Discovering Sansepolcro: a treasure in Valtiberina

Sansepolcro is a place you have to visit in Valtiberina. Locals simply call it Borgo and just beyond its ancient walls Tuscany becomes Umbria.

This populous and lively town of the Upper Tiber Valley has a strategic position. The old city centre of Arezzo is about 40 minutes by car and the Alpe di Catenaia and the Alpe della Luna, Anghiari, the Hermitage of Montecasale and Montedoglio Lake are just a stone’s throw away.

What kind of tourist you are? Sansepolcro for all the wishes

The city of Piero della Francesca and the Paliodella Balestra offers you a truly varied range of attractions. Scattered here and there are many testimonies of the past of the village. Palaces, streets, squares and churches are ready to inform you.

According to a famous legend, Sansepolcro was founded at the end of the Tenth century by Arcano and Egidio, two pilgrims who had just returned from the Holy Land. The travellers – both destined to become saints – decided to stop right in Valtiberina after receiving a sign from God.

To preserve and venerate the sacred relics they had recovered in Jerusalem, they built a chapel, the first building of Sansepolcro and the origin of his name.

From free commune to the lordship of the Tarlati and Malatesta, to become later underpapal dominion and then Florentine, the city has lived an eventful Middle Ages but also very bright. Today you can see the style of that period and the Renaissance in the profile of the old town.

The Second World War mutilated the village of one of its symbolic monuments. You will hear about it later, about Piazza Torre di Berta.

Piero and Luca, VIPs of Sansepolcro

Among the reasons that make Sansepolcro a decidedly captivating destination is Piero della Francesca. Did you know  he signed as Piero dal Borgo? It may seem a trivial detail, but this choice says a lot about his link with the hometown.

A great painter of the Fifteenth century, he was the author of the cycle of frescoes of the Legend of the True Crossin the Basilica of Saint Francis in Arezzo and some masterpieces on display in Sansepolcro.

The best known name after his is that of Luca Pacioli. The numbers were his tools of the trade: friend and collaborator of Leonardo da Vinci, he was one of the greatest mathematicians of the Renaissance. His figure is also linked to Piero della Francesca, of whom he was a student. Indeed, Luca explained the mathematical theory used in the construction of the perspective of the teacher’s works of art.

Statua Piero della Francesca
Did you know Piero dal Borgo Piero della Francesca signed as Piero dal Borgo?

Around Sansepolcro: Porta Romana and Porta Fiorentina

An essential ingredient of the city’s identity is the historical rivalry between the two districts, named after the doors from which you enter Sansepolcro. Porta Romana, the one to the south, has remained without an arch, while Porta Fiorentina is still intact.

The competition between the Giallorossi and the Viola takes place at least twice a year, during a historical football match and at the PaliodeiRioni.

Traditional arrows: Palio della Balestra

Porta Fiorentina and Porta Romana face each other in a special internal challenge as part of the Palio della Balestra. If you want to watch a live duel in Piazza Torre di Berta, visit Sansepolcro on the second Sunday of September.

The main competition, however, sees the shooters of Sansepolcro united against those of Gubbio, the only two cities in Italy where this medieval and Renaissance custom has been maintained. Today a historical event, yesterday an opportunity to train at the crossbow. Should their contribution be served to defend the community…

How does the Palio work? Shooters must hit the target with arrows fired by ancient crossbows. Not easy, 36 meters away! The event follows a precise ritual, which includes a historical parade and an exhibition of flag wavers.

All those who animate the Palio wear Renaissance costumes inspired by the frescoes of Piero in a show of colors marked by the roll of the drums and the ring of clarions.

Civic Museum

Piero della Francesca is a leitmotiv in the province of Arezzo. In the spacious rooms of the Civic Museum you can admire the artistic history of the city and the masterpieces of Pontormo, Andrea Della Robbia, Raffaellino del Colle, Santi di Tito. But it is undeniable that Piero’s paintings are the lion’s share.

Let yourself be enveloped by the embrace of the Virgin protagonist of the Polyptych of Mercy, while the golden background connects squares and characters in this complex and refined work. The style of Piero can only leave you breathless.

The Audience hall instead houses three frescoes. It is inevitable that those depicting Saints Julian and Louis take second place before the sublime beauty of the Resurrection. In the details you will find the sign of the unattainable talent of Piero

It seems that in a couple of works kept at the Civic Museum of Sansepolcro the painter signed the work including two self-portraits. Can you find them?

La Resurrezione di Piero della Francesca
The Resurrection of Piero della Francesca is one of the masterpieces kept inside the Civic Museum.

The Birthplace of Piero

Another very darling  place to biturgensi (so called the inhabitants of Sansepolcro) is the birthplace of Piero della Francesca. It is located in via Niccolò Aggiunti, which is a bit ‘the street of museums. The palace, which is home to the Piero della Francesca Foundation, is the only legacy of its famous former tenant as an architect. In fact, in addition to being born there, the Renaissance master personally renovated it.

Here you will find a mini museum and interactive itineraries to explore two unknown sides of Piero della Francesca. On the one hand his relationship with Luca Pacioli, on the other the jewels that appear in his works.

Piazza Torre di Berta

A bench awaits you in Piazza Torre di Berta, a corner in the heart of the city. Here you will feel a strong and clear absence. What is missing? The bell tower of the Thirteenth century that for centuries was the emblem of Sansepolcro. Berta tower, indeed.

Its destruction occurred during the night between 30th and 31st July 1944, by the retreating Nazis. The people here called it the “July snow” because of the dust raised by the mines with which the tower was blown up in retaliation. Dedicate at least a few minutes to this melancholy place of the Borgo, which welcomes the Palio della Balestra every year.

Piazza Torre di Berta
A bench awaits you in Piazza Torre di Berta, a corner in the heart of the city.

Aboca Museum

Aboca Museum is a museum of herbs that explores the relationship between man and the plant world. The palace of the Sixteenth century that houses it is added to the places of culture overlooking Via Aggiunti.

Live this experience with all your senses. You can touch dried plants and flowers, smell their scent. Linger with your gaze among the sumptuous decorations of the Renaissance building and a multitude of objects and instruments that look a bit dreamlike.

The interactive path of scientific innovation and sustainability will lead you to a labyrinth of scales, vases, phials, mortars, herbaria and volumes of pharmacy and medicine.

The pharmacy, the poison cell, the phytochemical laboratory and the Nineteenth-century pharmacy have been faithfully reconstructed to lead you on a fascinating and engaging itinerary in the tradition of medicinal herbs.

Museo Bernardini Fatti della Vetrata Antica

In Sansepolcro there is another particular address, unique in its kind not only in the land of Arezzo but throughout Italy. At the Museo Bernardini Fatti della Vetrata Antica drawings, colours, knowledge of light and technical skill create an extraordinary mix.

Do not miss the fantastic collection of works that mostly date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In addition to the finished work of the master glassmakers are exposed color tables, sketches, texts and engravings. Knowing all the phases of glass production will be a way to dialogue at a distance with the artists who made them decades ago.

The highlight of the museum is a life-size glass reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. Even here you hear the echo of the name of Piero della Francesca. The exhibition space is inside the Church of San Giovanni Battista, where Piero painted the Baptism of Christ, one of his most famous works that is now in London.

It is the umpteenth testimony of the link between Piero and his village of which Sansepolcro still shines, centuries after the death of its excellent artist.