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Arezzo Etc

July 26, 2003

Dear Friends and Family,

Writing "diaries" about Italy isn't easy. How can we describe the places we've seen without being endlessly repetitive: walled town on hill, search for parking, historic church, stone villa/palazzo, good restaurant. But, as repetitive as this sounds overall, we've begun to see differences, too, as we move around in Tuscany. I'll try to focus on those differences, as I mention places we saw from our farm home base.

In almost-alphabetical order:

Arezzo -- This was the largest small town we visited from the farm. It's an ancient capital and still serves as the local "big city". Highways radiate from Arezzo in the same directions they have run for a couple thousand years, one road north to Florence, another west to Siena, another southeast to Perugia (and Assisi), another east into Umbria and, of course, one south toward Rome. Who said all roads lead to Rome?

We had three stops in Arezzo, although I suspect there is more than this to see. The first was their church of St. Francis, with its famous 13th Century cross by Cimabue and frescoes by della Francesca. The cross was as beautiful and stylized as if from the early 20th or even 21st Centuries. Seeing the artwork in its original location gave it a reality and meaning that just isn't possible with museum viewing.

Speaking of museums, we stumbled on an interesting one. The local town hall was hosting a display of ancient maps and charts, including five of Leonardo da Vinci himself. Two aspects of our visit were welcome. First, the rooms were downright cold. A sign by the door apologized, but said the historic documents required the cold dry air. Apologize? This was the first time in days that we weren't sweating! Second, the displays were well done and we could approach the old work close enough to see the artistry with which these essentially technical and prosaic articles were prepared. Who would have thought that an artist's genius could show on something as simple as his drawing showing how to drain a swamp?

Our final stop in Arezzo was yet another Duomo or cathedral: old; intimidating in size and stark simplicity; interior decorations meant to inspire or frighten. With bastions like this, it's easy to see how church and religion could have been so powerful in the days when there were no other public buildings on this scale and opulence. As many churches as we have seen, we are still drawn to them and their power over untravelled peasants can be imagined.

Anghiari -- This walled town surprised us. It was not described or even mentioned in any of our guidebooks, so when we came around a corner and saw a perfect walled town, we had to investigate. Inside the walls, it was as perfect as it first appeared. Views into the valleys were post cards. Almost all buildings had been restored. There were small shops with the necessities: art and craft work; restaurants; gelato. And virtually no tourists. We only had time for a quick visit but vowed to return sometime when we could better experience this town on the border of Tuscany and Umbria.

Bibbiena, Poppi, Rassina, Subbiano and Capolona -- These were the small towns that ran along the part of the Arno River valley near our farm. Each had a castle. Each had a church or two. All were a combination of modern small town and ancient buildings. I'm not sure any were particularly remarkable, although we had a good Sunday dinner in Poppi's suburb, Ponte del Poppi. Maybe none of them would warrant a special trip, but, for travelers passing this way, they can be pleasant stops, where you can sit and be thankful that staying off the autostrada allows these small glimpses of Tuscany.

Caprese Michelangelo -- Yes, THAT Michelangelo. The town name was expanded to include the name of the local kid who made good. There's not much to this town, other than the art giant's boyhood home. Nowadays, it's a museum and, since Caprese is pretty far off the beaten path, there are no tourist throngs to distract you as you try to imagine the pre-teen carving his first marble blocks.

Poggio d'Acona -- This was the "village" nearest to our farm. With less than a half-dozen buildings, it probably didn't warrant even the title "village" but still, it was a tiny gem of a hill town. There was one street, partly paved, one church, very small, and a few residents, one of whom eyed us warily every time we looked to see what could be seen. All the buildings seemed to have been restored. One could imagine that the few full-time residents would be joined from time to time by family from the big cities who need to return to the little old village that gives them a root in old Tuscany.

I'm sure I've left out one village or another, but you get the idea. In this few-square mile area, there was plenty of Tuscany to visit and try to glimpse. Tomorrow, we'll head west toward Siena, to yet another base from which we hope to visit and glimpse life in Tuscany.

But that's another story.

Take care and stay off the freeways.

John and Marianne



The da Vinci map display:



In Arezzo, we visited the Church of San Francesco. This is a huge hall of a building with a famous altar cross and almost-as-famous frescoes along the walls.



This is one of very few crosses by the artist Cimabue. It seems to be a modern image, but it's over 700 years old.

The walls of the church were originally covered by frescoes by della Francesca. They've worn heavily, but the result is a stronger impression of age than other, well-preserved frescoes.



The Cathedral in Arrezo has a colorful and ornate ceiling, far above the church floor. Modern workers are restoring the work from elaborate steel scaffolding. It's hard to imagine how the original artists got to their "canvas."





The town of Anghiari seemed to appear from nowhere. It was not highlighted in any of our guide books, but it was as perfect a walled hill-town as any.



In the streets of Anghiari, buildings had been carefully restored to life.

The town nearest our host's farm was Subbiano. Today it's mostly a modern small town (village?), but at one time it was a prosperous silk worm center and at that time this was a commercial waterfront.



Michelangelo's home in Caprese. The building seems quite generous in size, so I wonder if its size had been inflated as the reputation of the young artist grew.



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