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The Valtiberina. what to see
The district which comprises the Valtiberina lies on the borders with Emilia-Romagna, Marche and Umbria and was for centuries the crossroads of territorial conflicts and a meeting place of differing cultures and civilisations. The largely intact natural beauty creates a frame for such cities of ancient origin as the unchanged medieval Anghiari. In the marvellous mountains nearby, in Caprese, the great Michelangelo was born. Piero della Francesa painted works of rare beauty, masterpieces of Renaissance art, in his native San Sepolcro, in Monterchi and, in Arezzo, the most renowned of all his creations, the frescoes of the Legend of the True Cross.
You now arrive at Anghiari , a small town which, like a citadel sitting on a spur of rock, dominates the Valtiberina. It was precisely because of this strategic position that a Lombard castle rose here in the 7th century. In 1104, the site was donated to the Camaldolese monks on condition that they found an abbey here. They built the monastery of St Bartholomew and the village grew up around it.
The village was destroyed by the Aretine forces in 1175, but it was immediately reconstructed and you can still see some parts of the walls dating back to 1181-1204. After more than two centuries of domination by the Camaldolese monks, Anghiari was subjected to the rule of Bishop Guido Tarlati di Pietramala in 1322 and entered definitively into the orbit of Arezzo, following the fortunes of this city until 1384, when it was sold to the Florentine Republic. However, the sway of the Tarlati family continued to resist, right up until 1440, when Florence, after defeating the Milanese and their allies in the famous Battle of Anghiari, subjugated the entire district.
Piazza Baldaccio di Anghiari is named after a soldier of fortune who lived in the first half of the 15th century, but it used to be the market place which grew up here outside the castle walls in the 14th century. From this piazza, you can reach the Propositura di Santa Maria delle Grazie, or Church of the city Provost. Although constructed in the 18th century, the building houses valuable art-works from churches and religious societies which were suppressed during the period of the Grand Duchy. The Deposition from the Cross is by the Florentine artist Domenico Puligo from 1515, and the Last Supper was painted in 1531 by Giovanni Antonio Sogliani, who also did the Washing of the Feet. The large shrine to Our Lady of Mercy in polychrome glazed terracotta positioned behind the high altar is from the workshop of the Della Robbia family, chiefly from the hand of Andrea.
The 14th-century Palazzo Pretorio, today the Palazzo del Comune, or City Hall, looks onto the Piazza del Popolo. Over the years it has undergone many changes but it retains, on the southern side, the massive bulk of the castle keep. The laneway, Vicolo della Piazzola, leads from the front of the Palazzo to the abbey Badia di San Bartolomeo Apostolo. This is not the church constructed by the Camaldolese monks, together with the monastery, between 1104 and 1105; those buildings around which the township developed not only are no longer in existence, but were located in a different site, in the upper section of the town. Starting from 1359, a new abbey and a new monastery were built on this present site by the Tarlati di Pietramala family, who were at the time ruling over Anghiari. The 14th-century church, which underwent reconstructions during the course of the 15th century, possesses an altar frontal attributed to Santi di Desiderio da Settignano which was, however, restored in the second half of the 16th century, and also a polychrome wooden sculpture of the Madonna and Child, attributed to Tino da Camino and dated towards 1317.
Now take the rather lovely route from the abbey to Palazzo Taglieschi, named after the ancient family whose residence it once was. It was built between 1462 and 1490 by the miltary commander Matteo Cane, but since 1975 it has housed the Museo Statale whose works of art range from the Romanesque period to the 18th century. These works, from foundations centred around this part of the Valtiberina, include 15th-century detached frescoes, some polychrome glazed terracotta objects from the workshops of the Della Robbia family and of Benedetto di Santi Buglioni, Our Lady of the Rosary by Jacopo Vignali, a Crucifixion by one of the most important 17th-century Florentine artists, Matteo Rosselli and, above all, an extraordinary wooden Madonna made by Jacopo della Quercia towards 1420. In this same quarter of the town, known as Borghetto and which grew up in the 15th century, there is the Chiesa di Sant’Agostino which was built perhaps towards the end of the 12th century but which was changed a number of times until the 15th century. A Renaissance portal opens into the sandstone façade which goes back to Romanesque times. The 15th-century interior was changed during the 18th century, as can be seen in the stucco work. The quite remarkable stucco decorations in the nave are ascribed to the Milanese plasterers, Francesco and Domenico Rusca, who were working in Arezzo between 1760 and 1770. Of the original furnishings, some coats-of-arms of Anghiari families have been conserved, and also a polychrome terracotta depicting the Adoration of the Shepherds, ascribed to Santi Buglioni.
Heading north towards Caprese Michelangelo, and a just a short distance from Anghiari, you can visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Santuario della Madonna del Carmine al Combabio, which was built here between 1536 and 1552 following a miracle. Inside, you can see the Madonna and Child with the young St John the Baptist, from the first quarter of the 16th century. This is a contemporary copy of the painting which gave origin to the miracle, and about which reference is made in a number of manuscripts in Anghiari.
Heading out of Anghiari, but this time along the Via della Libbia which goes on to Arezzo through the mountain-pass of Scheggia, you will come to the Pieve di Santa Maria a Sovara. Although this church goes back to the 8th-9th centuries, it first appears in documents in 1030 after which, along with the rest of Anghiari, it came into the Camaldolese orbit and was reconstructed. The present day exterior and interior belong to the work done between 1468 and 1480. The same road takes you to the Castello di Montauto which, constructed between the 13th and 14th centuries, became a manorial residence after the 16th century.
Although the architectural complex has been greatly restored, you can still see a very interesting cylindrical tower with mullion windows. In 1224, St Francis of Assisi was a guest here of the Counts Barbolani di Montauto and he presented to Count Alberto the cowl he was wearing when he received the stigmata. This cowl is now kept in the Basilica at La Verna.
To go to Sansepolcro, you now go in the opposite direction from Anghiari and take a long, very straight road. This road was opened between 1323 and 1327 by Bishop Guido Tarlati di Pietramala to make an easy link between these two important centres of the Valtiberina which were under his domain. On 29 June 1440, the famous Battle of Anghiari that marked the subjugation of this part of Tuscany to the Florentine Republic took place on the plain here. Leonardo da Vinci was called to paint a fresco of this historical event, starting from 1503, on the walls of the Salone dei Cinquecento in Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.
From Sansepolcro, but also from Anghiari, you can reach the village of Caprese where the illustrious Michelangelo was born, on 6 March 1475, and which was subsequently renamed Caprese Michelangelo in his honour. Going up from the houses to the 14th-century Castello, reconstructed in the 20th century, you can visit the Casa del Podestà. The Podestà was the office that Michelangelo’s father, Leonardo, held in the village when he was born. The Museum is housed in this building and you will find plaster reproductions of his statues and photos of other works by this superlative artist


When you leave Arezzo, head towards the Foce di Scopetone and , on reaching Palazzo del Pero, stop at the Pieve di San Donnino a Maiano. Built towards the 10th century, the church underwent various reconstructions and transformations starting from the 14th century, but some 15th-century frescoes remain in the apse. Drive on now to Monterchi, an ancient castle founded around the 11th century. Because of its strategic position on the Tuscan-Umbrian frontier, a perimeter of walls was erected around the castle in the the Middle Ages. It was under the domination of the Tarlati di Pietramala family until 1440, when it subsequently passed into the hands of the Florentines and the walls were reinforced. Some sections of these remain but, due to reconstructions and earthquakes, a number of ancient buildings have been lost, including the Romanesque Pieve. Dedicated to St Simeon and documented as far back as 1230, the church was, like the castle, under the patronage of the Tarlati di Pietramala family. Subsequently enlarged and transformed, it was reconstructed between1830 and 1832, and finally rebuilt around 1960.
The church possesses some artworks of a certain value and you can see a late 15th-century Ciborium, possibly attributable to Andrea Sansovino, and a Presentation in the Temple by Durante Alberti. Outside the walls and on the road going towards Città di Castello, you find the Cappella di Santa Maria de Momentana (or de Silva) which was first mentioned in the 13th century. In 1785, with its dimensions reduced, it was transformed into a cemetery chapel after which, in 1956, it was completely rebuilt. At the high altar, the fresco of the Madonna del Parto by Piero della Francesca was once housed. (It is sometimes known as the “pregnant Madonna”.) It was detached in 1911 and today has found a specially provided home in the Museo “Madonna del Parto”. Here, you can also follow a very informative display documenting the various phases of the fresco’s restoration. Piero della Francesca, who was born in nearby San Sepolcro, probably painted this extraordinary work around 1455, at approximately the same time he was painting the Cycle of the True Cross in the Chiesa di San Francesco, Arezzo. Even though visitors come to Monterchi primarily to see Piero’s Madonna, the Chiesa di Sant’Apollinare alle Ville is also worth visiting. Going back to the 12th century, this church retains its ancient semi-circular apse and, despite changes made to the interior over the years, you can still see 15th and 16th-century frescoes.
On the road from Monterchi to Anghiari, you pass the Pieve di Santa Maria a Corsano which, as far back as 1198, was a possession of the Camaldolese monks. The building is made interesting, and is indeed rather unusual, because of the bell tower from the 12th-13th centuries which rises over the entrance portal, and which appears to be a typical solution of French Romanesque architecture. The single nave of the interior was modified during the the 15th century, while the high altar from the 17th century has as fresco of the Madonna del Latte, an Arezzo work attributable to the 14th century.

The origins of Sansepolcro and the era when it was founded have not been historically ascertained. According to one deduction based on the town’s urban street plan, Sansepolcro was a Roman foundation. A different version comes from some medieval recollections which date the origin to the end of the 10th century when it was founded by St Egidius and St Arcadius. According to this version, when the two saints were returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, they stopped here and constructed an oratory dedicated to St Leonard, including some relics of the Holy Sepulchre, the Santo Sepolcro, and a village grew up around it. What is certain, however, is that the town’s foundation goes back to before 1012, when documents record how it was connected with an abbey of the Holy Sepulchre, Benedictine in origin and then Camaldolese. Starting from the 14th century, the town was the centre of conflicts between powerful potentates until 1441, when it became part of the Florentine domains. In 1515, during the papacy of Leo X de’ Medici, it was decreed a bishopric. Sansepolcro was important because of its strategic position on the commercial routes towards the Adriatic and, although there are still medieval buildings remaining, the city’s greatest moment of artistic splendour was between the 15th and 16th centuries, when so many artificers and craftsmen were born here, and not only Piero della Francesca who was born here around 1412 and died here in 1492, but also Matteo di Giovanni, Raffaellino del Colle, Cristoforo Gherardi known as il Doceno, Santi di Tito, as well as the Alberti family of architects, painters, sculptors and wood carvers who lived between the 16th and 17th centuries. During this time, the city gave birth to another family of painters and architects, the Cantagallina family.
So many artists and craftsmen in a town of such modest dimensions is reflected in the extraordinary wealth of artistic works present in buildings, above all religious buildings, and in the Municipal Museum.
If you proceed from the Porta Fiorentina which opens into the walls that surround Sansepolcro, you find the Chiesa di Sant’Agostino immediately on your right. Originally a Romanesque pieve dedicated to Our Lady, the church underwent a Baroque transformation in 1771. Continuing along Via XX Settembre, which runs from east to west through the city, from Porta Fiorentina to Porta Romana, and turning into Via Luca Pacioli, you reach the Chiesa di San Lorenzo. The church was reconstructed in 1556 on earlier 14th-century foundations and has the Lament for Christ Deposed from the Cross by Rosso Fiorentino. Nearby you also find the Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Servi, founded around 1272 and reconstructed in the early 18th century. Inside, there is a valuable triptych by Matteo di Giovanni with, in the centre, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin and, on the sides, St Philip Benizi and St John Baptist and St Paul and St Lucy. The artist, who was born in Sansepolcro around 1430, was commissioned to paint this work in 1487.
Via della Fraternita takes you from this church to the principal piazza of Sansepolcro, Piazza Torre di Berta. A medieval tower once stood here but it was destroyed by the Germans during the Second World War. Standing in a minor road which arrives into the piazza is the Duomo dedicated to St John Evangelist. Erected in the year 1000 as a Camaldolese abbey, the building was demolished and then reconstructed between the end of the 13th century and the beginning of the 14th. From 1583 until the first half of the 20th century, it was changed many more times. From the outside, the Cathedral has a simple façade with a central portal and a rose window brought back to light in an 18th-century restoration. Inside, columns separate the nave with its trussed wooden ceiling from the aisles which have vaulted ceilings. Starting from the second altar on the right, you can see the Disbelief of St Thomas painted by Santi di Tito in 1577 and, following this, an extraordinary fresco of the Crucified Christ between the two Marys and St Egidius, St Arcanus, St Romuald, St Francis and St John Evangelist by Bartolomeo della Gatta from the last decade of the 15th century.
On the high altar there is a Polyptych of the Resurrection by the Sienese artist Niccolò di Segna, painted in 1348, and originally placed in the church of Sant’Agostino. In the chapel at the head of the left-hand aisle is a polychrome wooden Crucifix known as the Volto Santo, or Holy Countenance, which was transferred to the Duomo in 1770 from its original position in the Pieve of Santa Maria. This extraordinary work dates back to the Carolingian era, from the 8th to the 9th centuries, and the colour was added later when the cross was reassembled in the 12th century. In the same left-hand aisle, in addition to the glazed terracotta Tabernacle for the Blessed Sacrament made by Andrea della Robbia, there is the Ascension of Christ by Pietro Perugino which can be dated to the first decade of the 16th century. In the right-hand aisle, there is the Funeral Monument for the Abbot Simone Graziani, made in 1522, and also a painting of the Resurrection, done after 1522, by Raffaellino del Colle. Next to the Duomo is the Palazzo delle Laudi. Originally a 13th-century building, it was reconstructed at the end of the 16th century, to the design of the architect Alberto Alberti for a lay association, but today it is occupied by the City Council.
In Via Aggiunti, nearby, you will find the Museo Civico. It houses a considerable number of valuable works, including some of the more important works by Piero della Francesa. He painted the Polyptych of the Misericordia (Our Lady of Mercy) between 1445 and 1462, the mural of the Resurrection of Christ in a mixture of fresco and tempera around 1460 for the Palazzo del Comune and, about the same time, the detached fresco depicting St Julian which comes from the church of Santa Chiara. The St Ludovic, also about 1460, which was once in Palazzo Pretorio, is the work of one of Piero’s assistants, probably Lorentino d’Andrea from Arezzo. St Peter and St Paul by Matteo di Giovanni originally had, in its centre, Piero’s Baptism of Christ, today in the National Gallery of London. The double-sided processional banner which has the Crucifixion on one side and St Anthony Abbot and St Egidius on the other is by Luca Signorelli, Our Lady of Perpetual Help is by Gerino da Pistoia from 1502, St Quintinus was painted by Pontormo between 1515 and 1518, and there are two works by Raffaellino del Colle, the Assumption and Coronation of the Blessed Virgin and the Nativity of the Virgin. In the Museum’s collection there are also many works by Santi di Tito, by Agostino Ciampelli, and by Antonio and Remigio Cantagallina.
Among the many religious buildings to be found in Sansepolcro, in the vicinity of the Museum there are some of significance, such as the Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie, the Oratorio della Confraternita della Morte and the Chiesa di San Francesco.
Next to the Museum, in Via Aggiunti, you will find the Casa natale di Piero della Francesca, where the most famous “biturgense”, or citizen of San Sepolcro, was born. This is a well preserved 15th-century civic building which today houses the “Piero della Francesca Foundation”, a study, research and documentation centre for Piero della Francesca and the culture of the Renaissance. Near this palazzo, you will find the Chiesa di San Rocco and the Oratorio del Crocifisso and, not too far from here, is the splendid Fortezza designed by Giuliano da Sangallo and built upon an earlier 14th-century structure. It was completed in 1561 by Alberto Alberti and makes up the north-east section of the perimeter of walls that enclose Sansepolcro.

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