Arezzo Italy for Antiques and the Joust of the Saracen Pageant
Etruscan and Roman Evidence in Arezzo Italy
There is something alluring about Arezzo that I haven't figured out yet. Maybe because we have property 25 minutes away, or perhaps it is the fact that this is just a lovely town with centuries of history that makes it an interesting place to visit again, and again.
Arezzo is the capital city of the province with the same name and well known for its trade and artisan work in gold jewelery.
The ancient part of this present-day agricultural town is dominated by the Medici Fortress and the Duomo which you can see here at left.
The fact that this town is built on Roman ruins and was once an important Etruscan town in its day that for me is most exciting.
Known as Arretium it was one of the twelve most important Etruscan cities- the so-called Dodecapolis .
Etruscan remains establish at the acropolis of San Cornelio , a small hill next to that of San Donatus , was occupied and fortified in the Etruscan period .
San Cornelio can be found just out of Arezzo on the S73 going towards Sansepolcro, another important Etruscan town.
Take the turnoff for La Pietra which will take you straight to the Etruscan ruins. For nothing else, the views from the top looking over the surrounding areas is worth the short trip.
There is other significant Etruscan evidence: parts of walls, an Etruscan necropolis on Poggio del Sole (still named "Hill of the Sun"), and most famously, the two bronzes, the " Chimera of Arezzo " (5th century BC) and the " Minerva " (4th century BC) which were discovered in the 16th century and taken to Florence.
A 4th century Etruscan bronze sculture of the Chimera, Arezzo's iconic symbol
Don't miss the opportunity to visit the Archaeological Museum and the Roman Amphitheater that shows the 1000 year old history of this once important town that Arezzo was. Unfortunately, not much is left of the amphitheater as over time a lot of the building material was carried away to build other important buildings in the town.
However, there is enough left of the amphitheater to make the walk worthwhile.
The amphitheater can be reached from Via Margaritone and Via F.Crispi and is found at the southern wall of the town.
The Amphitheatre in Arezzo, Italy
Architecture and Artworks of Arezzo Italy
The town still retains its Medieval atmosphere. Iinside the cathedral with its Gothic style are numerous important works of art.
You can easily miss them if you don't know what to look for.
One such picture of great importance is " Mary Magdalene " by Piero della Francesca. Note that she has been sainted and is wearing a halo.
The beautiful stained glass window in the cathederal is by Guilliaume de Marcillat dating from the 1500s.
Look out too for the white marble of the High Altar, and the blue and white terracottas by Della Robbia.
Saint Mary Magdalene by Piero della Francesca (left).
I think that the town square, the Piazza Grande, is one of the most spectacular in Tuscany. I love this square for people watching, and just so much happens here.
It is not just the jousting festivals and monthly antique fair that is held here, that is exciting enough, but its the beautiful architecture that has you sweeping your eyes across every corner trying to take it all in. And it looks so different from different angles, and at different times of day. I never get tired looking at this square.
The Arezzo town square at night.
As you can see from the photo above, the piazza boasts a wide range of architectural styles. Here in the Piazza Grande you can see Medieval towers built close to the Loggia de Vasari and the Palazzo della Fraternita dei Laici , a wonderful example of the relationship between the Gothic and the Renaissance.
I suggest you take some time to take in all the beauty by having a coffee at on of the many coffee shops or restaurants on the square. And if you are wanting something to eat see our recommendations below.
An exciting find for the art fundis is in the Church of San Francesca . The Cappella Bacci is decorated with an extraordinary fresco cycle; " The Legend of the True Cross ", by Piero della Francesca, while the Church of San Domenica still contains a Crucifix by Cimabue from 1260.
Just outside the town walls is the Church of Santa Maria della Grazie with its Renaissance portico and the Romanesque church of Sant' Eugenia al Bagnora.
Slow Food Italy - Arezzo
Slow food in Italy is everywhere, but in the province of Arezzo, even more so with local coming from the 3 local valleys of the province; The Casentino , the Valdarno and the Val di Chiana .
You will see many small family run farms in this province who are fairly self-sufficient. Farms and small holdings in the Casentino, particularly around Subbiano and Castel Nouva, have large tracts of olive trees for olive oil. But they also have vegetable gardens and a couple fruit trees, keep chickens, ducks, geese and rabbits that will provide them with the meat that is the mainstay of the local diet.
Many farms also breed 2 very ancient breed of chicken that has been bred in the valleys for centuries; the Pollo del Valdarno , and the Valdarnese Bianca .
Of course a special mention has to also go to the Chianina cattle of the Val di Chiana. Large, beautiful white cattle of ancient times that are slaughtered for their delicious meat, including the Florentine steaks, known throughout the region as Bistecca alla Fiorentina .
No doubt you will be offered a basket of unsalted Tuscan bread and olive oil at the beginning of your meal. This is a traditional start to meals that are always several courses long.
For an appetizer you may see several types of crostini on the menu. These are similar to bruschetta, but can be served hot or cold. Look out for Costini neri all' Aretina ; a spread made of chicken livers, spleen, anchovies, capers and onions cooked slowly in white wine and then mixed with parsley.
For main meals chicken, rabbit, pork and wild boar are always on the menu. Wild boar is known as cianghiale and if you see it, order it. It is usually an umido - a stew done in red wine,with tomatoes and herbs. Delcious! Especially on a cold winter's day.
Rabbit is eaten a lot here. You will see it in the local butchers as well as the supermarkets. Many people will even keep their own food source of rabbits in the back garden for slaughter for some time in the future, along with chickens for eggs and meat.
Of course, pasta is always on the menu, always served as a prelude to the main meal. A simple pasta of flour and water is known as pici . It looks like a thick spaghetti and is served with a variety of sauces, including meat sauces. During the hunting season this could be wild hare, boar, pheasant or venison.
Tuscans are known as the bean eaters of Italy as dried beans occur a lot in meals, and in the Arezzo province this is no different. However, besides the usual beans eaten, the zolfini bean is unique to the area. It is a small, round bean with a creamy, intense flavor. A lovely bean that can be difficult to find as it is a labour intenstive bean and grown with great difficulty as unless the climatic conditions are just right, it dies.
Festivals and Fairs in Arezzo Italy
The Piazza Grande of Arezzo Italy is a place for swapping neighborhood gossip during the evening walk, the Antique Fair, as well as a number of annual festivals such as the Joust of the Saracen . The Piazze Grande is the heart of the town.
The Arezzo Antique Market
Arezzo Antique Market held in Piazza Grande
The antique fair in Arezzo is the oldest in Italy and large, with more than 400 stalls which have objects of all ages and eras. You will find old furniture, antique linen, pictures, jewelry and bric-a-brac that has been brought in by dealers from all over Italy.
The Arezzo Antique Fair takes place on the first Sunday of every month and the previous Saturday.
Although you will find the fair taking place in the Piazza Grande because it is so huge, it overspills into the various alleyways that lead off the piazza so make sure that you explore all alleyways and streets before you go home.
You will find the main stalls in the Piazza San Fransesco, Piazza Grande and the main road in the town, Corsa Italia and the other alleys off here.
The Joust of the Saracen Festival in Arezzo Italy
For a pageant steeped in history is the Giostra del Saracino, or in English, the Joust of the Saracen, a pageant traced back to the 16 century. It is held twice a year; on the 3rd Sunday in June and the 1st Sunday in September.
I warn you, book your tickets online before you go and avoid the disappointment of not being able to attend the jousting due to lack of seating. It takes place in the Piazza Grande and full Medieval costume, including the decoration of the horses involved.
If you are not able to see the jousting competition itself, don't despair, you can line the many walkways earmarked for the procession that precedes the main event. Each of the neighborhoods of the town are represented in their traditional colors, and to drum rolls
The Joust of the Saracen Festival Arezzo
and trumpets, and to the cheering of the crowd they proceed through the town in their Medieval costumes, which is a spectacle in itself.
After an afternoon of complex flag-tossing and pageantry, mounted, armored riders race across the dirt-lined Piazza with their lances aimed at the effigy of a Saracen. The twist is that when the "knights" strike a blow on his shield, the Saracen swivels, and his other arm is carrying a whip. Hitting the shield's bull's-eye is only half the trick -- the other is dodging the whip.
Here is a detailed weather forecast for your trip to Arezzo.
Getting There: Arezzo Italy By Train: The main line between Rome and Florence also passes through Orvieto and Chiusi/Chianciano Terme on the way to Arezzo. If you are coming from Perugia or Assisi, transfer at Cortona.
Travel Times : depending on type of train taken
Florence - Arezzo; 40 -90 minutes Rome - Arezzo; 2 hours - 2 hours 55 minutes
Perugia - Arezzo; 2 hours 15 minutes
Assisi - Arezzo; 2 hours 40 minutes
The Arezzo train station is at the Piazza della Republica, south-west of the city walls and is within walking distance of most hotels. However, the town of Arezzo is not flat, so be warned!
By Bus: Buses can be taken from the following towns to Arezzo. The bus station is in the Piazza della Republica:
Siena: 1 hour 30 minutes
Sansepolcro: 1 hour
Cortona: 20 minutes
By Car: The quickest route from Florence or Rome to Arezzo Italy is the A1 autostrada. You can park, usually not free, along Via Niccola Aretino just inside the southwest corner of the walls and Via B. Alberti, behind the train station. There's free parking on Via Pietri and Via XXV Aprile.
Recommended Restaurants in Arezzo
See our page on Tuscany food recommending restaurants in Arezzo. These restaurants have been sanctioned by the Vetrina Toscana body as serving traditional food using traditional ingredients of high quality.
More information on Arezzo Italy: The website www.cittadiarezzo.com is also very helpful for planning a visit.
Recommended Hotels and Bed Breakfasts in Arezzo There is a range of accommodation on offer in Arezzo and we have partnered with Booking.com for your accommodation in Arezzo.