I realize that I’m pushing the boundaries of “slow travel” with my itinerary that not only starts and ends in Florence but includes a day trip to Arezzo.
In my defense, I’m only flying into Florence and then heading straight down to Assisi. No real Tuscany Time. And the vast majority of my trip will be spent in Umbria. But I must confess I’m planning a day trip from Perugia to the city of Arezzo, which is only an hour away by train but is, in fact, across the border in Tuscany.
Now, instead of fretting over whether my travels are really slow enough, I should be prepping for Arezzo. I know nothing really about Arezzo, except that it is where I’ll find Piero della Francesca’s Renaissance fresco cycle, The Legend of the True Cross.
Also known as The History of the True Cross, the cycle is his largest work, and generally considered one of his finest, and an early Renaissance masterpiece. Its theme is drawn from a 13th century book about the lives of the saints and tells of the triumph of the True Cross, made of wood from the Garden of Eden to become the cross upon which Christ was crucified. The cycle apparently ends with a depiction of the Annunciation, which isn’t, of course, part of the Legend of the True Cross, but may have been included for its symbolism. Since I collect Annunciations, even if only as memories or photos, I’m keen to see this.
I have wanted see this fresco cycle for a very long time. I love frescos, and I admit that the peek at this work which we got in a scene from the movie The English Patient really piqued my curiosity. (In the movie, which is partly set in central Italy, there is a scene where a beautiful Indian solider takes the heroine to an old church and hoists here up high so that she can see frescos painted onto the walls. Beautiful, mysterious shots!) However, I don’t imagine that I’ll be allowed to dangle from the ceiling of the Cappella Bacci to get a closer look, alas.
Still, I’ve reserved a ticket for a 20-minute slot to ensure that I can get inside the Basilica of San Francesco and see Piero’s frescos (and if it’s possible, I might even buy a second ticket when I’m there, to gain more viewing time.) But other than that, the day is totally unplanned. I’m only now beginning to research what else I should see and do with my time.
Here’s what I know so far about Arezzo: The main piazza and some other streets were the backdrop Roberto Benigni's film Life Is Beautiful (La vita è bella, 1997). The scenes depict where the main characters, a Jewish family, live before they’re sent to a Nazi concentration camp.
However, I see from Wikipedia that Arezzo’s Gothic Cathedral of Saint Donatus (13th-early 16th centuries) boasts another fresco by Piero della Francesca portraying the Madeleine. It seems there is also some interesting art, including a Crucifix by Cimabue in the Basilica of San Domenico (founded in 1275 and completed in the early 14th century) and Santa Maria in Gradi, a medieval church from the 11th or the 12th century, has a Madonna of Misericordia terracotta by Andrea della Robbia.
There is also a Roman amphitheatre and museum in Arezzo and the Palazzo Bruni-Ciocchi which is the seat of the State Museum of Medieval and Modern Art.
Clearly, I’m going to have a busy day in Arezzo!