Arezzo, situated within striking distance of Firenze, Perugia, Siena, and numerous small hill towns like Cortona, is the provincial capitol of Toscana. Arezzo is different from many towns in Toscana: no sweeping views, no fresco colored villas with red tile roofs as far as the eye can see. It’s not on a river, however both the Arno and the Tiber originate north of Arezzo in the hills and pass through the area. It sits on a low hill in the Clanis valley. It’s not famous for leather goods, food, wine, famous museums and great restaurants but it has all of these things. I like it–a lot.
The men and women of Arezzo are proud of their Etruscan roots. Their home town was one of twelve Etruscan cities. The statue pictured a above is Etruscan and can be viewed in the archeology museum. One of the great surviving pieces of Etruscan art was discovered in Arezzo in 1553 CE when the city walls were being rebuilt. This amazing bronze statue of the chimera dates to the beginning of the 4th BCE. It resides today in Firenze because Cosimo de Medici appropriated it for his collection in the Pitti Palace and never returned it. The chimera is a mythical beast with the head and body of a lion, a goat’s head coming out of its back, and a long tail that ends with a snake’s head! It is the mascot of Arezzo. I imagine if the Etruscans wanted to scare you into submission threatening an attacck from the chimera would do the trick!
St. Mary Magdalene by della Francesca
Below: partial view of The Annunciation by della Francesca
Arezzo today is home to hard working people who take great pride in their history and the artists and writers who lived and worked in Arezzo. Those artists include della Francesca, Signorelli, Cimabue, Angelico and others. Arezzo was the birthplace of Petrarch and Giorgio Vasari. Despite the difficulties of funding public works, the city is restoring the Teatro Petrarca. The Vasari home is now a beautiful museum with splendid painted walls and ceilings. They are also hard at work excavating the Roman amphitheater and renovating the adjacent Archaeology Museum.
Arezzo does not live for tourists; it welcomes them and you see groups wandering around the sites every day. Arezzo does live for antiques. It has a regional antique show once a month and a really big one once a year. There are antique shops everywhere you look within the historic center. The dealers are friendly and the goods they’re selling are interesting.
The post office will help with paperwork and information about how to prepare your box for shipping. The shipping cost for one very heavy box (4’x2’x2′) and a flat box (8″x3’x4′) cost about $350. There is an amazing Mail Box entrepreneur in new Arezzo who’ll take care of the more delicate or valuable items. It’s costly as they go by air but they will probably get home in one piece!
Next door to Corte de Re where we stayed, you’ll find the shops of two affable antiques dealers, Gianni and Marco. They were very helpful to us. Marco specializes in chandeliers. I was charmed by a wall painting of a pig, sheep, and bull in parade in his shop. He told me the shop was once a butcher’s. The animals are dressed for the main event–they are, or course, the main event!
During our two week stay in Arezzo we lived in a building 500 years old surrounded by ruins and walls dating to the Etruscan period. It was built into the city wall over 500 years ago. Franca, the owner of Corte de Re is a delightful woman who delivers a terrific breakfast to your room and has information about anything you might want or need. Her home is one hill over from Arezzo. She lives there with her family and 400 olive trees. If you’re really nice, you might go home with a bottle of her oil.
After the Romans vanquished, or absorbed the Etruscans, Arezzo remained an important city. It was well situated to defend Rome against invaders from the north and east. Arezzo continued to flourish during the middle ages and into the Renaissance. There are many buildings in the city which date from medieval time. Georgio Vasari was born in Arezzo down the street from our room at the Corte. The arcade that fronts the Piazza Grande was designed by Vasari.
The Medicis and other famous Florentine families vied for Arezzo and in fact did own and rule over it for a period of time. You can walk around the fort the Medici family built and see the famous shield with balls that was the Medici family insignia on the walls of major buildings. Today’s cemetery is situated outside of and up against those fortress walls. It may well have been a cemetery for hundreds of years but we saw no trace of ancient grave sites when we walked around it.
We ate well and inexpensively in Arezzo. One of our favorites places is La Torre di Gnicche. It is well known for the typical toscana tomato and bread soup which is rich and thick. Always remember to drizzle olive oil on the top–for that matter olive oil goes on everything from soup to pizza.
Another favorite place was Trattoria Mazzoni which we stumbled into returning from the Vasari house. It’s located away from the Piazza Grande where we were staying. The trattoria has been in the family since the father of the current owner (who must be 70 years old), started it. He minds the grocery next door. All the fruits and veggies for your dinner come directly from his grocery to the kitchen to your table. The hostess is Mrs. Mazzoni, the chef is their daughter and the waiters are their sons! (The younger son, Marco, has decided to try another profession at the moment.) We ate there about five times and on our last visit we told #1 son we were leaving for home. The entire family gathered to wish us goodbye. It was a lovely moment.
Mariano’s, was another favorite. It’s located off the Pza. Grande on via di Pescaja. Mariano, the chef, and his partner, Gianfranco, serve fabulous cuisine. The food is delicious especially the pizza. Both men are witty and charming. Mariano hales from Napoli; Gianfranco from Calabria. I believe the Neopolitano influence is very much present in the pizza. If you’re lucky and it’s not too busy, Gianfranco will sit down at your table and schmooze.
We indulged ourselve–too frequently for our respective waistlines–on terrific coffee and pastries at Stefano’s. After a hard day touring you can stop in for proseco and mini pizze and a bowl of big green olives. Massimo and Simone, the owners, work from 8:30 – 8:30 every day but Wednesday! Hard to believe!
Our go-to place for panini, cheese, and wine was Bodega di Gnicche. The owner makes the best sandwiches. She has a hand-picked unusual selection of cheeses. You simply cannot get these cheeses in the U.S. They are regional and made in small amounts by locals. One of my favorites was a soft gorgonzola that was embedded with pistachio nuts. You can sit in her little place with a glass of wine; eat, talk, watch the people on the piazza. I have never seen anyone work as hard as she did on the weekend of the big antique fair. She must have made a hundred panini each one hand made to order on her fresh delicious bread.
If this isn’t enough, there is great shopping and great prices on via d’Italia and via Cavour! We each treated ourselves to a new something: Ken a dynamite sports jacket and brilliant scarf, and for moi, a dazzling sweater with lace down the back and peeking out around the bottom of the sweater. Arezzo really is a marvelous place to stay and experience authentic Italian life.