The town of Sansepolcro is best known for its historic center, with its cathedral and imposing palazzos, and for the important artworks in the museum.
Sansepolcro is best known for having two very well known paintings by Piero della Francesca, an early and influention renaissance artist who was born and spent much of his life in the town, which are the principal attraction for many visitors.
We suggest that as well as rushing to see the famous paintings you also take the time to have a look at some of the other buildings and artworks elsewhere in Sansepolcro!
Explore Sansepolcro: tourism and travel
The entire old town is still surrounded by its ancient fortified walls, so when you arrive you will park just outside these walls then enter the historic centre through one of the original stone entrances.
Italy This Way comment: although we mention many historic palazzos below, you will probably decide that it is not critical to identify each one: the important aspects of your Sansepolcro visit are simply having a stroll around the town centre admiring the historic buildings, visiting the museum to see the works by della Francesca, and allowing time to sit in the main square and have an ice cream!
Wherever you start, all roads quickly lead to the main square in Sansepolcro, the Piazza Torre di Berta: so called because it includes the 'Torre di Berta', a 13th century tower.
It is also here in the Piazza Torre di Berta that you can see two of the most notabale palazzos in the town: the 16th century Pichi Palazzo and the 13th century Giovagnoli Palazzo. Also here in the centre, in an adjacent piazza, is the 14th century Sansepolcro Cathedral, dedicated to Saint John the Evangelist.
Inside the cathedral there are some extraordinary works by artists such as Perugino [1450 ca.-1523] ("The Ascension of Christ"), Bartolomeo della Gatta (1448-1502), Santi di Tito [1536-1603] ("The Doubting Thomas") and a 10th century wooden crucifix called the "Holy Face".
Next to the Duomo (cathedral) is the Palazzo delle Laudi [trans: Palace of Praises], built in the 16th century as part of a project by Alberto Alberti and with a beautiful interior courtyard that was designed in the 16th century by Antonio Cantagallina, a local architect. The façade of the palace is embellished by a large portal.
The route opposite the cathedral is lined with buildings dating from the 14th century and also the more recent 17th century Aggiunti Palace.
At the bottom of the road is the 14th century Praetorian Palace, once the seat of Florentine government and richly decorated with several coats of arms in majolica by artists from the school of Luca della Robbia (1400-1481).
Civic Museum and Art gallery of Sansepolcro: Piero della Francesca
In Via Agghianti you reach the City Hall which is now home to the Civic Museum. This Art Gallery has an impressive collection of 15th-16th century paintings by Jacopo Bassano, Pontormo, and, above all Piero della Francesca, born and raised in Sansepolcro (1410-1492), and including the famous 'Resurrection of Christ' and the 'Madonna Della Misericordia'.
- The Madonna is one of della Francesca's earliest paintings, started in the 1440's although only finished 17 years later. The main panel is a remarkable painting of the Madonna holding her cloak out to protect her followers.
Despite having visited the famous Uffizi Gallery in Florence just a few days earlier we still found this painting to be a very remarkable work, even if the museum have decided to separate the main panel and the associated panels onto different walls so they can't be seen in their original layout!
- The 'Resurrection of Christ' probably dates from 1460, and is very vigorous and forward-looking. The painting is full of symbols that refer to the ideas of 'awakening' and 'resurrection' (eg the trees on the left are dry, those on the right in full bloom) - hence they are symbols of the "awakening of nature" and thus the "Resurrection of Christ."
Among the other notable artists in the Museum we include Luca Signorelli [1445-1523] ("The Crucifixion"), Gerino da Pistoia (1480-1529), Raffaellino del Colle (1495-1556), and Giovanni de Vecchi (1536-1614).
After the museum...
Continuing your tour of Sansepolcro, in the Piazza San Francesco you can see the gothic style Church of St. Francis, with a nave (remodeled in the eighteenth century).
Next to it is the cloister which has a gothic style portal, while just adjacent is the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. The building was begun in 1518, it has a carved wooden portal and inside there is a wooden ceiling and a “Madonna delle Grazie” by Raffaellino del Colle.
After the Loggia della Visitazione [Lodge of the Visitation] you reach one of the most famous buildings of Sansepolcro, the Casa di Piero della Francesca, the house where the artist was born. It is an elegant building that is said to have been designed by Piero himself, with an architecture which, for the portal and windows, seems very reminiscent of Michelozzi’s style (1396-1472).
A little further down the road you can see the Medici Fortress, dating from the 16th century and commissioned by Cosimo I de Medici, with angular bastions and built to a plan by Giuliano da Sangallo (1484-1546), who incorporated the existing fortifications.
Continuing through Sansepolcro along Via XX Settembre you can see a continuous succession of imposing mansions built by the most powerful historical families in the city, such as the Bofolci Palace; the palaces and towers of the Pichi and Turrini Families; and Palazzo Ducci-Del Rosso, now seat of the Civic Library.
There is a second museum in Sansepolcro on via Niccolo Aggiunti, dedicated to explaining the history and uses of herbs across the centuries and displaying a wide range of equipment and tools used in herb preparation. You get reduced price admission to the herb museum if you have already paid to enter the civic museum.
To conclude your visit to Sansepolcro head for the Porta Fiorentina, the only surviving city gate of the four that originally stood here, then continue to the Church of San Lorenzo, famous because it contains "The Deposition of Christ", by Rosso Fiorentino (1495-1540).
Sansepolcro - culture and cuisine
Sansepolcro is a city with a long artistic tradition that is reflected in various activities and lively folk performances, such as the famous Palio della Balestra*, which takes place during the so-called "‘Biturgense’ September" ("September of Biturgia") - so called because Sansepolcro, through this festival, recalls its origins with the Bituriges Gauls.
* The “Palio” dates back to the fifteenth century, and it sees the crossbowmen of Sansepolcro competing against rivals from Gubbio. (Learn more of the origins of the town at history of Sansepolcro.)
If traditional cuisine and local products are also an important part of your visit to Sansepolcro you could try and time your visit around the “Fiera di Mezza Quaresima” [“mid-Lent Fair”], which promotes typical local products such as mushrooms, cheese, fresh and seasoned meats, chestnuts, truffles, fruit and vegetables, pulses, flour, oil, wine, jams, honey, plants, flowers, plus other typical examples of local handicrafts.
Where is Sansepolcro?
The town is found towards the very eastern edge of Tuscany, hence closer to the Adriatic sea than to the Mediterranean sea, and a short distance north-east of Arezzo. Enthusiasts of the works of Piero della Francesca will also want to visit the museum in nearby Monterchi to see another famous work by the artist, the Madonna del Parto.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Tuscany guide.