Arezzo is about 80 kilometres southeast of Florence, a place rich in art and boasting a history that dates to Etruscan times, when it was part of the Dodecapolis, one of the 12 most important Etruscan cities. Situated along via Cassia, during the Roman era it played a crucial role and was well-known for its pottery. Unfortunately, the medieval city centre was heavily destroyed during World War II, but a lot of monuments and works of art luckily remain to this day. The historic centre can be reached on foot from the train station: stroll along the pedestrian street called Corso Italia, which leads up to the main square, piazza Grande, where our tour begins.
Piazza Grande offers a mix of architectural styles, from medieval towers to the Renaissance Loggiato Vasariano to the Gothic-Renaissance Palazzo della Fraternita dei Laici and Palazzo delle Logge, designed by Vasari. Every first weekend of the month, piazza Grande hosts the famous antiques fair, an institution in Arezzo. Held since 1968, there are 500 vendors and around 30,000 customers every month! This is also the site of the traditional Joust of the Saracens, a medieval tournament held on the third Sunday in June and the first Sunday in September. If the piazza looks familiar, that’s probably because you’ve seen Life is Beautiful by Roberto Benigni: the movie was shot right here in Arezzo.
One of the most important religious buildings in Arezzo is the Basilica of San Francesco (13th-14th century), with the astonishing Cappella Bacci, where you can find frescoes by Piero della Francesca depicting the Legend of the True Cross and dating to the second half of the 15th century. The cathedral in Arezzo is dedicated to Saint Donatus and dominates the city from atop a hill. The Gothic cathedral actually had an unfinished façade for much of its history, until it was added in the 20th century. Inside, there are treasures like the medieval stained windows by Frenchman Guillaume de Marcillat, another fresco by Piero della Francesca depicting Mary Magdalene, a wooden choir designed by Vasari, a baptismal font with a relief by Donatello and terracottas by Andrea della Robbia.
It’s clear that Vasari is a very important figure for Arezzo, and you can see other works of his at Vasari’s House, which was planned and painted by the artist himself, and at the Museum of Medieval and Modern Art with a fresco of the Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist. The Romanesque Church of Santa Maria della Pieve is located between piazza Grade and Corso Italia, and was first documented in 1008. The interior boasts a Gothic style, however, while the bell tower, with five rows of mullioned windows, is in the Romanesque style. This sandstone church is unique because of its many details, like the five-arched façade topped by three porticoes of columns, each one of which is different. The apse of the church can be seen from piazza Grande.
The Church of San Domenico is situated outside the city centre: this Romanesque church was founded in 1275 and is home to a Crucifix by Cimabue, a masterpiece of 13th-century Italian art. For stunning 360-degree views of the city, visit the Medici Fortress, free of charge. Lastly, make sure to stop by the Roman amphitheatre, a real treat for history buffs!