Arezzo is a large town in the Tiber Valley in eastern Tuscany, north of Cortona and south-west of Sansepolcro. Despite large scale damage in the Second World War Arezzo retains (or has reconstructed) many sights and artworks of great interest.
Renaissance artist Vasari was a native of Arezzo (you can visit the house where he was born) and Piero della Francesca was another very important renaissance artist who worked here - these two renowned artists contributed greatly to the artistic heritage of Arezzo.
Start your visit in the Piazza Grande, the large central square in Arezzo. Many of the most important buildings in the old town are around this attractive square and nearby in the surrounding streets.
Start by admiring the long arcades along the side of the Piazza as designed by Vasari in 1573 and the Palazzo della Fraternita dei Laici (which at a glance looks more like a church than a palazzo).
Also here, Arezzo Cathedral has three aisles with stained glass windows by Guillaume de Marcilatt (1470-1529). The sanctuary holds a marble altarpiece called the Ark of San Donato within which lie the relics of Bishop Donato from Arezzo. Near the main altar in the cathedral is the "Maddalena" by Piero della Francesca.
Other highlights close by in the historic centre of Arezzo include:
Church of San Francesco
Among the religious buildings first visit the Church of San Francesco, originally built in the Gothic style although remodeled in the 14th century and again at the beginning of the 20th century.
Inside, the church has a single nave and a cycle of frescoes of the "Legend of the Cross" by Piero della Francesca (1417-1492), who was inspired by the Golden legend of Jacobus de Voragine (1230-1298). The decoration of the Bacci Chapel was initiated by Bicci di Lorenzo (1373-1452), and then concluded by Piero della Francesca in the middle of the 15th century.
Legend of the Cross
This large fresco by the Renaissance artist called Piero della Francesca around the walls of the choir area of the Church of San Francesco is really quite exceptional and among the greatest frescoes in Italy.
For many visitors this fresco is the principal reason to visit Arezzo - so if you only see one artwork during your visit make sure it is this one!
Broadly speaking, moving clockwise from top right to top left, the panels of the paintings trace the history of the cross from its origins in the Garden of Eden to its discovery in Jerusalem.
Each of the 10 panels would be considered a masterpiece in its own right and the principal challenge is to appreciate so much great art in one place, or to find the vantage point to best appreciate the works.
If you visit the Cathedral (Diocesan) Museum you can see important art works from the cathedral and other churches in the Diocese. These include a 13th century polychrome wooden Crucifix, some frescoes by Spinello Aretino (1350-1410), the Annunciation by Bernardo Rossellino (1409-1464), the Announcement of death of the Virgin by Andrea di Nerio (1350-1387) and some paintings by Luca Signorelli (1445-1523) and Vasari.
Enthusiasts of Vasari will also want to visit the house where the artist lived at Casa di Vasari which also has his paintings on display, and the Museum of Medieval and Modern Art.
From here you can climb the so-called "Prato" to the Medici fortress, dating from the 16th century and a pentagonal bastioned fortification, which according to Vasari was impregnable. The Medici fortress and walls were preserved almost in their entirety until the year 1800, when the French occuped Arezzo and the fortress and destroyed part of the walls.
The highlight of your visit to the fortress, and your reward for climbing up the hill, is the lovely views acros the town.
More Arezzo religious monuments
If time permits there are several other notable churches in Arezzo which we suggest you visit. Among these is the Church of Saint Dominic, in Gothic style and with a Romanesque portal. Inside the church apse you can see the painting 'Crucifix' by Cimabue (1240-1302), the first of three crucifixion paintings by the artist and a very important 13th century work of art.
The Church of Santa Maria is popularly known as the Chiesa delle cento buche” [the Church of a hundred hollows], because of its belltower with 40 windows and decorative carved reliefs which together create an impressive Renaissance style facade.
The interior of this church is divided into three naves with a raised presbytery above the crypt in which lies the reliquary of San Donato. On the main altar there is a polyptych by Pietro Lorenzetti (1285-1348), dated 1320.
Vasari also worked in the 14th century Abbey of Holy Flora and Lucilla: it was Vasari who built the altar on which a false dome by Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709) stands. On the right wall of the nave is the Crucifix by Segna di Bonaventura (active from 1298 to 1331).
Nearby the Church of St. Michael and Adrian, whose facade was rebuilt after the last war, is the former monastery of Olivetan monks. This building now holds the Archaeological Museum which collects Etruscan, Roman and medieval finds of Arezzo.
Highlights close to Arezzo
Just outside Arezzo town is the Sanctuary of Santa Maria delle Grazie, built in the mid-15th century by Saint Bernardine of Siena (1380-1444). The church has a nice porch built by Benedetto da Majano (1442-1497) and in the interior on the altar is a remarkable work by Andrea della Robbia.
Finally we recommend that nature lovers explore the countryside and surroundings of Arezzo for its natural beauty, such as the Nature Reserve of Buriano Bridge which stretches between Arezzo and Civitella in Val di Chiana and Laterina. The landscape is characterized by a varied vegetation consisting mainly of oak, holm oak and cultivated areas.
Map of Arezzo sightseeing & popular sights
Selected places to visit near Arezzo, Italy
See the Tuscany guide for more travel ideas...