Dwight Peck's personal website

Tuscany in the off-season

Arezzo and the neighborhood in February and early March, 2015

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

Arezzo was at the top of our list when we based ourselves in Lucca a few months ago, but we never made it this far south. So here we are now, based in Arezzo this time, with lots to see roundabout.

Our introduction to Arezzo, and the Antiques Market

We've done Lombardy, for the moment at least, a few days in Pavia to break up our journey, and now the Volvo SatNav has managed to get us down a one-way street amongst a medieval warren of one-way streets at the top end of Arezzo in Tuscany.

The road, the Via Borgunto, was actually barricaded off; I'm trotting along after Kristin and The Squirrel after pulling the barricades aside (and then putting them back). We've been told that that's okay.

And this is the lobby of La Corte del Re (the 'king's court', slightly hyperbolic), a nine-room B+B rising straight up from the Piazza Grande.

Amongst all which, in the salon, there is a wall that is said to date from Etruscan times. (We don't know which one, so we won't lean against any.)

The reason for the barricades -- we've arrived just in time for Arezzo's monthly antiques market, beginning tomorrow, and the set-up is getting underway.

As we're unloading book bags, cat-litter boxes, and laptop chargers in a hurry, Sven Volvo will be spending his downtime for the next week in the public carpark just north of the walled Centro Storico, and we need to get him out of here before the serious setting-up gets too far along.

We're in the Luca Signorelli room, named for a late 15th century painter from nearby Cortona -- well appointed and overlooking the Piazza Grande. There's also a room named for Pietro Aretino (a local boy), for Piero della Francesca, Petrarch and Michelangelo, Masaccio, and so on, but this is fine.

From our room -- one lane out of the piazza is already filling up with book stalls, so we should move along smartly.

An antiques workshop next to our hotel -- one of very many in the neighborhood.

Sven Volvo is comfortably dozing in the public carpark Pietri down the slope from the hilltop city walls, and we're taking the convenient scala mobile back up into town. The Pietri parking lot is spacious and convenient; 2/3 of it are paid parking, and the remaining 1/3 (a little farther from the scala mobile) is free. The paid part is frequently almost empty, whilst the free part has cars parked on top of one another.

The great thing about the Pietri carpark is that it's prominently signposted all around the approaches and suburbs of Arezzo, so you don't have to trust your treacherous SatNav.

From the open, lower escalator, we approach one of the city gates. The lower, open-air escalator was controversial -- historical or environmental conservationists were able to block a more substantial structure out on the scenic hillside, and an electrical appliance like that has been periodically suffering from the elements.

But this part of the scala mobile works much better, and is welcome. The frescoes on the left wall are uninspiring, but contemporary works on the right wall are changed frequently to highlight upcoming exhibitions.

Once inside the city walls, at the top of the Old City, here's the Duomo di Arezzo or Cattedrale di SS Donato e Pietro.

The façade is neo-Gothic modern, intended as a completion of the unfinished 13th century original. In any case, we'll be back.

Across from the Piazza Duomo, at the top of the city, that's the Town Hall, or Palazzo dei Priori, dating from 1333 and still in service.

Like Montalbano film locations in Sicily, plaques all round Arezzo's old town commemorate the locations of Roberto Benigni's Oscar-winning film Life is beautiful (1997 in English). I collected photos of most of them but will let this stand in for all of them.

We're back at the central Piazza Grande, as the early antique merchants have shrink-wrapped their goods and set off to the pubs.

The Vasari Loggia at the top of the Piazza Grande, designed by you-know-who in the 16th century. Vasari was born here in Arezzo, and later we'll visit the fancy house he built for himself in 1547.

Back to our digs in the Corte dei Re (behind the tower, the Torre dei Lappoli)

The next morning -- we thought we'd heard some banging around down there around dawn. The crowds will begin thronging soon.

Kristin's a knowledgeable fan of antiques, so today's agenda is shaping up fast.

The Vasari Loggia at the top of the very slanted Piazza Grande

The Piazza Grande, the city's central marketplace in medieval times: on the left, the apse-end of the church of Santa Maria della Pieve (a 'pieve' or 'parish church' was a rural Christian church with a baptistery, serving as a local centre for communities whose churches did not have a baptistery, very popular when Christianity was spreading out from the cities into the countryside); the law courts from the 18th century; and on the right, the 14th-15th century Palazzo Fraternita dei Laici, or Lay Fraternity.

A spirited dispute between two small policewomen, presumably checking dealers' licenses, and a collection of participants with different views.

The Torre Faggiolana on the southern side of the piazza. The monthly Arezzo antiques market, inaugurated in 1968, hosts some 500 out-of-town exhibitors and about 100 local antique shops, and each is visited by an average of 20,000 dedicated antiques fans and curious tourists like us.

The porch of the old law courts and Palace of the Lay Fraternity

The alley from the Piazza Grande out to the main street of the city, the Corso Italia, soon to be impassable for the weekend

The Vasari Loggia

The restaurant Logge Vasari, where we became appreciative fixtures over the next week; on our last night, the management presented Kristin with a book of traditional Aretine recipes.

The antiques market in the Piazza Grande, the first Sunday of every month plus the preceding Saturday (like today)

The Piazza Grande slants downhill significantly, but nonetheless it's the venue for the twice-yearly festival and competitions of the 16th century Giostra del Saracino, or Saracen Joust, during which the population turns out in medieval dress and mounted competitors representing the four districts of the city charge around in knightly kit targeting 'Buratto, the King of the Indies' with their lances.

Here, from the antiques market the following day, is a painting of the Aretine Saracen Joust in full cry.

The Piazza Grande

The difference of opinions seems to be simmering down, except for one man who continues shouting and gesticulating, appealing to universal concepts of justice.

With fewer than half the antiques in the piazza assessed so far, we'll go back to the room and help the Squirrel get some lunch whilst Kristin carries on with what's got to be done.

That well is ancient and was probably much appreciated by the medieval population, especially during long sieges.

The apse of Santa Maria della Pieve, with furniture out front

The Palazzetto di Fraternita. It's time now to expand our theatre of operations and leave the antiques dealers to their labors.

Ah, they're out in the next street as well. That's the north side of the Palazzo Albergotti (in the 14th century, it's said, nearly all the buildings along this street belonged to the Albergottis).

And continuing down the Corso Italia. Antiques (etc.) as far as the eye can see.

This is the weird and wonderful Romanesque façade of the Pieve Santa Maria, attested here since about the year 1000 and renovated in the 1100s, with a set of five arches at (more or less) ground level surmounted by three rows of loggias, and its distinctive belltower from 1330, traditionally known as the tower of 100 holes because of all the mullion window bays (only 40 of them).

The front porch of the Santa Maria helps to get you leveled out before entering, after toiling up or down the hill for your spiritual fix.

A beautiful church, built during the period of the commune, which long served as a centre for those opposing the prince-bishops (who were based in the Cathedral and episcopal palace up the hill) who'd dominated the city as its feudal lords since early Christian times.

Disconcerting; the stigmata look convincing enough, but the face reminds me of a politically active student leader from a midwestern state university.

The raised presbytery and altar (to ensure that the churchgoers can't see what's really going on up there)

The crypt beneath the altar, with its . . .

. . . bust of St Donatus, made in 1346.

The "Tarlati polytych" by the high altar, by Lorenzetti, ca. 1320, showing the Madonna with St Donatus of Arezzo (left) and various better-known saints, commissioned by the Bishop (and feudal lord) of Arezzo, Guido Tarlati, from an important Ghibelline family in town; he supported the Pisan Uguccione della Fagiuola and Castruccio Castracani of Lucca in their battles against Florence, for which he was excommunicated by the pope but pretty untroubled about that.

Poor St Lucia, with her eyes on a plate

It looks like we've surveyed the antique possibilities here and are ready to move on.

Down the Corso Italia

From the porch of the Pieve, a look up the Corso Italia (though from here up it's called the Via di Pileati) towards the park at the top of the hill. On the left is the Casa-Museo Ivan Bruschi (owned by the man who founded the Arezzo antiques market) and, beyond that, the Palazzo Albergotti from the 13th and 14th centuries, renovated in the 16th, with its Bigazza tower, built in the 14th century but later lowered, then restored in modern times.

More market scenes: Want a huge painting? a vase? an armchair? an ashtray?

Some furniture?

Kitty cat's revenge

The 13th century apse of the Pieve

Our examination of the antiques and odds and ends on offer is enormously fun for everyone, but at this point we'll leave Kristin to it and do a little preliminary walkabout up the hill.

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 5 April 2015.

Arezzo trip,
Feb.-March 2015