Monterchi, a holy place for the ancient Romans
From frescoes of Piero della Francesca to the Museum of Weights and Scales
The medieval hamlet of Monterchi originates as a holy site for the ancient Romans, and was worshipped by the cult of Hercules. Today, the city is one of the must-see stops for visitors taking the “sentiero dell’arte”, the original artistic path that traces the journey of the art of Piero della Francesca.
In the historic center, in a small museum dedicated to the Virgin Mary, one may find the stunning fresco painting of an expecting Mary in the “The Madonna of Childbirth” byPiero della Francesca, most recently restored in 1459. Beginning in June and ending in September, music will be the much-anticipated focus with several “garden concerts”, held at the Museo della Madonna del Parto.
Walking the streets of the historic center you might want to take a pit stop at the Museum of Weights and Scales, located within the Massi-Alberti palace and learn about the history of these measuring instruments. On a gastronomical note, don’t forget to stop by the Polenta Fest, which occurs annually in September.
An introduction to the historical town at the foot of the Apennines
Legend has it that Sansepolcro’s origins can be traced back to two pilgrim saints, Arcano and Egidio. While returning from the Holy Land, they stopped in this valley and, thanks to a divine sign, they decided to stay and build a small chapel there to host the Holy Relics they’d brought from Jerusalem.
Between 1300 and 1500, Sansepolcro experienced an age of maximum splendor. The town’s historical center bears witness to centuries of commerce, art and culture. The center is encircled by walls, featuring gunners by Bernardo Buontalenti; it is located near the prestigious Fortezza di Giuliano da San Gallo. Visitors to the town are sure to appreciate its Medieval palaces, Renaissance towers and frescoed churches. The center is still true to its authentic feel which inspired the likes of Piero della Francesca. The artist used to sign his name ‘Pietro dal Borgo’ and he rendered his hometown immortal in many of his works, representing it as the ‘ideal city’ that was often debated in Italian courts.
Myriad artists are native of Sansepolcro including Raffaellino dal Colle, Cristoforo Ghepardi (called ‘Botine’) as well as architects Remigio andMarcantonio Cantagallina. In addition, it was the birthplace of many painters from the Alberti family as well as Santi di Tito.
The town’s Civic Museum has numerous invaluable works such as ‘The Resurrection’ and the ‘Triptych of Mercy’ by Piero della Francesca. Visitors won’t want to miss its Aboca Museum and the Museum of Ancient Stained Glass. Its cathedral and the churches Santa Marta, Santa Maria delle Grazie, San Francesco, San Rocco and Sant’Antonio Abate are also certainly worth a visit. Together with the Medici Fortress and the House of Piero della Francesca, all of these cultural treasures make Sansepolcro an incredible Mecca for history lovers.
Sansepolcro is famous for its ‘Palio della Balestra’ and its Flag-games. Visitors come from far and wide the second Sunday in September to see the festivities and traditional competition. Age-old rivals meet up to the sound of drums in Piazza Torre di Perta. The Palio della Balestra dates back to the 1400s when this free Commune had to continuously defend itself from neighboring lords.
In addition to the Palio, celebrated in honor of Saint Egidio, visitors will also appreciate the biennale of goldsmith art and the lace biennale, which spotlight two ancient forms of local craftsmanship.
Look at the video on Sanspeolcro with Martin Holvoet, from the National Geographic (video by Shootv)
A medieval fortress town immersed in the splendid landscape of the Tiber Valley
“Anghiariis a place that reveals its own enchantment only by degrees, and even then, only to the traveller who wants to explore and use their own eyes”, wrote Harold Donaldson Eberlein, crossing the Upper Tiber Valley in 1929.
Nothing could be truer, because Anghiari, like the rest of Tuscany, is a place to discover. The eye is overwhelmed, attracted first by the architecture of a convent in the green and then distracted by a new site: a farmhouse, a paved road, a landscape of new forms that opens suddenly. Stone arches, streets ahead, stairs, smells, perfumes, history and spirituality. Anghiari is all this but only if you really enter it, with your own personal curiosity and excitement, to discover the soul of what was named one of the most beautiful towns in Italy.
The ancient origins of this precious corner of the world are still visible in the historic centre which blends perfectly with the picturesque houses, squares and valleys that open around it. A taste of the Middle Ages right there, at your fingertips. Indeed Anghiari, despite early Roman settlements, enjoyed its period of greatest importance in the Middle Ages, thanks to its fortunate strategic position. Note that the historic Battle of Anghiari, which took place here on June 29, 1440, marked the victory of the Florentine troops, allied with the Pope, over the army from Milan.
The charm of Anghiari is not limited only to the strong historical matrix and urban and architectural identity, but is extended with the powerful spirituality that animates this village perched in a gently beautiful valley, and cleverly constructed to be made inviolable. Anghiari is a place of spirituality, therefore, a favourite destination for romantic souls and lovers of art, who are deeply moved in front of the ancient abbeys, away from mass tourism.
Abbeys, monasteries, and small churches, offer a variety of itineraries for discovering the spiritual side of the town. Visit the “Cassero,”the powerful monastery of St. Bartholomew, transformed by Perugino into a defensive building; the Church of the Abbey; the powerful walls that are actually still mostly intact; and don’t miss the apse of the Church of St. Augustine and the Bastione del Vicario.
LOCAL RECIPES AND TRADITIONAL PRODUCTS
Travelling to Anghiari will please your eyes, but let me assure you—it will also please your palate! Here you will find restaurants and taverns for discovering the cuisine of the Tiber Valley and typical local products, combined with an unparalleled hospitality that distinguishes the people of Tuscany. You can taste the excellent local Chianina beef, and dishes made with mushrooms, one of the jewels of the area. Or the “abbucciato aretino,” a goat cheese produced in the areas adjacent to the village and “bringolo” and “rasagnolo”, types of homemade pasta very similar to the more common spaghetti, which you must try with hare sauce, duck sauce or with the classic mushroom sauce.
ANGHIARI, QUEEN OF THE “FLEA MARKET”
Churches, abbeys and history: an aura of ancient magic wraps close Anghiari and this peculiarity is also found alive in the shops of Old Town, especially in the many antique shops that you will find in the alleys of the village. The memories of long ago can be found here, including the furniture of yesteryear, precious pieces brought back to their original splendour through the passion of local artisans and restorers—pieces which take you back in time whether it’s thirty, one hundred of three hundred years ago, reliving the memories of one of the most beautiful towns in Italy.
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 riverand 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.