Today the seat of the Arezzo City Library, Palazzo Pretorio stands along Via dei Pileati.
The large building is the result of the unification of thirteenth-century buildings that belonged to the Arezzo Guelph families of Albergotti, Lodomeri and Sassoli. From 1290 Palazzo Albergotti was the seat of the Capitano di Justizia and for centuries housed various magistracies.
The part referring to Palazzo Sassoli was used from the early fifteenth century as a prison, a destination that was enlarged and also used between 1600 and 1926. The brigand Federigo Bobini, known as Gnicche, was one of the most famous prison “guests”, but he managed to escape in 1870.
The building’s current appearance is that of a Renaissance-style intervention, restored in the 1930s. The scenic façade and interior feature the coats of arms of podestà, captains, commissioners and vicars chosen by Florence to govern the city. With a specific resolution, in fact, in 1434 it was sanctioned that every representative had to leave a mark of their administration. Among the many coats of arms present, some of them of exquisite workmanship, are those of the Alberti di Catenaia, the Rondinelli, the Rinuccini, the Spadari and the Cappelli families.
After the opening of the “San Benedetto” prison in 1926, Palazzo Pretorio changed its destination and, after adaptation works conducted by Giuseppe Castellucci, became the temporary seat of the Museo Medievale and the Pinacoteca Comunale (Municipal Picture Gallery), before being definitively converted into the Biblioteca “Città di Arezzo” (City of Arezzo Library), inaugurated in 1959. Castellucci’s works, in the wake of the stylistic revival of the period, also included the arrangement of the courtyard with a loggia north of the entrance, which opens onto Via dei Pileati, and the raising of the medieval tower between Palazzo Pretorio and Casa Petrarca.
Remains of frescoes from various periods, mainly from the XV to XVII century, can be seen in the various rooms of the town library. The most important book collection preserved is that of the Library of the Fraternita de Laici founded in 1609, into which the libraries of suppressed religious institutions, noble families and benefactors were later brought by purchase, donation or testamentary bequest. In 1952, thanks to the Consortium for Managing the Library of the City of Arezzo, the library material increased considerably, making the library in Arezzo one of the richest and most valuable public libraries in Tuscany.
Opposite the façade of Palazzo Pretorio are the Giardini del Praticino (Praticino Gardens). On their eastern side are the few remains of the Palazzo del Popolo, a monumental building erected around 1278 to house the Capitano del Popolo and the Priori delle Arti, but dismantled in 1539. Five bronze sheep by Karen Wilberding Diefenbach, donated in 2013, “graze” among the ruins.
The gardens boast a bronze sculpture called “La Hermana y La Herida” by Abel Vallmitjana, a Catalan artist who moved to Arezzo in the 1950s and lived at Villa Guillichini in Tregozzano, north of the city. In the Arezzo countryside, Vallmitjana inaugurated his studio, flanking it with an engraving workshop, which also became a club for intellectuals and top local talent.
The artist was a close friend of Pablo Neruda. During one of his stays in Arezzo in the early 1960s, the Chilean poet admired the plaster cast of a sculpture depicting two female figures embracing and with stylised faces and suffering expressions. Looking at them, he called them “La Hermana y la Herida”, or “The Sister and the Wounded”, a title that persisted.
On 21 February 1974, when Vallmitjana died, the work had still not been cast. His wife turned to artist friends, who made their works available to raise funds for the bronze, which the Municipality of Arezzo chose to place in front of the ancient Palazzo Pretorio.