8 Top Tourist Attractions in Arezzo & Easy Day Trips
Even when Arezzo was a Roman military outpost, the city was known as a center for poets, and throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, it remained a place where the arts flourished. Its tourist attractions include sites from all these ages and in its excellent Archaeological Museum, you'll find artifacts dating as far back as Etruscan times. You'll also find works here by some of the great names: the architect/artist Vasari lived here; Cimabue worked here; and the great poet Petrarch, father of humanism, was born in Arezzo. Works of others - Andrea della Robbia, Piero della Francesca, Nicola Pisano, and the French stained glass master Guillaume de Marcillat -- fill its churches. Arezzo is close enough to Florence, only about 80 kilometers away, that it's easy to add to an Italy itinerary.
See also: Where to Stay in Arezzo
1 Piazza Grande
If the sloping Piazza Grande looks familiar, it's because it served as a setting for Roberto Benigni's film, Life is Beautiful. The square itself is beautiful, surrounded by elegant palaces. The entire north side is formed by Vasari's graceful colonnade on Palazzo delle Logge, and the rounded apse of Santa Maria della Pieve extends into the western corner beside the 14th-century Palazzo della Faternitaå dei Laici. Its striking facade was begun in Gothic style by Baldino di Cino in 1375, continued in Renaissance style by Bernardo Rossellino in 1433, and completed in 1460. The bell tower was added by Giorgio Vasari in the 16th century, and in it is one of Italy's oldest working clocks, dating from 1552. Piazza Grande is the scene of the Giostra del Saracino, a medieval joust performed on the first Sunday in September, and an antiques fair the first full weekend of each month.
2 Duomo (Cathedral)
Nearly 700 hundred years in the making, the cathedral in Arezzo is best known for the stained-glass windows by Fra Guillaume de Marcillat and for the Tomb of Pope Gregory X. The church was begun in 1277, continued in 1313 and 1510, but not completed until the beginning of the 20th century. The campanile was built in 1857-60, and the façade with its three doorways and large rose-window added between 1900 and 1914. The French stained-glass artist Guillaume de Marcillat worked almost exclusively in Italy, and four of his windows are in the right-hand aisle, where you'll also find the 14th-century tomb of Pope Gregory X. At the high altar is the late Gothic tomb and relics of St. Donatus, Bishop of Arezzo, who was martyred in the time of Diocletian. The tomb has marble reliefs of scenes from the Saint's life. The chapel to the left of the presbytery has another stained-glass window by Marcillat, and the sacristy has fine frescoes and terracottas. In the left-hand aisle is the fresco The Magdalene by Piero della Francesca (1459) and the tomb of 14th-century Bishop Guido Tarlati, with 16 fine bas-reliefs. The organ gallery by Giorgio Vasari was completed in 1535. From this aisle, you can reach the baptistery and the Chapel of the Madonna del Conforto from the 18th-19th centuries, partly in Neo-Gothic and partly in Classical style. The former sacristy is now a cathedral museum, with priceless altar paintings, gold work, and an early 11th-century Romanesque crucifix. The most notable piece is the 15th-century Flemish Pace di Siena, made of gold, enamel, pearl, and precious stones.
Address: Via Ricasoli, Arezzo
3 Chiesa di San Francesco
In the center of Arezzo, the Church of San Francesco was begun in 1290, but various rebuildings and extensions continued down to the 20th century. The chapels on the left-hand side of the church were added in the 15th century. Above the doorway is a circular window by Guillaume de Marcillat, Pope Honorius III Approving the Rule of St. Francis. The church stands out for its celebrated frescoes, brought to light again in the early 20th century. The most outstanding of these are in the main choir chapel, a cycle telling the story of the cross painted by the leading master of the Early Italian Renaissance, Piero della Francesca. They rank among the most expressive works in the whole of Italian painting, with solemn figures set against a background of landscapes, flowers, and stately apartments in compositions of extraordinary skill, almost radiant in their depiction of character and events. The late 13th-century painted Crucifix which formerly hung in this chapel is now in a lateral chapel on the left.
Address: Piazza San Francesco, Arezzo
4 Pieve di Santa Maria
The Parish Church of St. Mary, known simply as the Pieve, is the town's oldest surviving church and its most important Romanesque building. The 12th-century church was destroyed and then rebuilt in the 13th century and subsequently reconstructed, altered, and restored in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries and again in 1863. But it remains as the finest example of Pisan Romanesque in eastern Tuscany. The four-story facade on the Corso d'Italia is set in front of an earlier facade in the 13th century. The galleries above the doors have 12 columns on the second level, 24 on the third, and 32 on the fourth, creating the effect of a tapered structure. To the right of the facade is the 60-meter-high Romanesque campanile, with five rows of double windows. Above the central doorway are two early 13th-century figures of the Virgin, and the right-hand doorway shows the Baptism of Christ. The columns and their outstanding capitals are unusually varied in decoration. A timber dome caps the almost severe interior, and below the raised presbytery -- the oldest part of the church -- is the crypt. The baptistery chapel has a beautiful font with three reliefs by Agostino di Giovanni of scenes from the life of John the Baptist, sculpted sometime before 1345.
Address: Corso Italia, Arezzo
5 San Domenico
North of the cathedral, this aisleless church with its plain facade is one of the most impressive of the Mendicant Orders' 13th-century churches. It was founded in 1275 and thought to have been designed by Nicola Pisano. The original campanile contains two 14th-century bells. Inside are the excellent 14th- and 15th-century frescoes, The Virgin with Saints John, Dominic, and Nicholas by Parri di Spinello and Saints Philip and James by Spinello Aretino. On the right-hand side of the nave is a Gothic tabernacle known as the Altare Dragondelli done about 1350 by Giovanni di Francesco. On the high altar is a Cimabue Crucifix painted between 1260 and 1270.
Address: Piazza San Doménico, Arezzo
6 Casa del Vasari (Vasari House)
If you've seen the works of the architect/artist Giorgio Vasari at the Palazzo Vecchio and elsewhere in Florence, you can imagine what his own home might look like, where he could indulge all his artistic whims and talents. He acquired this two-story house in 1540, and between that year and 1548, he decorated it with a series of magnificent frescoes; those in the Cámera d'Apollo are particularly outstanding. Colors are more intense than in most frescoed residences, adding to the drama created by the deeply coffered ceilings.
Address: Via XX Settembre 55, Arezzo
7 Palazzo delle Logge
The Palazzo delle Logge fills the entire northeast side of Piazza Grande, creating an elegant border for the square. Built between 1573 and 1581 to the design of Giorgio Vasari, it takes its name from the wide loggias of unadorned vaulting opening on to the square. In front of the palazzo is a reproduction of a pillory where those who had committed crimes were displayed for public ridicule.
Address: Piazza Grande, Arezzo
8 Palazzo Pretorio
The impressive Palazzo Pretorio was originally built in 1322, but it was altered significantly in the 17th century. The facade, with two orders of windows, is decorated with a number of coats of arms carved in stone relief. These are the symbols of the podestà (local representatives) and the commissari (Florentine governors) who governed Arezzo from the 15th century onwards. From 1404 to 1926, the palazzo also served as a prison; it now houses a municipal library.
Address: Via dei Pileati, Arezzo
Where to Stay in Arezzo for Sightseeing
We recommend these charming hotels in Arezzo with easy access to the old town and cathedral:
- Bella di Ceciliano: luxury hilltop 17th-century villa, short drive to town, exposed beams, large gardens, Jacuzzi.
- Hotel Continentale: mid-range pricing, great location, comfy beds, rooftop terrace, hot tub.
- Minerva Hotel: affordable rates, near the old town, helpful staff, modern room decor.
- Bed & Breakfast Antiche Mura: budget bed and breakfast, old town location, wonderful hosts, 13th-century building.
Day Trips from Arezzo
The Abbey of Camáldoli, still the center of the Camaldolese Order, lies in the densely wooded hills of northeast Tuscany, about 50 kilometers north of Arezzo, as it has since its founding in 1012. The church was rebuilt at the beginning of the 16th century and was given its present Baroque form and large ceiling fresco in the late 18th century. In the 16th century, Giorgio Vasari painted a number of pictures for the church, including Descent from the Cross, Virgin and Child with Saints, and Saints Donatus and Hilarianus. The charming cloister was built in 1543, as was the pharmacy at the entrance to the monastery, which still contains its original cabinetry.
Monte San Savino
An important center of culture in the Middle Ages, the town of Monte San Savino sits atop a hill, surrounded by satellite hilltop villages. The early-14th-century Convent of Sant'Agostino and its slightly later cloister were renovated early in the 16th century by Andrea Sansovino, a native of Monte San Savino who became one of the leading Renaissance architects. In the church, look for Giorgio Vasari's painting, The Assumption. Also worth seeing in Monte San Savino are the columned Logge dei Mercanti and the Palazzo di Monte, with its open atrium.