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Why didn't anyone tell me about Arezzo?

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Two weeks ago, I spent a wonderful day in Arezzo and was really impressed with this lovely little town, which certainly deserves much more than a day trip. It has a number of beautiful churches, lovely streets, great art, good shopping, and I had a fantastic lunch in the sun on a loggia of the Piazza Grande (above.) It was also the most expensive lunch of my trip, but it was worth it (more on that to come.)

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I travelled to Arezzo from Perugia, an easy train ride of only about one hour, with little knowledge of the town other than it's home to Piero della Francesca’s great Renaissance fresco cycle, The Legend of the True Cross.

Also, I knew it was the setting for Roberto Benigni's film Life Is Beautiful (La vita è bella, 1997.) Various signs around the historic centre of Arezzo show where different scenes from the film were shot, as well as photos from the movie and lines of dialogue to explain the significance of each setting. A clever touch on the part of Arezzo's city leaders, I thought.


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Of course, the first thing I wanted to see was Piero's fresco cycle, which is also known as The History of the True Cross, in the Basilica di San Francesco, an easy walk from the train station. 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. According to legend, the cross upon which Christ was crucified came from a branch of the Tree of Knowledge, which sprang over the grave of Adam.

The wood from the True Cross, with all of its historical importance, is lost for centuries but then regained after a great victory by Emperor Constantine (seen above, dreaming in his crimson tent that he will prevail in a coming battle under the sign of the cross.) Constantine's victory over Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge turns him into the first Christian emperor and leads to the recovery of the True Cross. It's a spectacular and complicated work and the 30-minute time limit to spend in the small chapel behind the high altar was a real drag.

But life goes on and back on the Piazza Grande, I had a fabulous lunch under the shadow of the gothic Palace of the Lay Fraternity (Fraternita dei Laici) and above the doors, its wonderful fresco and sculpture of the Madonna sheltering her flock.

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Lunch was remarkable. I snagged an outdoor table on Loggia Vasari in Piazza Grande at the Trattoria La Lancia d'Oro, which Jane (a fellow blogger) recommended. There are a few restaurants along the loggia and all seemed aimed at tourists. Despite that, I had an excellent lunch (altho the 40-euro bill was more than I usual spend at lunch!) They had me with the first prosecco and the best bread basket I've ever seen. I then had the loveliest cheese platter, crammed with fruit, jams, and curiously, a very large bowl of gelato to complement several large chunks of cheese. I was actually sorry that I had ordered a ravioli dish as my main course. And when I ordered coffee but declined dessert, the server still came with a small plate of delicious brownies.

The sun on the loggia was so warm, after several cool days, that I was really happy to bask in the warm sunshine for a change, and linger over a delicious lunch.

But because I had given myself so little time, I only popped into Arezzo’s gothic Cathedral of Saint Donatus (13th-early 16th centuries) which boasts another fresco by Piero della Francesca portraying the Madeleine.

So I was unable to see this spectacular piece by Cimabue:
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This Crucifix by Cimabue hangs in the Basilica of San Domenico (founded in 1275 and completed in the early 14th century) And there were so many other wonderful sites that I couldn't get to, including Santa Maria in Gradi, a medieval church from the 11th or the 12th century, which has a Madonna of Misericordia terracotta by Andrea della Robbia. Arezzo also has a Roman amphitheatre and the Palazzo Bruni-Ciocchi which is the seat of the State Museum of Medieval and Modern Art.

Clearly, I'll have to return!

Unfortunately, I spent so much time rushing around that when it was time to catch my train back to Perugia, I hopped on the wrong one and was all the way down to Orvieto before I realized my mistake. It was getting late in the evening but I was still able to catch another train back to Terontola for a long cold wait to get the last train to Foligno (stopping in Perugia) and the last minimetro up Perugia's big hill from the train station to the historic centre.

Comments (14)

How I enjoyed this post, Sandra. I also need to get back for a full day in Arezzo.
Mary

Arezzo is magnificent!

I agree about Arezzo. I was disappointed in only spending a short day there and want to return for a longer stay some day. I was not aware of the Crucifix by Cimabue. That will definitely be on mu list.

Sorry to hear you ended up on the wrong train and ended up spending so many hours trying to get back to Perugia. That must have been very frustrating.

Oh that was a great post with wonderful pictures.

I have only been there once, years ago. I was staying for three weeks in Florence and we got the train there for the day. ;)

Wow. I want to go there. I too wonder why Arezzo seems to be "off the radar" - it looks like a wonderful city. That basilica is very cool. And that palace too. It makes me want to watch "Life is Beautiful" again.

And I love your idea about going on a quest to compile a complete list of Madonnas - any ideas about where we can apply for a big grant to fund that project?!?

And no, I didn't compile the list of MdM's in Venice. That list is on this guy's website (A Lover of Venice) and he did it. There are still several on his list that I haven't seen yet and plan to seek out in December.

Wonderful report and photos!

sandrac:

Thanks, Mary -- I'm quite envious that you live in such a wonderful location, so close to such fabulous treasures. (I say that, but I have to confess that I don't often visit beautiful sites so close to me in Quebec and upper New York State!)

Angie, I was really impressed with Arezzo. And it's nice to hear from you again!

Girasoli, I hope you're able to get back to Arezzo at some point -- it's so interesting. And thanks for your concern about the trains, a valuable reminder for me to pay attention!

Thanks, Leslie, Arezzo is close enough to Florence to be an easy trip. (Or vice versa!)

Annie, I've also been thinking I'd like to watch Life is Beautiful again, if only for the scenery (it was great, but so very sad.)

I'll have to look for more from A Lover of Venice. But I think if we get a whopping big grant from the Vatican, our book will blow his work out of the water!

Anonymous:

Hi Sandra, this is a wonderful post. I enjoyed reading about all the history, like the history of the True Cross. Very interesting. You took some beautiful photos too. And your lunch on Piazza Grande, nice. I would love to visit Arezzo too.

Thanks for continuing to share some of your experiences. BTW, you and Annie would produce an awesome compilation!

Brad'll Do It:

Your love of art shines through yet another blog post. After reading this, I thought of the analogy that for an art lover, the depth of art in the U.S./Canada must be like a single Kraft caramel, relative to the full banquet/many-coursed meal served up by Italy. Thanks for shedding some light on the town one sees endlessly on the Tuscan highway signs: "Arezzo - Grosseto"!

Arezzo looks really great, I hope I can go some day.

Anonymous:

Thanks, Anon, for your kind words. Annie and I must talk about getting together on an art book!

Brad, I like that analogy very much. I wonder if we would become a bit numb to great art after a while, if it was all around, all of the time? (Hmmmm, I should perhaps live in Italy for a while and test this!)

Meanwhile, I'd like to hear about your impressions of Bologna, a city that I'd like to get to know.

Chiocciola, I think you'd really enjoy Arezzo. I'll be going back!

Sandra - Arezzo has always been on my 'list'. The challenge is that the list gets longer and my trips get shorter and farther apart. The sculpture of the Madonna sheltering her flock is stunning.

sandrac:

Jerry, I know what you mean -- my must-see list gets longer ever year as well!

Kim:

I've really enjoyed the time I spent in Arezzo (still had the best hot chocolate of my life there). Now I'm wishing we were returning next month but just don't have the time...

Anonymous:

Isn't that always the problem, Kim -- so many cool places to see, so little time......

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