Arezzo is an extraordinary and ancient city, that is actually as old as Alexandria of Egypt. It is a small treasure with an ancient soul, where history, culture, and art blend together with the classic Tuscan "live-well" philosophy. Arezzo's long history is tied to its unique geographical position, a strategic point between the Po Valley, the Mediterranean Sea and Adriatic Sea, and the Tuscan city-states.
Arezzo was founded as an Etruscan city in the 9th century BC, and has preserved this imprint throughout the ages: everything is close by and easily reached in just a few minutes. While it lies in Tuscany and contains many artistic and architectural gems, it is less known than the other art cities of the regions. It received attention when actor and director Roberto Benigni, who is from the area, filmed his Academy award-winning movie, Life is Beautiful, here.
The historic center is a beautiful Medieval quarter; linger among the lovely alleys to enjoy the spirit of this wonderful place, which grew as a free city during the Medieval era, and flourished as the home one of the first universities in Europe. Wander around the historic center to take in the details - the courtyards, the old buildings, the balustrades in wrought iron, the lamp fixtures...an overall charming atmosphere!
The monumental cathedral of San Donato has soaring Gothic vaults, gorgeous decorations and an intricately-carved high altar. It is also home to a famous fresco by Piero della Francesca and pretty glazed sculptures by Della Robbia. Giorgio Vasari, noted architect, painter and writer, was from here. Famous for the Vasari Corridor, the frescoes in the dome of Florence's cathedral, and the design of the Uffizi Gallery, he also decorated his own home here in Arezzo that you should see. The Badia boasts an amazing trompe l'oeil dome that was (and still is) a masterpiece of perfect perspective. The Museum of Medieval and Modern Art is housed in a 15th-century palazzo and shows off some marvelous works. The church of the Annunziata was designed by Sangallo the Elder. All in all, Arezzo is like a miniature Florence, without the crowds!
The heart of the city is the Piazza Grande, similar to Siena's Campo, a delightful square outlined with imposing public buildings and loggias that gives a glimpse of a Medieval city. The monthly Antiques Market is held here, one of the largest and most renowned in Italy. The small Piaza San Francesco is more intimate and charming with its outdoor cafes and lived-in feel. Take a walk up to the Park and Fortress called Medicea for beautiful views of the countryside and the town spread out below.
Twice a year there's the spectacular medieval tournament called the "Giostra del Saraceno", an ancient tradition that sprang out of the city-state's military training exercises. It recalls the battle between Christians and the Saracens. Today it is an epic event with costumes and fanfare that is fun to see.
Arezzo provides classic Tuscan old world atmosphere in a beautiful setting and without the crushing crowds of other cities.
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