Arezzo sorge su una collina nella Toscana orientale a ridosso dell'Appennino Tosco-Romagnolo. Come testimonia l'architettura stessa della città, vanta un'origine antichissima che l'ha vista essere una delle maggiori città etrusche e successivamente una strategica città romana. La parte più elevata della città conserva uno spiccato aspetto medievale, dominata dalla Cattedrale e dalla Fortezza Medicea. La Cattedrale, che presenta nel suo aspetto tratti gotici, custodisce pregevoli opere d'arte tra le quali La Maddalena di Piero della Francesca e le vetrate istoriate di Guillaume de Marcillat. Al centro della città Piazza Grande dispiega una vera antologia di stili architettonici. Accanto alle torri medievali, si ergono l'imponente Loggiato Vasariano, una delle più interessanti opere architettoniche rinascimentali; il Palazzo della Fraternita dei Laici, bell'esempio di sintesi di architettura gotica e rinascimentale e l'abside della Pieve di Santa Maria. Piazza Grande, il penultimo sabato di giugno e la prima domenica di settembre, diventa lo scenario della Giostra del Saracino, torneo cavalleresco di origini medioevali. La stessa piazza e gran parte del centro storico ospitano, ogni prima domenica del mese ed il sabato precedente, la Fiera Antiquaria. La cappella Bacci nella Basilica di San Francesco accoglie lo straordinario ciclo di affreschi della Leggenda della Vera Croce di Piero della Francesca, una delle più alte testimonianze della pittura rinascimentale italiana. Nella Chiesa di San Domenico, semplice costruzione a navata unica, si conserva la croce dipinta di Cimabue, opera giovanile dell'artista. Molte altre chiese e palazzi testimoniano con la loro bellezza e la loro originalità stilistica la civiltà aretina e la sua importanza nelle varie epoche storiche. Ricordiamo tra queste la Badia delle Sante Flora e Lucilla, la Chiesa della Santissima Annunziata, edifici come Palazzo Pretorio e Palazzo dei Priori, e a qualche minuto fuori le mura della città, la Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie, la Pieve romanica di Sant'Eugenia al Bagnoro. I musei della città offrono ai visitatori la possibilità di ammirare una varietà di beni di inestimabile valore artistico: il Museo Archeologico Gaio Cilnio Mecenate, il Museo Statale d'Arte Medioevale e Moderna, il Museo e Casa Vasari, la Casa Museo Ivan Bruschi e il Museo Diocesano.
Arezzo may have been one of the twelve most important Etruscan cities , the so-called Dodecapolis. It was described by Livy as one of the Capitae Etruriae (chief Etruscan cities). Etruscan remains establish that the acropolis of San Cornelio, a small hill next to that of San Donato, was occupied and fortified in the Etruscan period. 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 BCE) and the "Minerva" (4th century BCE) which were discovered in the 16th century and taken to Florence. Increasing trade connections with Greece also brought some elite goods to the Etruscan nobles of Arezzo: the krater painted by Euphronios ca 510 BCE with a battle against Amazons (in the Museo Civico, Arezzo 1465) is unsurpassed.
Conquered by the Romans in 311 BCE, Arretium became a military station on the via Cassia, the road to expansion by republican Rome into the basin of the Po. Arretium sided with Marius in the Roman Civil War, and the victorious Sulla planted a colony of his veterans in the half-demolished city, as Arretium Fidens ("Faithful Arretium"). The old Etruscan aristocracy was not extinguished: Caius Clinius Mecaenas, whose name is eponymous with "patron of the arts", was of the noble Aretine Etruscan stock.
The city continued to flourish as Arretium Vetus ("Old Arretium"), the third largest city in Italy in the Augustan period, well-known in particular for its widely-exported pottery manufactures, the characteristic moulded and glazed Arretine ware , bucchero-ware of dark clay, and red-painted vases (the so-called "coral" vases).
In the 3rd to 4th century, Arezzo became an episcopal seat: it is one of the few cities whose succession of bishops are known by name without interruption to the present day, in part because they were the feudal lords of the city in the Middle Ages. The Roman city was demolished, partly through the Gothic War and the invasion of the Lombards, partly dismantled, as elsewhere throughout Europe, and the stones reused for fortifications by the Aretines. Only the amphitheater remained.
The commune of Arezzo threw off the control of its bishop in 1098. Until 1384, Arezzo maintained itself as an independent city-state, generally Ghibelline in tendency, thus opposing Guelph Florence. In 1252 the city founded its university, the Studium. After the rout of the Battle of Campaldino (1289), which saw the death of Bishop Guglielmino Ubertini, the fortunes of Ghibelline Arezzo started to ebb, apart from a brief period under the Tarlati family, chief among them Guido Tarlati, who became bishop in 1312 and maintained good relations with the Ghibelline party. The Tarlati sought support in an alliance with Forlì and its overlords, the Ordelaffi, but unavailingly: Arezzo yielded to Florentine domination in 1384; its individual history was submerged in that of Florence and the Medicean Grand Duchy of Tuscany. During this period Piero della Francesca worked in the church of San Francesco di Arezzo producing the splendid frescoes, recently restored, which are Arezzo's most famous works, but afterwards the city began an economical and cultural decay, that had the effect of preserving its medieval centre.
In the 18th century the neighbouring marshes of the Val di Chiana, south of Arezzo, were drained and the region became less malarial. At the end of the century French troops led by Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Arezzo, but the city soon turned into a base of the resistance against the invaders with the movement of "Viva Maria": this gained the city the role of provincial capital. In 1860 Arezzo became part of the Kingdom of Italy. City buildings suffered heavy damage during World War II.
The Piazza Grande is the most noteworthy medieval square in the city, opening behind the thirteenth-century Romanesque apse of S. Maria della Pieve. Once the main marketplace of the city, it is currently the site of the Giostra del Saracino ("Joust of the Saracin"). It has a sloping pavement in red brick with limestone geometrical lines. Aside from the apse of the church, other landmarks of the square include:
The Palace of the Lay Fraternity (Fraternita dei Laici): 14th-15th century palazzo, with a Gothic ground floor and a quattrocento second floor by Bernardo Rossellino.
The Vasari Loggia along the north side, a flat Mannerist façade designed by Giorgio Vasari.
Episcopal Palace, seat of the bishops, rebuilt in the mid-13th century. The interior has frescoes by Salvi Castellucci, Teofilo Torri, and Pietro Benvenuti. In front of the Palace is the Monument to Grand Duke Ferdinando I de' Medici (1595), by Pietro Francavilla, following a design of Giambologna.
Palazzo Cofani-Brizzolari,with the Torre Faggiolana. Remains of the Communal Palace and the Palazzo del Popolo can also be seen.
The Gothic Cathedral of San Donato
(13th-early 16th centuries). The façade remained unfinished, and was added in the twentieth century. The interior has a nave and aisles divded by massive pilasters. The left aisle has a fresco by Piero della Francesca portraying the Madeleine. Noteworthy are also the medieval stained glass, the Tarlati Chapel (1334) and the Gothic tomb of Pope Gregory X.
Basilica of San Francesco
(13th-14th centuries), in Tuscan-Gothic style. Of the projectd façade cover in sculpted stone only the lower band was completed. The interior has a single nave: the main attraction is the History of the True Cross fresco (1453-1464) cycle by Piero della Francesca in the Bacci Chapel. Under the church is another Basilica with a nave and two aisles (Basilica inferiore), today used for art exhibitions.
Romanesque church of Santa Maria della Pieve
.Its most striking feature is the massive, square-planned bell tower with double orders of mullioned windows. The church was built in the 12th century over a pre-existing Palaeo-Christian edifice, and renovated a century later with the addition of the characteristic façade made of loggias with small arches surmounted by all different-styled columns. Also from the same century is the lunette with the Virgin between Two Angels and the sculptures of the months (1216) over the main portal. the interior has a nave and two aisles, with a transept also added in the 13th century. In the following century chapels, niches and frescoes were added, including the polyptych of Virgin with Child and Saints by Pietro Lorenzetti (1320). In the crypt is a relic bust of St. Donauts (1346). Fomr the same epoch is the exagonal baptismal font, with panels of the Histories of St. John the Baptist, by Giovanni d'Agostino. The Pieve was again renovated by Giorgio Vasari in 1560.
Basilica of San Domenico
(founded in 1275 and completed in the early 14th century). The interior has a single nave with a Crucifix by Cimabue, a masterwork of 13th century Italian art. Other artworks include a Sts. Philip and James the Younger and St. Catherine by Spinello Aretino and other 14th century painting and sculpture decorations.
Church of San Michele, with a modern façade. Traces of the original Romanesque edifice and the Gothic restoration can be seen in the interior.
Santa Maria in Gradi is a medieval church from the 11th or the 12th century, but was rebuilt in the late 16th century by Bartolomeo Ammannati. The interior has a single nave with stone altars (17th century) and a Madonna of Misericordia, terracotta by Andrea della Robbia.
Church of St. Augustine, founded in 1257, modified in the late 15th and the late 18h centuries. The façade and the interior decoration are largely from Baroque times. The square plan bell tower is from the 15th century.
Badia di SS. Flora e Lucilla (12th century). Built by Benedictine monks in the 12th century, it was totally restored in the 16th century under the direction of Giorgio Vasari. The octagonal bell tower is from 1650. The interior, in Mannerist style, has an illusionistic canvas depicting a false dome by Andrea Pozzo (1702). There are also a St. Lawrence fresco by Bartolomeo della Gatta (1476) and a Crucifix by Segna di Buonaventura (1319).
San Lorenzo, one of the most ancient of the city, having been built before the year 1000, most likely in Palaeo-Christian times. Rebuilt in the 13th century and restored in 1538, it was totally remaed in 1705. The apse exterior is in Romanesque style.
Santa Maria delle Grazie, a late Gothic sanctuary with a Renaissance portal by Benedetto da Maiano (1490). It has also a marble high altar by Andrea della Robbia including a pre-existing fresco by Parri di Spinello (1428-1431). The sanctuary was built over a font dedicated to Apollo, which was destroyed by San Bernardino of Siena in 1428, building an oratory in its place. The church was erected in 1435-1444 and has a chapel entitled to St. Bernardino.
Santa Maria a Gradi
(1591), a monastery existing already in 1043. It has a Baroque interior, but with an altar by a collaborator of Andrea della Robbia.
Church of Santissima Trinità. Built in 1348, it was totalle renovated in 1723-1748 in Baroque style. It houses a 14th century Crucifix, a banner painted by Giorgio Vasari in 1572, a painting of Noli me tangere by Alessandro Allori (1584) and other artworks.
Santa Maria Maddalena, built in 1561 over a pre-14th century structure. It houses a Madonna with Child (Madonna of the Rose) by Spinello Aretino, visiile in the high altar (c. 1525) designed by Guillaume de Marcillat. It is now private property.
Pieve di San Paolo, in San Paolo, erected as Palaeo-Christian baptismal church, remade in the 8th-9th centuries and then rebuilt in Romanesque style in the 13th century. The bell tower is from the 14th-15th centuries. The entire church was again renovated after the 1796 earthquake. It has kept 15th entury frescoes by Lorentino d'Andrea and a cyborium. The transept entrance has granite columns with marble capitals from the 5th century AD.
Pieve di Sant'Eugenia al Bagnoro, in Bagnoro. Documented from 1012, it was one of the most important pievi of the diocese during the Middle Ages. The presbytery area is from the 12th century, while the rest is from the 11th century. The bell tower, partially ruined, stands on one of the three apses.
Pieve di San Donnino a Maiano, at Palazzo del Pero (6th-9th centuries). Documented from 1064, it replaced a Palaeo-Christian baptismal church. The fronal part was rebuilt in the 14th century. The apse has 15th century frescoes and a wooden Madonna with Child from the same age.
Roman amphitheatre and museum.
Palazzo dei Priori, erected in 1333, has been the seat of the city's magistratures until today. The edifice was numerous times restored and renovated; the interior has a court from the 16th century, a stone statue portraying a Madonna with Child (1339), frescoes, busts of illustrious Aretines, two paintings by Giorgio Vasari. The square tower is from 1337.
Medici Fortress (Fortezza Medicea), designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger and completed in 1538-1560. It was partly dismantled by the French in the early 19th century.
Palazzo Camaiani-Albergotti (14th century, renovated in the 16th century), with the Torre della Bigazza.
, Renaissance edifice attributed to Bernardo Rossellino. It is seat of the State Museum of Medieval and Modern Art.
Palazzo Pretorio, which was seat of the People's Captain until 1290. The façade has coat of armas of the captains, podestà and commissaries of the city from 14th to 18th century. Only one of the two original towers remains.
House of Petrarch (Casa del Petrarca).
(in Via XX Settembre) an older house rebuilt in 1547 by Giorgio Vasari and frescoed by him; now open as a museum, it also contains sixteenth-century archives.
Ivan Bruschi House and Museum (Casa-Museo "Ivan Bruschi").
Gaio Cilnio Mecenate Archeological Museum.
Civic Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.
Arezzo is home to an annual medieval festival called the Joust of the Saracens (Giostra del Saracino) . In this, "knights" on horseback representing different areas of the town charge at a wooden target attached to a carving of a Saracen king and score points according to accuracy. Virtually all the town's people dress-up in medieval costume and enthusiastically cheer on the competitors.