Top Ten Towns of Tuscany – #10 Arezzo

by LaLaItalia on October 18, 2014

Top Ten Towns of Tuscany   #10 Arezzo

The town lies in the foothills of the Appenines fanning out into the broad fertile river valleys of the Arno, Tiber, Casentino, and Valdichiana. Arezzo is the administrative and economic capital of the large province of the same name, whose economy over the last fifty years has grown rapidly, shifting from agriculture to industry. It is now a major goldsmith center while tourism is the town’s other major employer. Arezzo’s ability to combine its cultural heritage with a modern entrepreneurial identity makes it an important centre for the whole of eastern Tuscany.

Eight defensive walls have been constructed around the the hill on which the ancient town was built, each larger than the previous one. The most recent wall, built in the 16th century, effectively curbed urban expansion until modern times. Each time the town’s boundaries expanded a ‘new’ Arezzo emerged, blending with the pre-existing town. This is the key to Arezzo’s historical identity: the sum of very different parts – medieval Arezzo, the town of the grand-dukes, the Medici and the rule of Lorraine. This fundamental aspect of the town’s character helps us understand how the ‘new’ town, inspired by late 19th-century town-planning principles, could so readily connect to the ‘old’ town.

At the top of the hill, the Piazza Grande is at the heart of the town. As in the earlier walled Etruscan settlement (6th–5th century BC), the forum of the Roman city was in or near this square, perched between the hills of San Pietro (where the cathedral now stands) and San Donato (today occupied by the Fortress). Arezzo used to be as major a center for farming and industryas Romeand Capua in ancient times. It was famous for itsspelt wheat, bronze statues and terracotta. The works that have survived (including the bronze Chimera, now in Florence) show the high level of technical and aesthetic sophistication achieved. In Augustan times, items made of ‘sealed Arezzo earth’ (ceramics) were much sought-after.

The walls built in 1194, along what is now Via Garibaldi, enclosed a town of 20,000 inhabitants. The town was organized into the four quarters that compete in the Saracen Tournament to this day. The Studio Generale or university (the successor to the episcopal school whose illustrious pupils included Guido Monaco) added cultural importance. Arezzo produced such geniuses as Guittone and the eclectic Ristoro. “Alas! Now is the season of great woe”, sang the great 13th-century poet Guittone d’Arezzo. The defeat of Arezzo by the Guelphs of Florence at Campaldino in 1289 was a severe blow to the rich and powerful Ghibelline commune, which had adorned its ‘acropolis’ with churches and public buildings.

Between the 13th and the 14th centuries the town expanded fan-wise as can still be seen on modern town maps, with main thoroughfares leading toward the Chiana river and Florence. Before Florentine expansion overwhelmed Arezzo’s independence, the town enjoyed one further period of progress under the pro-imperial bishop Guido Tarlati (1319-27). Tarlati helped to bring about economic and cultural developments: art and architecture flourished, and work began on the new walls that were to form the largest defence system the town had ever known. When Guido died his brother Pier Saccone was unable to continue the work and in 1384, the town of Arezzo and the surrounding territory, were incorporated into the Florentine state.

The 15th century brought both decline (in the population and social life) and some economic recovery. The town’s main architects were Florentines (Bernardo Rossellino, Benedetto and Giuliano da Maiano, Antonio da Sangallo the Elder and his brother Giuliano) but it was the work of Piero della Francesca, that was fundamental to early Renaissance art: the “Legend of the True Cross” fresco on the apse walls of the church of St. Francis. The town lost its most cherished landmarkswhen the Florentine Grand Duke Cosimo I demolished the towers, churches (including the old cathedral built by Pionta) and other private buildings that smacked of political autonomy. In their place appeared new walls (1538) and a star-shaped fortress.

Arezzo began to take its present form in the second half of the 18th century, but it was not until a century later, with the arrival of the railroad (1866), that urban redevelopment really began. The ‘new town’ grew up around Arezzo’s ancient core, without impinging upon it. The town that greets visitors today is remarkable in the sheer abundance of its art and architecture, and its culture and local traditions: a rich heritage, ranging from awe-inspiring monuments to smaller treasures, offering interesting insights into a town and civilization.

This is a city worth a visit!

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Top Ten Towns of Tuscany – #9 Cortona

by LaLaItalia on September 4, 2013

Top Ten Towns of Tuscany   #9 Cortona

 

Cortona is a small charming town in the Valdichiana, or Chiana Valley, in the province of Arezzo in southern Tuscany. 
The city, enclosed by stone walls dating back to Etruscan and Roman times, sits on the top of a hill about 600 meters (about 1968 feet) above sea level. This dominant position over the valley offers a spectacular view from all over the town of the surrounding valley and even Lake Trasimeno.  Cortona is world famous for its medieval streets, renaissance palaces, museums, piazzas, and walkways. Many world-famous movies have been shot here, including “Life is Beautiful,” “Sostiene Pereira,” and “Under the Tuscan Sun.”

The heart of Cortona is Piazza della Repubblica, with the Palazzo Comunale or town hall building overlooking the square.
The city is small but offers many interesting places to visit, among these the Diocesan Museum (where you can admire a beautiful panel painting of the Annunciation by Beato Angelico) and the MAEC (The Etruscan Academy Museum of the City of Cortona), where it is possible to see many artifacts found in the Eruscan archeological sites in the area. You can also request additional information about the Archeological Park at the museum.

You should not miss a visit to the beautiful Santa Margherita Sanctuary, patron of the city, and to the Girifalco Fortress. Both are on the highest point on the hill and are easy to reach after a short, uphill walk.  Following the path that follows the city walls, you can also enjoy a beautiful view over the surrounding countryside. The Girifalco Fortress, constructed for military purposes, has undergone many substantial changes throughout the centuries and today only a part is open to the public.

Various small shops on the main streets of Cortona offer local handmade items and gastronomical products. Great red wines are made in the area (we are just a few kilometers from Montepulciano and Montalcino) and all of the wine bars offer a wide selection. 
There are many restaurants in the city, most offering traditional local and Tuscan cuisine (the Chianina cattle, one of Italy’s oldest, high quality bovine breeds is bred in Valdichiana).

Just outside of Cortona’s walls you’ll find the Franciscan hermitage Le Celle, the first monastery built by Saint Francis of Assisi in 1211, where a small community of friars still lives today. Through the course of the centuries, the hermitage was restructured and enlarged several times but Saint Francis’s small cell has always been conserved in its original state and can be visited today.  In summer, Cortona organizes the Tuscan Sun Festival, an annual event dedicated to the arts which sees the participation of several international stars and artists.

Cortona is a town and commune in the province of Arezzo, in Tuscany, Italy. Three thousand year old Etruscan walls surround Cortona. It retains much of its history through its architecture, layers of history built upon the Etruscan core. The plain below Cortona is speckled with Etruscan tombs. But Cortona isn’t just about the past; Cortona’s thriving Expat community is quite involved with the city, so a tourist speaking only English will feel welcome–and have interesting things to do.

 

 

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The Top Ten Towns of Tuscany – #8 Fiesole

by LaLaItalia on September 1, 2013

 

The Top Ten Towns of Tuscany   #8 Fiesole

Fiesole Archaeological Site

The Archaeological area of Fiesole, near Florence, includes Etruscan and Roman remains.

There are three main Etruscan features still visible:

The Etruscan Temple. It is situated on the northern side of the site and it dates back to the fourth century AD.
The Etruscan temple was built on earth foundations overlaid with stone. From its surviving outer walls, archaeologists have been able to reconstruct its original layout. It was a rectangular building with a single central cella and two side chambers separated from the cella by columns. The cella was reached by a series of steps which led down to the altar. Both the altar and position of steps were altered in the Roman period.

The City Walls. The walls date back to the fourth century AD and were built to strengthen Fiesole’s defences against the Gallic incursions. They are 2.5 kms long and were also partially rebuilt by the Romans.

The Etruscan Tombs. Also known as the Via Bargellino tombs, these tombs are situated outside the ancient city walls. Six tombs were discovered dating to the third century BC. Each tomb was built from large, uncemented blocks of stone. Each of them was rectangular with interior space maximised by the construction of platforms for cremated remains.
Parallel piped cremation urns with flat lids, a second century stone urn with a small illustrated box and an egg shaped urn of terracotta with a conical lid dating to the first century BC were found in the tombs. Grave goods have included terracotta unguent containers and bronze personal instruments.

The Etruscan settlement in Fiesole was conquered by the Romans in 90BC. The town was taken by Marcus Portius Cato’s troops after a lengthy siege using a nearby campsite as a base that later on became the city of Florence.
The conquest of Fiesole was destructive and many of the Etruscan buildings burnt to the ground. Archaeologists have discovered that after a period of abandonment, the Etruscan walls and one of the temples were rebuilt along Roman lines. The site was then completely occupied and became aRoman town.

Nowadays you can find both Roman Baths and a very well preserved Roman Theatre.

The Roman Baths
The Roman baths have been diffusely restored. Little decorative material has been recovered, apart from some bronze sheets of epigrams and the marble base of a statue of Hercules recovered from the tiepidarium.
The baths were divided into an internal and external area. The interior bathhouse followed the typical Roman pattern:a caldarium with an opus signimum floor and with 3 small pools; the tepidarium, heated by one furnace; the oldest room, the frigidarium, divided into three areas, with a semi circular plunge pool to the left.

The Roman Theatre
Built into the natural rocks of one of the town’s hills, the Roman theatre has been extensively restored and still remains one of the best preserved buildings in Fiesole. It was built shortly after the reoccupation of the site in the first century BC and was situated along the Cardo, one of the Roman town’s main streets that led to the forum.

The best seats in the house, situated near the orchestra and tribunalia arcades were reached by a series of vaulted passages that ran under the cavea or rows of seats. Several flights of stairs that ran up through the cavea could be used for seating elsewhere. Each stairway consisted of three flights of ten steps. The original rightside staircase of the theatre are still visible today.

Only the foundations of the frons scenae or stage area remained. These are sufficient to show thethree doors, actors used to access the stage. The most interesting area of the backstage is a semi circular room that would have been used to operate the mechanism that opened the theatre’s curtain.
The theatre was redecorated in the third century AD. Only a few fragments of the ornamentation of the multicoloured orchestra mosaics remains as well as marble reliefs of mythical scenes and deities, preserved in the site’s museum.

Leslie Halloran
Villa Rentals – planningatour@gmail.com

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