3rd September – an adventure in Arezzo

Firenze SMN – Arezzo – Firenze SMN

We’d decided to go to Sienna today. Train times checked, we arrived at the station in good time, only to find that we couldn’t buy tickets on the service we wanted as it was sold out. Very odd for a local service that doesn’t take reservations, but we couldn’t do anything about it, so rather than waiting for a later train decided to go to Arezzo instead. It had been a toss up between the two anyway, so not a difficult decision.

Pretty much as soon as we emerged from the station it was clear that something was going on. There were police controlling the traffic, and road closures into the city centre. The reason soon became clear as we reached the first roundabout. A parade of some sort was going on.

We had arrived at the back of the parade but it was moving slowly so it was easy to get some way forward. Everyone was in medieval dress, with pipers and drummers, archers and even a few on horseback. There were clearly four groups involved, in different colours, though they were largely walking side-by-side. A range of historic weapons were also being carried, swords, pikes, crossbows and the like.

The parade continued up the street and around a corner to where a large crowd had gathered. The parade assembled on a raised piazza, in front of what I now know is the Basilica di San Francesco.

A speech was read out from a scroll, after which the four groups retreated, this time in different directions.

By this point I’d established that we had happened upon the Giostra del Saracino – the Joust of the Saracens. it takes place twice a year, in June and September. To quote from the linked page:

The whole city turns up in medieval costume to recreate the atmosphere of medieval Arezzo as the quarters of the city compete against each other in a joust to win the Golden Lance.
Today, there are 8 knights for the 4 quarters (quartieri) of the city – Porta del Foro, San Andrea, Porta Santo Spirito, and Porta Crucifera. Each knight gallops on horseback with a wooden lance and aims at the Buratto and its shield. The knight has two runs along the lizza (jousting track) that runs obliquely in Piazza Grande and is won by the quarter whose knights obtained the most points. Points are obtained by hitting the target on the shield.

Discover Tuscany website

As the crowds dispersed we decided to avoid them and pick a route through the back streets. Unsurprisingly, this is another utterly charming Tuscan city. We were very taken by this little deli, which I smelled several yards before I saw it!

Soon we had found the Piazza Grande. It is quite a spectacular location. The temporary grandstands were empty but with the course set out across the middle of the piazza it was easy to imagine how it might look during the joust. Within minutes, one of the teams marched towards us, around the edge of the piazza and disappeared up the hill.

We dipped into a rather upmarket gift shop on the square. There was a range of hand-painted wares, which very much reminded me of canal ware back home.

We headed up the hill and soon found ourselves next to a park where a huge antiques fair was going on along the paths. We had expected to find the fair (which is a monthly occurrence) in the town, but for what were now obvious reasons it had been relocated. There was a cafe in the park so we had some lunch then took a look around. There were some rather fun retro items among the inevitable tat. I liked a pair of chairs that wouldn’t look entirely out of place in a 50s movie.

At the highest point of the park, next to the fortress, there was a great view out of the town to the north. We idly speculated on which of the stunning properties on the opposite hillside we would want to live in.

Continuing back into town another of the groups was on the march, heading down the hill away from us. We followed in a similar direction, but carried on down the hill as they turned left, only to be greeted by another group coming uphill, and turning off in yet another direction.

It was hot for us, so goodness knows how they were coping with all the marching up and down the hills in full costume. This time we also saw some of the horses up close, as well as some very smartly dressed couples that we’d not seen previously.

After pausing for a drink in a very quiet bar in a back street we walked up another hill, where it looked like all four groups had once more assembled, and were just leaving, then towards the centre one more time. Something I’d spotted earlier, but saw quite a bit of in this area was little replicas of paintings on assorted walls. Some were on what looked like utility boxes but others were simply attached to the wall. I bagged quite a few of them but I’m sure there were others dotted around.

By now we were ready to head back to the station. We took a different route, past a rather lovely lovely building which looked to me like it had originally been a hotel. Part of it was still a B&B but the rest was now a mix of businesses and private accommodation.

On the way back to Florence I tried to photograph some of the scenery we’d seen while coming the other way. I rather liked the group of building standing on a headland next to the Arno. I later found out that it is a retreat. This is quite a landscape; it is a nature reserve called Ponte Buriano.

Arriving back at our apartment, I commented that one of the two statues inside the front door was looking down upon us with a distinctly disapproving expression. The other one was more questioning. They are life-size and quite high up so you definitely feel that you’re being told off as you get back!

We decided on a simpler dinner this evening, across the river to a small pizzeria, where by chance we all selected different white pizzas (i.e. no tomato.) They were rather delicious. I’m no longer phased by unexpected toppings on pizzas in Italy. This time it was new potatoes. Anything goes except pineapple, I guess!

It was my last evening in Florence so I wanted to take some night photos. The place is even more beautiful at night than by day, I think, and it was good to get a good look at the Ponte Vecchio when it was less crowded. Odd little detail, but I love the shutters that the shops use that fold down and up, and meet in the middle.

We carried on towards the Palazzo. I took another look at the Loggia, though only from the outside as it is closed overnight. The statues in the square looked great with floodlighting, and I especially enjoyed the shadow of the “David” sculpture on the wall of the Palazzo Vecchio.

As we walked back, a really super busker grabbed our attention. From a distance I couldn’t tell what instrument he was playing, first thinking it was a viola or possibly an oboe. It was neither, just a beautifully played sax, in a very resonant huge doorway. Well worth the tip. The streets were now quiet, but still full of interest as we walked “home.”

Florence, you’ve been lovely. I’ll see you again, I’m sure.

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1 Comment

  1. Celia Lyon

    More stunning night time photos

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