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Am I cheating on Umbria with a day trip to Arezzo?

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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.

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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.

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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!

Comments (12)

I don't think it is cheating! It is your trip :)

I loved Arezzo. I also was there for only a short daytrip. I want to go back again and stay a few days.

I didn't realize that there was a scene in The English Patient that featured the frescoes.

I can't wait to hear your impression of this lovely little city or big town (not sure if it is called a city or a town).

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Sandra, busy day in Arezzo, but from the looks and sounds of it, seems like it will be really worth your time. Those are beautiful frescos.

8 more days! Lucky you!

"slow enough..." for whom?? :) It's your trip. :)

One should do whatever one likes during travel. :)

Alessandro and I saw quite a bit on our first trip away overseas together. My gosh we had a good time.

Your trip sounds just wonderful!

VickyP:

Amazing that you have to buy a timed ticket to see the frescoes...wow...when I saw them (OK, in 1980) I just walked in...jeez.

No guilt about only one day in Arezzo! Enjoy!

I think it's definitely worth cheating to see those frescoes - they look amazing. I'm looking forward to seeing and/or reading about the Annunciations you add to your collection (such a cool thing to collect!).

And is it really only 8 days away?! That is so exciting!

sandrac:

Girasoli, I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed Arezzo! It sounds like there is a lot to see and it seems very acessible and easy to reach (unlike Cortona, which is lovely but it can be tricky getting from the train station up to town!)

In terms of The English Patient, I remember the first time I saw the movie, I loved the scene in the church where Juliette Binoche is hoisted up to see these frescos in a church that's otherwise closed up tight. It took me a while to find out where it had been shot and while I think I'll have an easier time seeing the frescos than did the movie character, there really was something kind of magical about the movie scenes!

Kathy, I'm really counting down the days now! (And beginning to fret about what to pack.)

Leslie, it sounds like you and Alessandro really travel well together, you're so fortunate!

Vicky, it is a bit sad how organized a traveler has to be these days in order to see certain sights. It might not actually be essential to have a ticket in mid-September (which may not be peak tourist season) but I thought I'd better not take a chance since I'll only have this one day in Arezzo (at least, only one day this year!)

Annie, I'm pretty excited about seeing these frescos. I don't know what it is about frescos that I love so much, but these are no exceptions!


chiaro:

Hi Sandra,
Only 7 more days until you leave. You must be excited!
I say if you feel like going then do it. There are so many amazing places you can do on a daytrip in Umbria and Tuscany.

I'm wondering what to pack. Mostly summer or fall clothes?
Probably a little of both.

chiaro

sandrac:

Thanks, Chiaro -- I AM getting excited. You must be feeling the same, only 10 days until you leave!

I must say that packing always fills me with dread -- especially this time of year because, as you say, we'll probably need a bit of summer stuff, a bit of fall.

Today's weather is giving me a few hints -- it's pouring rain and about 15C which doesn't sound so bad until you're actually outside! It's a good reminder I should throw in one pair of closed-toed walking shoes as well as sandals (which I prefer) and a pair of pants.

In late spring and summer, it's so easy to just go with a few cotton skirts and a couple of pairs of sandals. But I guess with fall here, things are a bit more complicated

Good luck with your packing!

You're going to love Arezzo! I was there in '01 for a very short visit and saw the della Francesca’s fresco cycle. They are truly beautiful.

I don't know if you have thought of this, but I always pack my small binoculars when I know I'll be visiting churches with frescoes or mosaics that are high above my eye level.

Packing for September and October is always difficult, but if you forget to bring something, you can always get a beautiful Italian substitute for the item you left back home.

sandrac:

Thanks Maria, the binoculars are a very good idea. I have a small pair that wouldn't add too much weight!

It is a challenge packing in a transitional season. But as you say, it's always fun to shop in Italy! (too fun, according to my credit card bills)

Anne:

Binoculars are a great idea, some of those cathedral ceilings are so high it's hard to see the detail otherwise.

I just commented on another entry that I am planning to visit Arezzo as well. Too bad our dates don't overlap!

sandrac:

Anne, it is too bad we won't overlap -- either in Arezzo or Florence. Maybe another year!

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