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Telegraph.uk Article: Arezzo, Italy: Peace and Piero in Tuscany
Published June 17, 2011
Written by: Lee Marshall
How do you get away from your fellow tourists in Italy's most seductive region? Head east, says Lee Marshall, who uses Arezzo as a base from which to enjoy the art of Piero della Francesca.
For those who have finished with Florence, and want to explore the rest of Tuscany, the classic traveller's route runs either due south – to the vineyards of Chianti, the towers and Palio of Siena and San Gimignano, the hill towns between Montalcino and Montepulciano – or west to Pisa, Lucca and the coast. Aside from Cortona – a lovely town popularised, and in high season very nearly ruined, by Frances Mayes's well-meaning memoir Under the Tuscan Sun – eastern Tuscany gets far less attention.
That is a huge bonus for those who do make it to the region's vibrant little capital, Arezzo, just an hour by train from Florence. They come to this half-forgotten corner, in steady but never excessive numbers, drawn mostly by the joyful frescoes of the Renaissance artist Piero della Francesca, and discover a city rich in art and architecture but mostly free of crowds.
As well as being an attraction in its own right, Arezzo is also the jumping-off point for the Casentino valley, an area dotted with Romanesque chapels, medieval castles – one of which hosted Dante – and good restaurants. Two important Franciscan sites, the monasteries of La Verna and Camaldoli, lie high in the wooded mountains that ring the valley.
Arezzo is 48 miles (75km) south-east of Florence and 140 miles (225km) north of Rome on the A1 motorway. Trains head north from there to Florence and south to Orvieto and Rome.
Like the punchline of some Buddhist parable, Arezzo expresses itself in the getting there rather than the arrival, not radiating from a central piazza like so many Tuscan towns but draping its centro storico like a jewel-studded necklace across the side of a hill.
If you had to name one point as the cabochon stone in the garland it would be Piazza Grande. Built on a slant and surrounded by an attractive jumble of palazzos, towers and churches in which medieval and renaissance styles vie for supremacy, this is the focal point of Arezzo's famous antique fair (held on the first Sunday of each month and the preceding Saturday) and the venue for the Giostra del Saracino, a medieval jousting contest between the eight districts of the town, which happens twice a year in June and September (June 18 – today – and September 4 this year).
But it's the Legend of the True Cross fresco cycle in the Basilica di San Francesco's Bacci Chapel that most visitors come to see. Piero della Francesca's masterpiece is such a draw that the chapel, decorated by Piero between 1453 and 1466 for the wealthy Bacci family, is entered separately from the main church.
The other big cultural draw in Arezzo is the Casa di Vasari, the house that the native son Giorgio Vasari (whose Lives of the Artists chronicles Renaissance creativity and who was a talented artist and architect in his own right) bought for himself in 1541.
Arezzo, though, has a life beyond its cultural magnets. This is a great place to soak up the atmosphere of a Tuscan town that still exhibits the civic pride and community life of the medieval commune it once was – but away from the tourist hordes that plague San Gimignano or Siena.
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Knowital.com - Events in Tuscany: Arezzo has an enormous antiques market on the first Sunday (and preceding Saturday) of every month, centred around Piazza Grande and Piazza Vasari.