Any day of spring during one of those interminable bridges between April and May that, for those who can’t leave “seriously”, serve above all to confuse the calendar. Otherwise, those who have just faced a move, as in my case, can reserve the promise of 24 hours of rest and brain paused. The idea of returning to Tuscany for half a day arose very suddenly and in such a context. The car was already on its way when I asked the internet what to see in Arezzo and what was the best way to get there.
I didn’t know anything about Arezzo; if we really want to be honest, I didn’t even remember that it was the city of origin of Petrarch. I only knew that it was one of the few Tuscan cities in which I had never set foot yet, that it was not too far from my starting point and that yes, somehow, I was curious. In short, given the premises, visiting Arezzo could have greatly satisfied my need to escape and detach my tired head for a few hours. The fact that then, after seeing Arezzo, we got a taste of it and we traveled another 150 kilometers south and returned to Bologna at one in the morning is another story that perhaps sooner or later I will tell you.
Less known than its more popular sisters Florence, Lucca and Siena, Arezzo lends itself perfectly to a day trip. And, moreover, to a disorganized and improvised trip like ours: fortunately, in fact, at the entrance to the city and in front of the Cathedral you immediately come across the tourist office, ready to give advice and directions on the main monuments of Arezzo to visit and on the path to follow. The main stages are all close enough to them, in the small old town is impossible to get lost. Its hilly position and therefore slightly raised will be the first thing that will surprise you (or at least was the first thing that surprised me). This aspect is linked to one of the most beautiful things that the visit to Arezzo has given me: a succession of views and belvederes with a rather privileged point of view on the extraordinary Tuscan hills and the surrounding valleys. That day, moreover, there were several clouds to embellish with embroidery a beautiful bright blue sky.
Summing up, if you have a day available, know that the city of Vasari and Petrarch will know how to take care of your time. An idea of what to visit in Arezzo you can do with my advice below, but be aware that that’s not all.
Where is Arezzo
Arezzo is located in an extraordinary landscape of valleys and hills. Since the distances between the cities of Tuscany are not too great, it is possible to visit Arezzo in one day both from Florence (which is less than 80 km away) and from Siena (which is about 70 km away). Those who come from Bologna, like me, will have to travel about 180 kilometers and all practically on the motorway (which on the one hand is convenient, on the other a little ‘less since I do not have particular sympathy for the direct from Bologna to Florence. But it’s fast, that’s right!).
Another point in favor of the location of Arezzo is the proximity to the border with Umbria: Città di Castello, for example, is only about forty kilometers, Lake Trasimeno is less than seventy. This is to tell you that a trip to Arezzo is easily combined with other destinations, all more beautiful than the other. You will see that there will be plenty of opportunities to visit it.
If you are looking for other ideas for a touch and escape in the day, I leave you the link to the post on the cities to visit in a day in Italy.
A day in Arezzo: what to see
THE CATHEDRAL OF AREZZO
The beauty I didn’t expect. My advice on what to see in Arezzo starts from the Duomo, which was also the first thing I visited once I took the escalators and crossed the entrance to the historic center of the city.
Looking at it from the outside, the Cathedral dedicated to Saints Peter and Donato could look almost like any other church. Averagely imposing, sober and all in all dry, perfectly integrated into the context created by the square that surrounds it and the staircase that introduces it. Inside, however, there is a succession of beautiful works, starting with the Magdalene painted by Piero della Francesca and the windows of Marcillat, not to mention the altar and the marble complex that dominates it. And so on.
THE PARISH CHURCH OF SANTA MARIA
Among the churches of Arezzo, and in general among the monuments of the city, the Parish Church of Santa Maria occupies a very special place. It is also an unusual position, if we think of the slight slope that characterizes the road where the entrance is located.
It is beautiful from any side you choose to look at it: both on the front, with the facade that is divided between loggias and arches, and on the back, with the apse that rests on the monumental Piazza Grande. Above all, the thin and “pierced” bell tower, which dominates much of the urban landscape of the center of Arezzo.
The heart of the city beats in the squares. And Piazza Grande is the typical place to which I would dedicate dozens of photographs immortalized from every corner with the aim of not losing a single profile, a wall, a detail. And there are hundreds of details to observe here. Starting with the Logge del Vasari (call them details!), the portico where the activities of the artisan shops alternate with the scents of the kitchens of the restaurants. To continue with the clock at the top of the Palazzo della Fraternita dei Laici and, a little further on, with the apse of the Pieve di Santa Maria. But that’s not all. There is the staircase of the Palazzo del Tribunale, the small well at the corner, the buildings that seem to teleport the square in different times and moments (and all very far away).
In such a scenario, the image of a market rises spontaneously, of a crucial junction of meetings, of a stage of civil and institutional life. It is difficult to remain anchored in the present, in this context. In short, you will have understood why I think Piazza Grande is the first place to report among the tips on what to see in Arezzo.
THE HOUSE OF FRANCESCO PETRARCA
For writers and experts in humanistic culture is an impossible step not to include in a guide on what to see in Arezzo. The house where Francesco Petrarca was born, today, consists mainly of the library that collects an impressive collection of works and volumes of different topics and languages. And obviously dating back to different eras.
I always like historical libraries, but to be honest I expected (hoped) to find something that would bring me back a bit ‘closer to the life and personality of Petrarch. Maybe at school the teacher had made me a head like that.
The building is home to the Accademia Petrarca di Lettere Arti e Scienze and is located a stone’s throw from the Parish Church of Santa Maria.
What to do in Arezzo, especially on a bright spring day, if not a walk with a well-deserved stop in the bright greenery and orderly park of the Prato? It is one of the most popular green areas and frequented by the city, but you absolutely do not have to fear full and crowded. The Prato is in fact one of the quietest municipal parks in which I have ever set foot. And it is located a short distance from the Duomo and the Parish Church of Santa Maria, so you will reach it in no time. Do you know why you have to visit it? For the white marble of the largest monument dedicated to Petrarch, of course; but not only. I, who as you know now boast a nostalgic-mix-to-romantic soul, loved to look at the view from the park lookout and let it get lost in the soft profiles of the hills around the city. Tuscany and its wonderful manifestations. How extraordinary can it get in the spring?
THE MEDICI FORTRESS
Among the things to see in Arezzo there is one that is located right between the borders of the park Il Prato, and is the Medici Fortress. Since 1500 (when it was built by the Medici of Florence) dominates Arezzo and its extraordinary valleys from a very privileged position.
After having visited the internal rooms you pass outside, where the system of walkways allows you to walk along the ramparts and walk on the excavations. And to embrace once again with your eyes the green hills mentioned above.
PIAZZA SAN FRANCESCO AND THE CENTRE OF AREZZO
The stage I wanted more time for. Piazza San Francesco, as I have perceived turning on foot, is one of the main knots of Arezzo center. I ran into it by chance and with a gurgling stomach, while I was looking for a place to have a quick lunch.
It didn’t take me long to find what I needed: the square in fact connects streets like Corso Italia, Via Garibaldi and Via Cavour, meeting places, shops and lots of places to drink and eat.
I say that I would have liked to have had more time (and possibly not a hole in the stomach) because in the end, even if I complain when I can not photograph the streets without catching the passers-by, I really like to observe people. I like living, lived-in places. Outdoor tables. The courtyards and balconies full of flowers. And I love the squares, even at rush hour, when everyone passes by.
I say that I would have liked to have more time (and possibly not a hole in the stomach) because in the end, although I complain when I can not photograph the streets without catching the passers-by, I really like to observe people. I like living, lived-in places. Outdoor tables. The courtyards and balconies full of flowers. And I love the squares, even at rush hour, when everyone passes by.
All this to say that, in all likelihood, if tomorrow I were to return to Arezzo I would start from those streets of the center, whose vitality, I admit, surprised me.
THE CHURCH OF SAN DOMENICO
I leave you with one last idea on what to see in Arezzo in one day.
The church of San Domenico is located in a slightly decentralized position that, translated, means that to reach it you will walk a couple of streets where you may happen to meet no one. Not bad, really. Inside the church is the wooden crucifix painted by Cimabue, and in fact this was the main reason that brought me here. However, with hindsight, if I had to advise you to reach San Domenico I would do it especially for the small square surrounding the church, and for its serene and sleepy atmosphere. Like that of a small town. And then, precisely, for the possibility of taking roads and lonely streets, slightly foreign to the routes followed by tourists, which is something that should never miss in any trip. And that usually gives the precious, priceless feeling of feeling somehow the only ones to grasp the city (or at least a small part of it) and to be able to shake it in their hands.