Arezzo turned out to be a favorite town for all of us. First we stopped at the train station so Alyce could get info for when she goes off on her own in another week. Then we visited the Etruscan Chimera statue (actually a reproduction) from 500 BCE; on to the Roman Amphitheatre, or rather, what’s left of it; then on to the famous murals by Piero della Francesco. Lunch was on the portales designed by Georgio Vasari, an Arezzo native that did a lot of design, writing and painting for Lorenzo Medici, of the ruling family of Florence.
The Arezzo Duomo is colossal, both in size as well as in art. A chapel is packed with della Robbias, and Piero della Francesco was here, too, with his Mary Magdalene. The ivory altar is special, and the church ceiling is detailed with beautiful artwork.
While Bibbiena is much smaller than Arezzo, it is not without its treasures, too. A basket of fresh rose petals graced one small altar; and a 16th C. palazio made a charming Beneton’s store. The San Hippolito Church held a 13th C. Madonna and Baby. Some years ago this baby was stolen—I gather that this is a replacement. The beautiful altarpiece is by Lorenzo di Bicci and is one of their most revered paintings.
We had put off going to the Chianti Wine region until we could have a completely sunny day. Saturday we had waited long enough—well maybe—it rained off and on all day! But we had great success anyway, when we found the Buona Sera Winery that arranged a tasting for the four of us—actually three, as since I was driving, no wine for me! It became clear through the proprietor’s presentation that there are a mountain of regulations that control all aspects of wine-producing here. The three sampled two Chianti Classicos, a Merlot, then a sweet dessert wine and lastly a spot of grappa, Italy’s version of firewater distilled from the grape skins. The proprietor was actually from Austria but had been in Italy in wine production for 22 years.
We went on to Greve, the ‘capital’ of the Chianti wine region, where we had lunch and shared some more Chianti Classico. While the sun didn’t shine very much, the landscape was as green as green could be, having had LOTS of rain. It was quite a long, but pleasant drive.
Stia, a pleasant town not far from Partina, had its own treasures. The 12th C. church, Santa Maria Asunta, has interesting medieval columns, as well as a beautiful Lorenzo di Bicci painting. Outside, the ancient fountain from the original center of the town had four lions with serpents coming out of their mouths.
Stia has two castles; we visited the Castello di Palagio, set in a pretty park with many flowers at the entrance. Later we drove up and up to the Castello di Porciano, which offered a wonderful view of Stia and the surrounding area.
Before leaving, we had to explore Partina. Monday we visited the convent on the outskirts of Partina. A very friendly nun showed us all around their convent. We thought maybe she hadn’t had much company lately, as she seemed very interested in talking to us, in Italian, of course. I managed to understand about 10 per cent of her talking.
Next we visited the Partina cemetery, with Roberto’s parents’ grave. Their custom is to remove the bones of old burials, and put them in a corner of the grave, then put in the ‘new’ coffin with the currant burials. They put fresh flowers on the graves on a weekly basis, and there are also pictures of the buried on the graves. They are lit up at night with small electric lights on each grave.
Partina has its own castle. I don’t know anything about the history of it, but a family from Rome owns it now. One time my grandsons became acquainted with this family and were invited to stay overnight in the castle, along with my daughter and son-in-law.
We continued up the mountain with wonderful views of Partina, to a tiny village called Friggina. I drove the car on a street where I had never been before, and pretty soon I came to a narrow place where I didn’t think the car would fit. I began backing up between a wall and a fence and immediately really began having trouble. Luckily a man rescued me, took over the driving and backed the car down a very narrow street for me. Thank goodness! I think I would have come to grief on that narrow and curved street! We visited the church at Friggina, and I wound up stepping in dog poop, so that made another challenge!! Eventually we got everything righted and continued on to Soci to do email at a wifi coffee shop. We stopped in Bibbiena to buy a chicken, which I roasted for dinner. With many bruschette, salami and procuitto, salad, carrots, a primi of pasta with porcini mushrooms, and some good Tuscan wine, the day’s troubles were forgotten!
Another trip to Florence allowed us to spend some time looking at the Duomo, the large cathedral of Florence. Work was begun on this building in the 1200s, which was situated on an older church, demolished to make way for the new building. We saw some of the old stones of the foundation ‘downstairs.’ The dome was added in the 1400s, but the façade was not put on the front of it until 1867! The tall campanile was built in 1357, designed by Giotto.
The Baptistry, next to the Duomo, is a much older building, dating to the 4th century. Many famous Florintines have been baptized here, including Dante. There are three sets of doors, which each tell Biblical stories. The oldest are from the 1300s by Pisano. For the second set there was a competition from which the contract was awarded to Ghiberti, who took 20 years to make them. The loser of this competition was Brunelleschi, who then undertook the construction of the dome. The third set of doors was done by Ghiberti and are considered to be one of the great artistic masterpieces of the Renaissance—Michelangelo called them “The Gates of Paradise.” The interior of the Baptistry is covered with 13th century mosaics depicting “The Last Judgement.” One panel shows you what will happen to you if you’re not good!
The Museo dell ‘Opera dell Duomo was our next museum, which houses many of the treasures that have been removed from the Duomo for safekeeping and restoration as well as other special pieces. The place of honor is occupied by Michelangelo’s “Pieta”—no, not the one in St. Peter’s in Rome, but another. There are two wonderful choir lofts done by Luca della Robia and Donatello that both depict children singing, dancing, and playing musical instruments. Some years ago a rich Japanese man commissioned copies to be made of the “Gates of Paradise” so now the originals are in this museum and the copies are actually the ones out in the weather on the Baptistry.
The Bargello was the last museum on our itinerary for the day. This building had been built for the government of Florence in 1225; it eventually became a prison and then was finally turned into a museum in 1885. It has many wonderful sculptures including Michelangelo’s “Bacchus” (he had
By this time our eyes had glazed over and we repaired to a local restaurant for some lunch. Then we hurried to catch our 3:30 bus back to Poppi where our car awaited us to drive back to Partina—a rewarding day!
On our last day in Partina we visited Pieve Socana where there is a huge Eturscan Altar from 500 BC. Later Romans made a temple of some of the Etruscan stones, and later still, in the 11th century, Christians made a church of these same stones. The church has been severely modified but looks very old. It is across the street from Luigina and Giovanni’s house (Roberto’s older sister and brother-in-law) and is the church that they attend. It has an unusual bell tower with the bottom part being circular and the top part hexagonal.
We went on from there to Talla where we intended to have dinner at a very good local restaurant, L’Orchello, but no dice. It was not going to open until evening. So we went back to Bibbiena and found a wonderful restaurant called La Tavernetta, which provided us with one of the best Tuscan meals that we have had. We had a lively discussion with the proprietor and a general good time (with three half-liters of wine!)
Back to Partina, getting gas for the car and finishing our preparations for going to Rome the next day, we had our last visits and political discussions.
This morning we blasted off at 6:30 AM for the Rome airport, dropping Alyce off at the Arezzo train station for her to begin her four weeks of further traveling in Italy. Jeanne and Carol Freeman headed for home, and I flew on to Bari, which is on the east coast, near the ‘heel of the boot.’ I got a shuttle bus to the train station and asked there for the Piazza Luigi di Savoie, where my hostel was located. The train official walked me outside and pointed the way (about two blocks). When I got there I was wandering around looking for #40 when I heard, “Carol—–“ It was a young woman who works for the hostel who thought I had a reservation there—what with my pack and my looking around—and directed me exactly where to go. That’s a first! Tomorrow I shall explore Bari.