Today, as yesterday, the territory of Arezzo is linked to many “VIPs”, to use a modern term. Figures who have distinguished themselves above all in art, literature, in the military and in politics. Ingenuity, talent, ambition and passion are recurring features in their biographies.
More or less every era has seen illustrious Aretinians carry the flag of the city and maybe you already know everything about some of them. The characters that are still dark will have the chance to conquer you during your visit to the city. Their legacy can be felt everywhere, in the alleys, churches and squares of the old city centre.
The portraits you are about to read will guide you on an unusual tour in the footsteps of five grand Arezzo citizens. Thanks to them, Arezzo will prove to be an even more interesting destination, a city that shines with the prestige of giants of the past, centuries after their disappearance.
Guido d’Arezzo, the inventor of the musical notes
There would be a roll of drums to introduce this roundup of famous people, also because you start with the music. Just outside the train station, Via Guido Monaco takes you to Piazza Guido Monaco. So the city honors the creator of the musical notes.
We do not know for sure where he was born, but the most reliable hypothesis is Talla, a small hamlet in Casentino, about 30 minutes’ drive from Arezzo. Before him – and then until the Middle Ages – the only way to learn how to play and sing was by listening. This Benedictine monk was responsible for the invention of the tetragrammaton and musical notes, a revolution for the teaching and learning of music.
See the statue of Guido Monaco sculpted by Salvino Salvini in the Nineteenth century; it stands on the square. It is a figure of which the people of Arezzo are very proud. Not surprisingly, the Festival of Music, every June 21st , here takes the name of Guido Day.
There is another city event that pays homage to the pioneer of music writing. It is the International Polyphonic Competition Guido d’Arezzo, a contest between choirs of various nationalities that every year perform in front of the public and a jury.
Francesco Petrarca, the first humanist
You are about to meet a sacred giant of literature: the poet Francesco Petrarca. Casa Petrarca is located in the heart of Arezzo, in via dell’Orto. Here, according to tradition, in 1304 what is considered one of the fathers of the Italian language was born.
At Casa Petrarca there is a museum and the headquarters of the Petrarca Academy of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Take a tour of the rooms of this illustrious residence, where there are Petrarca objects, a collection of ancient coins, a rich library and a valuable painting.
We are located in an exclusive location in the old city centre. From here, with a short walk, you can reach Piazza Grande, the Cathedral and the city park. The Prato dates back to the Medici era and is a green island on top of the hill of Arezzo, where the roots are beautiful maritime pines. Overlook the walls that surround the park for a breathtaking view.
In the middle of the grass, a massive monument of white marble is matched with Casa Petrarca. The sculpture consists of a four-meter-high statue of the Arezzo poet and several allegories of his main works. King Vittorio Emanuele II built it in honor of Francesco Petrarca in 1928.
Mecenate, a name, a guarantee
For the next star in the firmament of the famous people of Arezzo you have to move to the lower part of the old city centre. Your destination is the Roman Amphitheatre. In front of the entrance on Via Margaritone awaits a bust of Gaius Cilnius Mecenate, patron saint of arts and artists born in Arezzo in 68 BC .
You are in front of the remains of an imposing arena of the Second century A.D. and the National Archaeological Museum “Gaius Cilnius Mecenate”, a treasure chest of fantastic Etruscan and Roman artifacts. The sculpture of Mecenate acts as a trait d’union between the two structures and celebrates the memory of a personality relevant to Ancient Rome
Mecenate was adviser to the Emperor Augustus and protector of poets such as Horace and Virgil. Today in Italian his name is synonymous with benefactor of writers and artists. Not a bad result for this great Arezzo citizen who entered both history and vocabulary.
Piero della Francesca, the mathematical artist
Piero della Francesca is one of the characters that absolutely deserves your attention. Born in Sansepolcro in the province of Arezzo, he lived during the Renaissance and besides being an excellent painter was also a mathematician.
If you mention his name to an Arezzo citizen, he will immediately remember the Bacci Chapel. Reach the square where the Basilica of Saint Francis is located. The gothic facade can make you think that the interiors are just as simple and instead Piero will leave you speechless.
The Bacci Chapel is located at the back of the church and was decorated by Piero della Francesca with the cycle of frescoes of the Legend of the True Cross in which the artist tells the story of the wood on which Jesus was crucified.
The paintings are an explosion of colors and brightness in which the refined features of the human protagonists are combined with well-studied perspectives. The narrative is fascinating and complex.
If you notice the tallest building of what should be Jerusalem, you will find that in reality the building that dominates the hill is the Cathedral of Arezzo. And it is there, in the Cathedral of Saints Pietro e Donato that you should go to admire another work of the incomparable painter from Arezzo: a Mary Magdalene in full figure.
Giorgio Vasari, the Emblem of the Renaissance
To close the sequence of VIPs of Arezzo there is a character who tells the culture of the Sixteenth century. Giorgio Vasari was a man of many talents and versatile intelligence. Mannerist painter, architect, art historian, in Italy he is especially known for having written a collection of biographies of his colleagues.