Arezzo is called an anomaly among hill town which is precisely the the reason for its magnetic draw for this intrepid visitor. It stands above the meeting place of three fertile Tuscan valleys near where the Arno veers north towards Florence.
Fragments of its walls describe its perimeters in Etruscan,Roman and medieval times,but now the city has spilled beyond the boundaries of its medieval core. Streets fan downwards and intersect carving concentric rings about the slope. The ochre and honey colours of the buildings have a cool,gritty edge,in keeping with Arezzo's aggressive energy and bustle.
The most famous Etruscan relics found here - the Chimera and the bronze Minerva,now rest in Florence's Archeological Museum,but the local chapter houses a collection of the Aretine vases that were acclaimed by no others then Virgil and Pliny. Decorated with incised patterns portraying banquets,sacrifices and mythological figures,these clay pottery are deep in red colour of coral.
Continual war and political upheaval did not interfere with the city's growth and prosperity under feudal rule of its bishops. Michalangelo was born nearby in Caprese,as well as,the poet Petrach,the playwright Pietro Aretino...... Rattle these names off.... Andre Sansovino lived and worked here as well as, Pierodella Francesca,one of the greatest Renaissance painters.
It was only Aldous Huxley who was not enchanted with it, calling it a boring town, From the outside,the unfinished stone and brick facade of San Francesco Church,gives no clues to the works hung on its walls - the Legend of the True Cross and through to King Solomon.
Though many medieval churches and towered houses remain,their campaniles adorned with crenellations,only one of its Romanesque monuments escaped destruction by Cosimo I ( boo,hiss),the leveller who razed parts of the old town to rebuild his fortress. he spared Santa Maria whose facade of rough sandstone is animated by three tiers of columns,rising one up the other like the graceful 13th century churches of Pisa and Lucca.
From this church,the narrow street leads to the Piazza Grande which opens behind it. Once a year,seven centuries later,in being a civic centre of Arezzo...a spectacle happens in which horsemen wearing medieval costumes ride at full tilt,lances extended,towards the wooden image of an enormous Saracen. One hand of the figure holds a target,the other a mace with spikes and the rider who comes closest to scoring a direct hit,without being knocked off his horse or whacked on the head,takes home a Golden Lance to his neighbourhood quarter.
But once a month,on a Sunday,the piazza comes to life for a Furniture Fair,where people hope to unearth a real Etruscan fragment or a Renaissance treasure among the chairs,candlesticks,chests and clocks,spread out for sale in the market place.
On quieter days,its pleasant to wander about the piazza that slopes from the Vasari's gracefully arcaded Renaissance loggia to the medieval houses at its foot.The space is paved with rosy brick in a herringbone pattern,with insets of travertine triangles and circles. Towers and fine old stone buildings climb one steep side,and at the other becomes,in effect,a condensed history of architecture - from Romanesque apse to an 18th century tribunal.
Beyond the Palazzo Pretorio ,is the fortress whose walls and ramparts are still in place overlooking red-tiled roofs and towers and the vines and silvery olives that cover the slopes beyond the town. To the north are rolling green hills that range as far as the Appenines.
Its a short walk to the duomo,uphill of -course,as there are only two directions possible. The interior soars like a cathedral,is lit by brilliant coloured glass windows. Their rich colours formed by the hand of Guillaume de Marcillat.
For all its historical layers,the present is very much alive in Arezzo,and where armoured knights once clattered over the cobblestones,the foot steps of preoccupied businessmen and the staccado of high heels can now be heard. If this town has little of the romantic charm of the rest of Tuscany,it does have the liveliness,confidance and prosperity of a thriving commercial centre whose streets are full of shops selling the latest creations of successful young Aretines.
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