Pieve di Santa Maria Assunta, at the highest part of Corso Italia, is one of Arezzo’s symbols. The urban baptismal church was built between the 5th and 6th centuries, possibly on the remains of a pagan building, and was followed by a larger one around the 9th century. In the mid 12th century, the early medieval parish church was also demolished and a new one was erected in Romanesque forms.
The apse and façade were rebuilt in the first half of the 13th century in the Pisan-Lucca style, and the presbytery was raised over the 12th-century crypt during that period.
The characteristic bell tower, known as “delle cento buche”, was completed around 1330. In the 13th and 14th centuries, the church was also embellished with frescoed chapels.
Beginning in the 1560s, the first renovations began under the direction of Giorgio Vasari, who designed the family altar, now in the church of the Badia delle Sante Flora and Lucilla.
The 17th and 18th centuries were marked by Baroque reconstructions that distorted the appearance of the building, followed by no less altering works carried out between 1859 and 1880, when a stylistic restoration was decided upon to bring the church back to its medieval appearance, but which resulted in arbitrary interventions. The most emblematic cases were the dismantling in 1865 of the external Gothic chapel overlooking Piazza Grande, next to the apse, and the reconstruction of the crypt on the remains of the old one.
On the outside, the parish church today presents itself with its magnificent Romanesque façade, divided into a lower level of five blind arcades on granite columns, over which is superimposed the three-level upper loggia with small columns all different from each other.
The lunette of the central portal bears a sculpture by Marchio or Marchionne, dated 1216, showing the “Virgin’s Assumption into Heaven between two angels”. Immediately below is a frieze with small figures depicting the “Madonna between the archangels Michael and Gabriel, Saints Satyrus and Donatus and the apostles”.
The archivolt contains the extraordinary complex with the “Cycle of the Months”, a masterpiece of medieval sculpture created by craftsmen from the Po Valley area between the second half of the 1230s and the first half of the 1240s.
In the right-hand side portal, there is a lunette with a bas-relief depicting the “Baptism of Jesus”, in the left-hand one, a lunette with vine shoots and bunches of grapes. Both lunettes date back to the first half of the 13th century. A 12th-century bas-relief with a pattern of crosses, leaves and bunches of grapes can be admired on the portal from Via Seteria.
The solemn and majestic interior has three naves. The inner wall of the façade features a wonderful marble bas-relief of the “Adoration of the Magi” by Marchionne in the early 13th century. It is a high-relief slab, possibly part of a vanished pulpit, depicting the enthroned crowned Virgin and Child, who with his foot crushes the dragon and receives the homage of the Magi. Higher up is the Archangel Michael in flight.
The left wall features another marble bas-relief from the 13th century with the “Nativity scene”, donated between 1910 and 1912. It probably comes from the pulpit of a vanished church in the area of Sant’Andrea a Pigli, south of the town. It is attributed to a follower of Marchionne.
Advancing along the left wall we come to the Cappella del Santissimo Sacramento (Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament), built in 1593. Inside, you can admire a 15th-century statue of the “Madonna and Child”, known as the “Madonna Tucciarelli”, and neoclassical frescoes by Luigi Ademollo from 1815 with “Stories from the New and Old Testament”.
Going up a flight of steps in the presbytery, one can admire the “Crucifix” by Margarito d’Arezzo from around 1260, the fresco with “St Dominic and St Francis” by Andrea di Nerio from around 1360, and the extraordinary polyptych by Pietro Lorenzetti painted between 1320 and 1324, a tempera on gold-ground panel depicting the “Madonna and Child among Saints”.
Descending into the crypt, on the other hand, one can admire the “Reliquary Bust of San Donato” of 1346, a masterpiece in gilded, embossed and chiselled silver with applications of cast parts, translucent enamels and semi-precious stones, executed by the goldsmith’s workshop of Paolo Ghiselli and Pietro Vanni.
At the bottom of the right wall, on the way back to the exit, we finally see the hexagonal baptismal font with panels worked in bas-relief between 1330 and 1332 by Giovanni d’Agostino.
Santa Maria della Pieve in Corso Italia was built between the 5th and 6th centuries, possibly on the remains of a pagan building
The majestic three-nave interior of Santa Maria della Pieve, the town’s baptismal church
Santa Maria della Pieve was rebuilt between the 12th and 13th centuries in the Pisan-Lucca Romanesque style
The steps leading to the impressive presbytery of Santa Maria della Pieve and the crypt below
The extraordinary polyptych by Pietro Lorenzetti with the Madonna and Child among Saints (1320/24)
Detail of the Madonna and Child in the polyptych by Pietro Lorenzetti, a 14th-century masterpiece
Remains of the ancient well from which for centuries water was drawn for the sacrament of baptism in the parish church
The reliquary bust of St Donatus, a masterpiece by goldsmiths Paolo Ghiselli and Pietro Vanni ( around 1346)
The Crucifix of Margarito d’Arezzo, a cross painted by the leading local painter of the 13th century (around 1260)
Marble high relief in the counter façade with the Adoration of the Magi by Marchionne (early 13th century)
Presbytery column with frescoes of St Dominic and St Francis by Andrea di Nerio (around 1360)
Blessed Sacrament Chapel with Stories from the New and Old Testament by Luigi Ademollo (1815)
Left wall of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel with one of Luigi Ademollo’s biblical scenes
Central portal of the façade with Mary’s Assumption into heaven between two angels by Marchionne (1216)
Detail of the Cycle of the Months in the archivolt of the central portal, a 13th-century sculptural masterpiece