Arezzo is a lively and liveable place, not just a museum to be seen, a photo to be posted in social media, or a box to be checked off on a been-there-done-that list.
rezzo is a city that few tourists or foreign students encounter on their first (or even second) visit to Italy.
In fact, many tourists have never heard of Arezzo. Grand tours of the Italian peninsula make time for Rome, Florence, the Amalfi Coast, Venice and maybe Siena but Arezzo is left happily undisturbed to go about its business as a spectacular medieval Etruscan city of about 100,000 residents with a vibrant and modern economy.
Arezzo is a real Italian city — a lively and liveable place, not just a museum to be seen, a photo to be posted on social media, or a box to be checked off on a been-there-done-that list. Instead, it is a place to settle in, unpack, and take your time trying to understand what daily life under the Tuscan sun might actually be like — and perhaps dream about lingering a little bit longer.
The first arrival in Arezzo matters greatly because it determines the initial glimpse into this new world. Is it mid-morning in the dead of winer at the end of a bleary-eyed overnight flight? Was it via the Autostrada A1 that traversed verdant springtime valleys and picturesque hilltop towns from the north (Florence) or the south (Rome)? Perhaps, instead, it is dusk in the autumn after a short ride on a fast train. Maybe it is in the heart of summer with leafy green trees hanging over Arezzo's parks, looking out over the Casentino hills. No matter the method or season of arrival, Arezzo, like many small Italian towns tucked away from the stare of tourism, is a welcome sight.
At first glance, Arezzo looks like an enchanted village at any time of year, appearing almost fairy tale like on the Tuscan highlands. The beauty comes fast along the Via Guido Monaco into town. Two thousand years of history and world-class art greet the senses at every turn, with charming piazzas, immaculate churches, stunning postcard views of the countryside, terracotta orange rooftops, exquisite restaurants, local food and wine shops, and little surprises stashed into small and winding corners of streets with ivy-covered ancient walls.
Understanding the layered nature of Italian history is an integral part of getting to know Arezzo. Historical and architectural influences — Etruscan, Roman, Renaissance, Catholic, Fascist and post-World War II — sit atop each other, brick and mortar on stone.
Naturally, there is more to Arezzo than first meets the eye. Appreciation for this city grows from experiencing its history, art, culture and daily life on a regular basis. Each Italian town has its own unique landscape, specialized foods and cultural practices. Arezzo is no exception, and is worthy of closer inspection. Understanding the layered nature of Italian history is an integral part of getting to know Arezzo. Continuously occupied since pre-Roman time — for more than two thousand years — the city is quite literally built in strata. Historical and architectural influences — Etruscan, Roman, Renaissance, Catholic, Fascist and post-World War II — sit atop each other, brick and mortar on stone.
As you walk through the historic center, red, yellow and orange adorn every building, which part to reveal panoramic vistas and the twelfth century Santa Maria della Pieve as you ascend the Corso. Around the corner is the stunning Piazza Grande with its Vasari Loggia that doubles as a grandstand during La Giostra del Saracino (the medieval joust that takes place in June and September). Further down you come across the Chiesa di San Francesco church, home to a world famous fresco cycle by the Renaissance painter, Piero della Francesca.
Italy's modern economy and business landscape have also shaped Arezzo. While Italians have long left their home country to seek more profitable livelihoods across the ocean, Italy has more recently become a destination for Eastern Europeans, North Africans and Chinese seeking a better life. Arezzo plays a part in Italy's twenty-first century tides of immigration and emigration. Despite endemic economic troubles, Arezzo and the surrounding areas are full of successful small industries. "Entrepreneurship the Italian way" takes its own unique form, navigating government bureaucracy, family history and unique personalities. Fine craftsmanship and style, continue to find a way to flourish.
Italians are internationally known for their contributions to music, fashion, film, food and wine. Arezzo significantly influences each of these staples of national cultural export. Birthplace to Guido Monaco, a native son who invented the musical staff notation, Arezzo has a long musical tradition, represented by the International Choral Competition that takes place here every September. Arezzo based fashion brands and especially gold jewellery, are world famous and the town is dotted with fashion boutiques for all tastes. Arezzo and its environs are home to spectacular family vineyards and hearty grapes. Arezzo's wines are unique, particularly the Chianti from the Colli Aretini, the hills around Arezzo. Arezzo is perhaps best known for the 1998 film Life is Beautiful, starring Roberto Benigni, it tells the poignant tale of a Jewish family's travails during World War II. The film won three Academy Awards, including Best Foreign Film and Best Actor.
For students and other visitors who traverse the cobblestoned streets of Arezzo, we hope you will have the opportunity to learn more about a city that has so much to offer — through its architecture, its art and music, its industry, its food and above all, its people.
Adapted from an article by Zach P. Messitte and Suzette R. Grillot, published in Buon Giorno Arezzo: A Postcard from Tuscany.
If you would like to know more about Arezzo during the Second World War, watch our documentary
THE THREADS OF MEMORY
I fili della memoria
PRODUCED BY: OU IN AREZZO
BEATRICE MAZZI and CESARE BACCHESCHI