As we left the restaurant where Alberico invited us, I thought that day could not be over just yet, and that it would have been fair to pay visit to Arezzo, a few miles away.
So we set the GPS up, which actually I do not trust very much after Terminillo, but still much better than the maps, which I’m pretty sure we couldn’t follow. I do not just blindly follow it, though, but I always check around, read the signs… and in fact even then, it wanted us to stop in the parking lot of a supermarket on the outskirts of the city. I Did not listen to it, I went forward, and shortly after , city’s ancient walls appeared before us. It gave me a strange effect to see the medieval walls appearing in the middle of a modern city, between buildings, car parks and supermarkets.
But is it possible to visit Arezzo in just one day?
When we started to walk those streets made of ancient stones, after passing under an archway built hundreds of years ago, I tried to see it with new eyes, thinking about everything those stones, of which the walls and streets were made, saw and experienced. Arezzo was a defensive bastion and colony of the Romans, supplier of weapons for Scipio campaign of Africa, the headquarters of Maecenas. It was the first center occupied by the Lombards, the center of episcopacy with Charlemagne, the only city of which all the bishops are known, the first to bear the title of “Count”.
It clashed with Siena and Florence, battles where even Dante Alighieri took part in. It was sold to Florence for ten years from Pier Saccone, owned by the Medici, conquered by Napoleon, center of the “Viva Maria” movement… in short, it had seen all sorts of historical events, and actually it seemed that every stone had his thing to say, something to tell. It’s a city that speaks even in the total silence of a gray and cold January afternoon.
We walked without destinations, we let our feet lead the way, thing which I indeed love doing. I firmly believe that every place has so many things to show, in every alley, behind every corner, that rushing to see the most popular areas means losing a great deal of wonder. In fact a very characteristic uphill path opened in front of us, on the opposite side of the one the signs indicated to go. Along the way we also came by an open pharmacy, the only open store to that moment, so we immediately took that chance to buy postcard: We have a useless (but wonderful) collection of those to complete!
We also remembered, however, that we had to send another postcard: the one which is in the Smartbox, to be sent to those who gave it to you. Throughout the city, the only mailbox that we found, was under Post’s headquarters! Judging by how many there were, all nicely lined up, of a nice bright yellow, they must have collected all those in the city to place them under there.
Having accomplished that “mission”, we continued to follow the road uphill. I continued to look around, curious as a monkey, as usual, and my attention was attracted by a plaque dedicated to Guido Monaco. A plaque that could not go unnoticed, at least for me, it is the only plate I’ve seen with a pentagram and the names of the musical notes.
After all what else could you expect from the plaque dedicated to the man who invented the names of the musical notes as we know them today (in continental europe), their position on the staff, and the basics of music theory? Shortly after I noticed how the whole city is full of dedications to Monaco, and I figured how proud of him it could be… and then I felt like a disappointment considering how many people finds themselves in front of all of this with no idea of who this character so important for the city is, big pride of a small place.
A few more steps and in front of us appeared Duomo square, in all its majesty. It seemed to look down at us from all its magnificence, all surrounded by ancient stairways. The square was empty, we were the only ones present, while the silence filled the air. The gray sky made darker the brown and ocher colors that paint the entire old town, the same colors that once filled all the towns and cities.
Immediately after the Cathedral, another thing caught our interest: the Town Hall, with its clock tower and the iron statue of a knight with his horse both on the ground, on which an angel waked. We decided to get in there, and the first thing we noticed was the Chimera of Arezzo.
A few steps forward, we lived a… “fantasy” experience as if we were in a book. In front of us opened a yard full of wooden statues representing men and women in various positions and activities. The silence was all around us, we could barely hear the sound of our breathing, the only persons in that place and, as it seemed to us, in the whole city. The gray sky helped to create a surreal atmosphere, and while we focused on fixing the statues, sculpted so well that they did seem true, a black crow stood up in the air, cawing. I jumped in surprise, expecting to see the statues coming to life at any moment. We joked about it, but my heart continued to beat fast for quite a while.
Soon after we entered the Tourist Reception Centre. To greet us, a scale model of the entire Arezzo, surrounded by mannequins with medieval clothes. I got to like that city more and more! I noticed then a panel with a picture of a knight and the words “Giostra del Saracino“. I went to the guide, sole present except for us, asking information, and she explained that it was the main event of the city, and was held every second Saturday of June at night and the first Sunday of September in daytime (good to know). She also told us what it was: a historical re-enactment involving the four districts in which the city is divided: Porta Crocifera, Porta del Foro, Porta Sant’Andrea and Porta Santo Spirito. An ancient knightly competition that involves hitting with a spear a target painted on the shield of a rotating mannequin, called “Buratto”, and avoiding to get hit by its flail.
Then she informed us that if we wanted to participate we would have had to book the tickets already at the end of April, because the seats quickly sell out, and prices range from € 5 standing up to 40 € for a seat in the Tribune of Honour.
The pageants are one of the things that I love very much, being fond of “fantasy”, because it allows me to imagine myself in other worlds, in other times, flying with my fantasy.
Taking notes and giving thanks, we get out and we eventually got in front of the Duomo.
This time, we went up those old stairs, and once inside we found ourselves in the darkest Cathedral I’ve ever seen.
San Donato’s Cathedral, the city’s patron. Outside is beautiful. But inside is dark and gloomy … maybe because the sky was cloudy outside, but it helped me giving to Arezzo the image of the typical medieval town, in those dark years full of rules, obligations, beliefs, during which freedom was pure utopia. I was still fascinated by that place, promising myself to come back to see it on a sunny day.
After a quick trip to the more modern center, where we finally found more life, open shops and cafes, we returned to the car, waving to the city that had welcomed us so well for one day, showing its ancient faces.
As we drove back, I thought to issue a challenge to anyone who would come to visit the city: to find the statue dedicated to… a plumber!