Arezzo Tourist Information

Arezzo - things to see and do, where to stay

Arezzo in italiano

Arezzo sights

Arezzo – piazza Grande

Considering how small it is even to this day, the contribution of Arezzo to Western Civilisation has been little short of astounding. Here we outline some of the attractions, sights and events of interest to visitors to Arezzo.

Arezzo (Latin Arretium) is the capital of the central Italian province of the same name, located in the Region of Tuscany, Italy. Arezzo is about 80 km (50 miles) south-east of Florence, at an elevation of 296 m above sea level, and can easily be visited during a single day excursion by anyone vacationing in the Chianti wine zone or the Valley of the Orcia.

Arezzo is set on a steep hill rising from the floodplain of the Arno. In the upper part of the town are the cathedral, the town hall and the Medici Fortress (Fortezza Medicea), from which the main streets branch off towards the lower part as far as the gates. The upper part of the town maintains its mediaeval aspect despite the addition of later structures.

The best way to access the historical centre of Arezzo is to use the new escalators that connect the large free car park in Via Pietri with the Duomo. The car park is free and well-lit at night and there is a good bookshop with guide books, illustrated histories and so on.

Arezzo antiques and flea market

The Arezzo antiques market, Fiera Antiquaria, takes place over the weekend that includes the first Sunday of each month and is one of the best in Italy, with over 500 dealers when the weather is good. (Note that it is the first Sunday of the month, not the first weekend). Booths are set up throughout the upper area of the city from the Basilica of San Francesco past the duomo and sell antiques, paintings, jewelry, sculpture, crèche figures, prints and silver ex-votos.

Arezzo Antiques Fair

Arezzo antiques market, Fiera Antiquaria

Vacation accommodations in Arezzo

Val d'Orcia hotels

Do you prefer the security of booking your vacation rental accommodations via a highly reputable agency? Click here for a selection of the best hotels and rural vacation accommodations in and around Arezzo.

Arezzo location map

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History of Arezzo

Arezzo may have been one of the twelve most important Etruscan cities, the Etruscan Dodecapolis. It was described by Livy as one of the Capitae Etruriae (chief Etruscan cities). Etruscan remains establish that the acropolis of San Cornelio, a small hill next to that of San Donato, was occupied and fortified in the Etruscan period. There is other significant Etruscan evidence, parts of walls, an Etruscan necropolis on Poggio del Sole (still named "Hill of the Sun" ), and most famously, the two bronzes, the "Chimera of Arezzo" (5th century BC) and the "Minerva" (4th century BC) which were discovered in the 16 C and taken to Florence. Increasing trade connections with Greece also brought some elite goods to the Etruscan nobles of Arezzo: the krater painted by Euphronios ca 510 BCE with a battle against Amazons (in the Museo Civico) is unsurpassed.

Arretium was conquered by the Romans in 311 BC and became a military station on the via Cassia, the road to expansion by republican Rome into the basin of the Po. Arretium sided with Marius in the Roman Civil War, and the victorious Sulla established a colony of his veterans in the half-demolished city, as Arretium Fidens ("Faithful Arretium"). The old Etruscan aristocracy was not extinguished: Caius Clinius Mecaenas, whose name is eponymous with "patron of the arts", was of the noble Aretine Etruscan stock. The city continued to flourish as Arretium Vetus ("Old Arretium"), the third largest city in Italy in the Augustan period, well-known in particular for its widely-exported pottery, the characteristic moulded and glazed Arretine ware, bucchero-ware of dark clay, and red-painted vases (the so-called "coral" vases).

In the 4 C AD, Arezzo became an episcopal seat. It is one of the few cities whose succession of bishops are known by name without interruption to the present day, in part because they were the feudal lords of the city in the Middle Ages. The Roman city was demolished, partly as a result of the Gothic War and the invasion of the Lombards, partly dismantled, as elsewhere throughout Europe, and the stones reused for fortifications by the Aretines. Only the amphitheatre remained.

The commune of Arezzo threw off the control of its bishop in 1098. Until 1384, Arezzo maintained itself as an independent city-state, generally Ghibelline in tendency, thus opposing Guelph Florence. In 1252 the city founded its university, the Studium. After the rout of the Battle of Campaldino (1289), which saw the death of Bishop Guglielmino Ubertini, the fortunes of Ghibelline Arezzo started to ebb, apart from a brief period under the Tarlati family, chief among them Guido Tarlati, who became bishop in 1312 and maintained good relations with the Ghibelline party. The Tarlati sought support in an alliance with Forlì and its overlords, the Ordelaffi, but unavailingly. Arezzo yielded to Florentine domination in 1384 and thenceforth its individual history was submerged in that of Florence and the Medicean Grand Duchy of Tuscany. During this period Piero della Francesca worked in the church of San Francesco di Arezzo producing the splendid frescoes which are Arezzo's most famous works, but afterwards the city began an economical and cultural decay, that had the effect of preserving its mediaeval centre.

In the 18 C, the neighbouring marshes of the Val di Chiana, south of Arezzo, were drained and the region became more pleasant. At the end of the century, French troops led by Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Arezzo, but the city soon turned into a base of the resistance against the invaders with the movement of "Viva Maria". This gained the city the role of provincial capital. In 1860 Arezzo became part of the Kingdom of Italy. City buildings suffered heavy damage during World War II.

Arezzo - the main sights

Arezzo Piazza Grande

The Piazza Grande is the most noteworthy mediaeval square in the city, opening behind the 13 C Romanesque apse of S. Maria della Pieve. Once the main marketplace of the city, it is currently the site of the Giostra del Saracino ("Joust of the Saracin"). It has a sloping pavement in red brick with limestone geometrical lines. Aside from the apse of the church, other landmarks of the square include:

The Palace of the Lay Fraternity (Fraternita dei Laici): 14-15 C palazzo, with a Gothic ground floor and a quattrocento second floor by Bernardo Rossellino.

The Vasari Loggia along the north side, a flat Mannerist façade designed by Giorgio Vasari.

• Episcopal Palace, seat of the bishops, rebuilt in the mid-13 Cy. The interior has frescoes by Salvi Castellucci, Teofilo Torri, and Pietro Benvenuti. 

In front of the Palace is the Monument to Grand Duke Ferdinando I de' Medici (1595), by Pietro Francavilla, following a design of Giambologna.

• Palazzo Cofani-Brizzolari, with the Torre Faggiolana.

Remains of the Communal Palace and the Palazzo del Popolo can also be seen.

Arezzo Churches

• Cathedral of San Donato (gothic, 13 C - early 16 C). The façade remained unfinished, and was added in the 20 C. The interior has a nave and aisles divided by massive pilasters. The left aisle has a fresco by Piero della Francesca portraying Mary Magdelene. The mediaeval stained glass, the Tarlati Chapel (1334) and the Gothic tomb of Pope Gregory X are all worth seeking out.

• Basilica of San Francesco (Tuscan-Gothic style 13 -14 C). Of the projected façade cover in sculpted stone only the lower band was completed. The interior has a single nave. The main attraction is the History of the True Cross fresco (1453-1464) cycle by Piero della Francesca in the Bacci Chapel. Under the church is another Basilica with a nave and two aisles (Basilica inferiore), today used for art exhibitions.

Romanesque church of Santa Maria della Pieve. Its most striking feature is the massive, square-planned bell tower with double orders of mullioned windows. The church was built in the 12th century over a pre-existing Palaeo-Christian edifice, and renovated a century later with the addition of the characteristic façade made of loggias with small arches surmounted by all different-styled columns. Also from the same century is the lunette with the Virgin between Two Angels and the sculptures of the months (1216) over the main portal. the interior has a nave and two aisles, with a transept also added in the 13th century. In the following century chapels, niches and frescoes were added, including the polyptych of Virgin with Child and Saints by Pietro Lorenzetti (1320). In the crypt is a relic bust of St. Donauts (1346). From the same epoch is the exagonal baptismal font, with panels of the Histories of St. John the Baptist, by Giovanni d'Agostino. The Pieve was again renovated by Giorgio Vasari in 1560.

• Basilica of San Domenico (founded in 1275 and completed in the early 14 C). The interior has a single nave with a Crucifix by Cimabue, a masterwork of 13 C Italian art. Other artworks include a Sts. Philip and James the Younger and St. Catherine by Spinello Aretino and other 14 C painting and sculpture decorations.

• Church of San Michele, with a modern façade. Traces of the original Romanesque edifice and the Gothic restoration can be seen in the interior.

• Santa Maria in Gradi is a mediaeval church from the 11 C or the 12 C, but was rebuilt in the late 16 C by Bartolomeo Ammannati. The interior has a single nave with stone altars (17 C) and a Madonna of Misericordia, terracotta by Andrea della Robbia.

• Church of St. Augustine, founded in 1257, modified in the late 15 C and the late 18 C. The façade and the interior decoration are largely from Baroque times. The square plan bell tower is from the 15 C.

• Badia di SS. Flora e Lucilla (12 C). Built by Benedictine monks in the 12th century, it was totally restored in the 16th century under the direction of Giorgio Vasari. The octagonal bell tower is from 1650. The interior, in Mannerist style, has an illusionistic canvas depicting a false dome by Andrea Pozzo (1702). There are also a St. Lawrence fresco by Bartolomeo della Gatta (1476) and a Crucifix by Segna di Buonaventura (1319).

• San Lorenzo, one of the most ancient of the city, having been built before the year 1000, most likely in Palaeo-Christian times. Rebuilt in the 13 C and restored in 1538, it was totally reconstructed in 1705. The apse exterior is in Romanesque style.

• Santa Maria delle Grazie, a late Gothic sanctuary with a Renaissance portal by Benedetto da Maiano (1490). It has also a marble high altar by Andrea della Robbia including a pre-existing fresco by Parri di Spinello (1428-1431). The sanctuary was built over a font dedicated to Apollo, which was destroyed by San Bernardino of Siena in 1428, building an oratory in its place. The church was erected in 1435-1444 and has a chapel entitled to St. Bernardino.

• Santa Maria a Gradi (1591), a monastery existing already in 1043. It has a Baroque interior, but with an altar by a collaborator of Andrea della Robbia.

• Church of Santissima Trinità. Built in 1348, it was totally renovated in 1723-1748 in Baroque style. It houses a 14th century Crucifix, a banner painted by Giorgio Vasari in 1572, a painting of Noli me tangere by Alessandro Allori (1584) and other artworks.

• Santa Maria Maddalena, built in 1561 over a pre-14 C structure. It houses a Madonna with Child (Madonna of the Rose) by Spinello Aretino, visible in the high altar (ca. 1525) designed by Guillaume de Marcillat. It is now private property.

• Pieve di San Paolo, in San Paolo, erected as Palaeo-Christian baptismal church, remade in the 8th-9th centuries and then rebuilt in Romanesque style in the 13th century. The bell tower is from the 14 C-15 C. The entire church was again renovated after the 1796 earthquake. It has kept 15 C frescoes by Lorentino d'Andrea and a cyborium. The transept entrance has granite columns with marble capitals from the 5 C.

• Pieve di Sant'Eugenia al Bagnoro, in Bagnoro. Documented from 1012, it was one of the most important pievi of the diocese during the Middle Ages. The presbytery area is from the 12 C, while the rest is from the 11 C. The bell tower, partially ruined, stands on one of the three apses.

• Pieve di San Donnino a Maiano, at Palazzo del Pero (6 C - 9 C). Documented from 1064, it replaced a Palaeo-Christian baptismal church. The frontal part was rebuilt in the 14 C. The apse has 15 C frescoes and a wooden Madonna with Child from the same age.

Other monuments and places of interest in Arezzo

• Palazzo dei Priori, erected in 1333, has been the seat of the city's magistratures until today. The structure has been restored and renovated frequently. The interior has a courtyard from the 16 C, a stone statue portraying a Madonna with Child (1339), frescoes, busts of illustrious Aretines, two paintings by Giorgio Vasari. The square tower dates from 1337.

• Medici Fortress (Fortezza Medicea), designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger and completed in 1538-1560. It was partly dismantled by the French in the early 19 C.

• Palazzo Camaiani-Albergotti (14 C, renovated in the 16 C), with the Torre della Bigazza.

• Palazzo Bruni-Ciocchi, a Renaissance structure attributed to Bernardo Rossellino. It now houses the State Museum of Mediaeval and Modern Art.

• Palazzo Pretorio, which was seat of the People's Captain until 1290. The façade has coat of arms of the captains, podestà and commissaries of the city from 14 C to 18 C. Only one of the two original towers remains.

• House of Petrarch (Casa del Petrarca).

• Casa Vasari (in Via XX Settembre) an older house rebuilt in 1547 by Giorgio Vasari and frescoed by him; now open as a museum, it also contains 16 C archives.

• Ivan Bruschi House and Museum (Casa-Museo "Ivan Bruschi").

• Gaio Cilnio Mecenate Archaeological Museum.

• Civic Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.

• Roman amphitheatre
and museum.

• Medici Fortress (Fortezza Medicea).

• Diocesan Museum (Museo Diocesano).

• State Museum of Mediaeval and Modern Art (Museo Statale d'Arte Medievale e Moderna).

Festivals at Arezzo

Giostra del Saracino

Arezzo is home to an annual mediaeval festival called the Joust of the Saracen (Giostra del Saracino) held twice a year, a night version on the third Saturday in June and the second on the first Sunday in September. In this joust, "knights" on horseback representing different areas of the town charge at a wooden target attached to a carving of a Saracen king and score points according to accuracy. Virtually all the town's people dress-up in mediaeval costume and enthusiastically cheer on the competitors.

Joust of the Saracen (Giostra del Saracino)

Joust of the Saracen (Giostra del Saracino)

Giostra del Saracino 2013

Arezzo Wave

Arezzo is also home to an annual popular music and culture festival, each July, called Arezzo Wave. The Arezzo Wave festival is publicly funded and attracts bands of high repute and attendees from all over Europe and North America. It also features literary and film expositions.

An Arezzo Bibliography

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