Described by the Roman historian Livy as one of the Capitae Etruriae (Etruscan capitals), Arezzo was one of the jewels of their federation. The acropolis on the hill at San Cornelio, together with the statues of the Minerva (4th century BC) and of the famous Chimera (5th century BC), is one the most famous evidences of Arezzo’s Etruscan past.
Conquered by the Romans in 311 BC, Arretium (Arezzo) became a strategically important Roman city, situated between Cortona and Florence. In the Augustan period Arretium Vetus (Old Arezzo) was the third largest city in Italy. During the middle ages the Roman city was demolished, partly through the Gothic War and the invasion of the Lombards. The Commune of Arezzo was an independent city-state until 1384. And in 1252 the city founded its university, the Studium.
In 1289 the pro-papal Guelf forces of Florence fought against the Ghibelline (the faction supporting the Holy Roman Emperor) from Arezzo in the plain of Campaldin. One of the combatants on the Guelph side was Dante Alighieri, twenty-four years old at the time. After the defeat at Campaldino the fortunes of Ghibelline Arezzo started to ebb till the city yielded to Florentine domination in 1384, becoming part of the Gran Duchy of Tuscany under the Medici rule.
During that period Piero della Francesca worked in the church of Saint Francis of Arezzo producing the splendid fresco cycle of ‘The Legend of the True Cross’, Arezzo’s most famous artwork. Afterwards the city began an economical and cultural decay, which fortunately ensured that its medieval center was preserved.
The Piazza Grande is the most noteworthy medieval square in the city, opening behind the 13th C Romanesque apse of the church of Santa Maria della Pieve. Once the main marketplace of the city, it is currently the site of the Giostra del Saracino (Joust of the Saracen). It has a sloping pavement in red brick with limestone geometrical lines. Aside from the apse of the church, other landmarks of the square include:
The Palace of the Lay Fraternity (Fraternita dei Laici): 14th-15th century palazzo, with a Gothic ground floor and a second floor by Bernardo Rossellino dating back to the 1400s. The Vasari Loggia along the north side, with a flat Mannerist façade designed by Giorgio Vasari.
Roman amphitheater was built with blocks of sandstone, bricks and marble between the end of the 1st century and the beginning of the 2nd century A.D. It is elliptic in shape and has two sets of stairs. Its longest axis measures 121 m and probably it could contain eight thousand people.
It was repeatedly sacked over the centuries and its most precious materials were taken away and used as building material in religious works. It has also been partly buried, but the stalls and part of the ambulatories are still visible.
Palazzo dei Priori, erected in 1333, used to be the seat of the city’s magistrates and it’s today Arezzo’s city hall. Its interior has a court from the 16th century, a stone statue portraying a Madonna with Child (1339), frescoes, busts of illustrious Aretines, and two paintings by Giorgio Vasari.
Medici Fortress. The current fortress is a massive polygonal construction included perfectly in the town walls. It was built under the direction of Antonio da Sangallo (the Younger) between 1538 and 1560 on the site of the old medieval cittadella, which had been razed to the ground because it was in the way of the line of fire of the cannons,
House of Petrarch (Casa del Petrarca). It was built in the 16th century on the remains of a medieval building traditionally held to be Francesco Petrarca’s birthplace (1304).
Casa Vasari was rebuilt in 1547 by Giorgio Vasari and frescoed by him. It now houses the Vasari museum and its archive, which contains, among other precious documents, hand written letters by Michelangelo, pope Pius V and Cosimo I.
Gaio Cilnio Mecenate Archeological Museum. It is housed in the former Olivetan convent, founded in 1323, that was built directly over the ruins of the Roman amphitheater hence, the curios curved design.
Among the many treasures the museum houses the Crater of Euphronios, an Attic vase of the end of the 6th c. BC. It testifies to the wealth and high cultural level reached during that age by the rich classes of the Arezzo area, who were in a position to appreciate and acquire a work realized by one of the greatest pottery decorators of the age. Of great interest is also the collection of Aretine ceramics, the so-called ”coralline”: a typical product of the city which, between the 1th century BC and 1th century AD, flooded the market of the entire Roman empire. The Toga-clad Figure (1th c. BC) also speaks of the Roman city. It decorated a monumental tomb recently discovered in the center of town.
The Guido d’Arezzo Polyphonic Competition has been held since 1952. It is one of the most important stages for the expression of the choral world with its incomparable range of repertoire, styles, and authors. Guido d’Arezzo was a music theorist of the Medieval era. He is regarded as the inventor of modern musical notation. His text, the Micrologus, was the second-most-widely distributed treatise on music in the Middle Ages.
The Giostra del Saracino is an historical event of ancient origins. According to some sources it already took place back in the 1200s even though the first document we have is dated August 6, 1535. On that day the Priors ruling the city agreed to hold a tournament with a prize of one arm (0.33 meter) of purple satin.The Joust originated from the crusades and the raids of the Saracens, which reached Arezzo too.The oldest regulations we know of date back to 1677.
Rules and Performances:
There are four town boroughs participating to the GIOSTRA:
Porta Crucifera – green and red colors
Porta del Foro – yellow and red colors
Porta Santo Spirito – yellow and blue colors
Porta Sant’Andrea – white and green colors
The participants, dressed in medieval costumes, include musicians, soldiers, valets, flag jugglers, knights, jousters and infantrymen of the commune.
Two horsemen from each borough challenge the Buratto, King of the Indies. They have to hit his shield with their lances trying to get the best score. The borough getting the highest score wins the ‘Golden Lance’.
The horseman who is disarmed by the Buratto loses all his points
The horseman who is hit by the whip loses two points
The horseman who breaks his lance striking the Buratto’s shield doubles his score.
The Antique Fair
It is held the first week-end of each month and it is the largest antiques fair in Italy. The whole city comes alive when the huge Piazza Grande becomes the bustling heart of the fair. Hundreds of tables under umbrellas are piled high with a jumble of everything imaginable: ancient cooking utensils, wrought iron fireplace implements, art prints, books, fine paintings as well as tawdry knockoffs, candlesticks, collectible fragile glass dating to the 13th century, as well as wood furniture, antique ironworks and jewelry. The fair spills out into many neighboring streets lined with these tables and umbrellas, winding around and around