a complicated network of rooms, galleries, wells and air intakes, located on various levels.
In the spring and summer, the Fortress houses important exhibitions of contemporary art. There is a constant dialogue between the past and the present, from Etruscan and Roman excavations to modern day creations. From the Fortress you can enjoy one of the best views of the city below and of the Arno Valley.

It is located in the heart of Arezzo, overlooking the Corso Italia Road. This is a multifaceted museum and cultural space for music performances, shows and events for the little ones. The museum is inside one of the most imposing buildings of the Middle Ages of Arezzo and houses a collection of artifacts and antiques acquired over the course of a lifetime by Ivan Bruschi. He was a scholar and collector of antiques who founded the Antiques Fair in Arezzo in 1968.

Arezzo is the hometown of Guido Monaco, the medieval inventor of musical notation and at the end of August, in commemoration, the city traditionally hosts the annual edition of the International Polyphonic Competition.

Arezzo and beyond

The most popular attraction in the immediate surroundings of Arezzo is the scenic hilltop town Cortona, made famous by the novel “Under the Tuscan sun”.
There are also the lively but less well-known walled town of Anghiari and, heading north, the verdant paradise of the Casentino Valley, and the National Park of the Foreste Casentinesi.
If you love art, check out our itinerary with Piero della Francesca artworks in Arezzo and nearby Sansepolcro and Monterchi.

The tourist attraction is mainly due to its natural environments and its geographical isolation. Surrounded by mountainous areas with reliefs that reach even 1658 meters (Mount Falco) covered by extensive wooded areas in large part included in the National Park of Casentino Forests. At the bottom of the valley there are historical centers grown through events and phases comparable to those of larger cities in other areas; on the mountain slopes there are the ruins of a hundred castles of which only the village that preserves its name has been preserved. From the high-altitude pastures we pass to beech woods, then to chestnut groves, oak woods and cultivated fields, today residues of the sharecropping system on the Apennine slope and a small mountain property once dedicated to pastoralism and chestnut harvesting on the Pratomagno side. All this is enhanced by an extraordinary number of historical documents, still little explored, that illustrate every aspect of the development of the valley from before the twelfth century, up to the present day.
In Casentino there are also several points of interest, artistic and especially religious; in addition to the "Castles of the Casentino", of particular interest are the Pieve di Romena, a Romanesque church in the municipality of Pratovecchio, and important religious centers such as the Sanctuary of La Verna, the Monastery of Camaldoli and the Sanctuary-monastery of Santa Maria del Sasso, near Bibbiena.
To date, many of these castles, towers and fortifications can still be seen in the Casentino area, although in small numbers compared to the original one; among the best preserved, the Castle of Poppi, which dominates in a central position the valley from the height on which stands the village of Poppi.

About an hour’s drive from Arezzo and right in the ‘green heart’ of neighboring Umbria, you will find Lake Trasimeno. This enormous lake is a nature lover’s paradise and is lined with ancient villages such as Castiglioni del Lago and Passignano, beaches and great spots for walking. You can also take a boat trip out to the lake’s three islands.

Food and Wine

Local cuisine from Arezzo is highly recommended, with a great range of both traditional and modern Tuscan cuisine. You will find a hearty version of classic Tuscan cuisine, with inns serving salami, cheese platters, stuffed pasta or a filling ribollita soup (made with beans).  Also expect porchetta (whole deboned pigs, stuffed with garlic and herbs), succulent sausages and cold cuts. Homely inns might serve tripe and grifi con polenta, lambs’ cheeks with polenta, or dishes based on veal or pork.  Also look out for bistecca alla fiorentina, chargrilled T-bone steak, especially as neighboring Val di Chiana is considered the best place for steak in Tuscany.
Arezzo is the capital of a significant wine-producing province and offers everything from local Chianti (Chianti Colli Arentini DOCG) to Vinsanto (Vinsanto del Chianti Colli Arentini DOC). In addition, several estates produce SuperTuscans, high quality red and white wines, made from non-indigenous varieties or using blends not allowed under Tuscan appellation law.



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