Sant’Anna in Camprena is the converted monastery where the Fall 2014 students stayed during their Val d’Orcia trip.
This weekend we went to Florence, the capital of Tuscany. I had some expectations of the city, such as large markets and crowded streets. I did not expect the atmosphere I was brought into; its busy cycle of confusion to trap tourists and give them a show. Before we got to Florence though, we had to work our way through the train station. Everything was easy to understand and it shouldn’t give me too much trouble in future trips.
When we arrived in Florence, we were pushed into a crowded train station with very little sense of direction of which way was out. Screens flashed warnings about lurking thieves and large boards rotated through the train schedule. It was a lot to take in. When we finally made our way outside of the train station it gave me a sudden realization I was in Florence, like I didn’t believe it before. I was faced with the old and new aspects of the city. A large, ancient church sat before me while several modern buildings were planted around it. This juxtaposition would be found throughout the entire city.
After we dropped our things off at the hotel and grabbed some lunch, we headed into the Academia Museum. In this museum many late 16th century and early 17th century paintings were on display. It was interesting to compare them to images I had seen in my art class. There were also several sculptures, the most famous being the David. It truly is an amazing piece with such detail and craftsmanship. It is scary to hear that the weight of the body is becoming too much for the leg. I hope it holds up and the museum figures out a way to fix it.
We then went to the Duomo and were determined to climb it. The wait time wasn’t too long and it gave me time to really look at the Cathedral. This building was completed on March 25th, 1436. There was so much detail and probably due to restoration it didn’t look as old as it was. The inside was even more miraculous. On the way up to the top of the building there are points where you are able to see inside of the church. The ceiling is decorated with a beautiful fresco of heaven and hell and life in general. These frescos were painted by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari. I couldn’t imagine painting that. It was so high up and was so large it took seven years to complete. When I reached the very top, I felt very triumphant because I had just completed a crazy stairs workout. But it was worth it. The views were breathtaking. I believe this was one of the highlights of my trip.
A little later we went to the markets and shops. The markets are a crazy place where people try to lure you to their stand to buy their overpriced stuff. There are several of them all over town that it’s possible to find almost anything in them. It’s almost impossible to get them to mark it down to a sufficient price, though it is doable. I am not one of those people who are able to do it though. This wasn’t my favorite part of the trip but it was an event worth experiencing.
That night we ate at an amazing restaurant that we were obviously underdressed for. It was called Dei Frescobaldi Ristorante and Wine Bar. The wait staff was super polite and friendly and gave us great recommendations on food and wine. The food was some of the best I have had in Italy. After dinner we went to a world famous gelato shop. There is a reason this place is so famous. A chorus would sing every time I took a bite, or that might have been the mass going on in the church behind me. The tiramisu was the best flavor I had there. It had chunks of cake mixed in the gelato.
The next morning we tried going to the Boboli Gardens but it was closed. This was disappointing because I was really looking forward to them. We instead went to the Museo Galileo and learned about ancient methods to study math and science. It was very interesting to see the various globes that predicted how the world looked. There were also several tools that were created to measure force and velocity. There was a part in the museum that allowed visitors to receive a hands-on experience with these tools. It was really fun. We also learned a little bit about Galileo and saw some of his items on display. There were three of his fingers on display, a tooth, and a medal in one of the display cases. The body is missing, so this is all historians have of his actual person. The museum states they believe without a doubt these items do belong to Galileo. It was amazing to see something of someone who made such a big contribution to shape what is our world today.
After the museum we went shopping again until we heard about the train strike. This did make me nervous at first because I did not see any way to get home but I remained calm. Once we figured out a plan to wait and see if the trains would start back up in time or to take a taxi, I had no worries. We arrived at the station around 6 to see if our train would come. While waiting many of us fell into the temptation of American food and had to get a burger from McDonalds. It was well deserved and I ate it in three bites. Once we saw the train was going to be late, if coming at all, we went outside and got a taxi to take us to Arezzo. We got there just in time to take our bus home.
It was nice to be back in Sansepolcro where it was quieter and more authentic than Florence. I described Florence as a sort of fake Italian culture. It compromises with other cultures too much to be the real thing. Florence was labeled to me as an “open museum”. When I first heard this I felt it meant there were several pieces on show outside and lots of history to experience just by being there. This all is true but I also came to realize that with museums come visitors. That this “open museum” idea is looking more at the fact there are thousands of tourists looking at each piece and finding each piece of history. Seeing this culture and being able to compare it to that of Sansepolcro, I am so glad I am studying here rather than in a big city.
While the daytrip to Anghiari and Arezzo was not a long one, the fact that it was the first of its kind (as in us, as students, leaving Sansepolcro for a travel experience) makes it significant and memorable, not to discount how Italy seems to naturally have this air of importance.
Anghiari was particularly notable for its appearance and location, jutting out from the mountain like a ship at sea. The view from the wall was incredible, and it was almost hard to believe that I was seeing, with my own eyes, over the edge of what was practically a mountain into the valley I was living in. The hour didn’t agree with me, and neither did the steep streets, but it was a pretty town, if not a somewhat humble one as well. The medieval part of town reminded me of our home in Sansepolcro– small, quiet, and pretty.
Arezzo was much more of a “city” than either Anghiari or Sansepolcro, and I liked it less for that. It wasn’t that I disliked Arezzo, but it was chaotic, loud, flashy, and altogether not as familiar or intimate as a smaller medieval town like the ones I’d been in before. However, Arezzo was ultimately more relevant for my studies and interests when we visited the Basilica di San Francesco to view the Piero della Francesca fresco work.
Although I had seen some of Piero’s work in Sansepolcro at the Museo Civico, it hadn’t been so grand as it was to see the huge paintings on the inside of the church. It is always a privilege to see a work of art in the location that it was destined for. It is grand to to see such huge, imposing works consume you from the inside of an equally huge, holy place. So while I had felt very little from seeing Piero’s smaller work in our local museum, it was a whole experience to see his Legend of the True Cross.
As an artist and as someone taking the art history class this semester, I feel as if this experience was especially enriching to myself as an individual. The art history class is, in fact, focused on Renaissance art, and as an early Renaissance artist who is so important to Sansepolcro in particular, I was glad to see such an impressive piece of his work. These frescos are even considered Piero’s finest work, and I can understand why. The scale itself is amazing and admirable, the composition eye-catching and on the aesthetic side of chaos; it is concise, informative, and attractive, as Christian art sought to be before the Renaissance and in its early years. One of Piero’s marks of distinction is his early use of linear perspective and ability to portray three dimensional space, which is put to the test and pulled off undeniably well in this demanding piece. While perhaps not as illusionistic as some later Renaissance artists, he represents a very important shift toward the imitation of life and physical space rather than the flattening of form and condensation of real life, and the Legend of the True Cross is an excellent example of his efforts.
This excursion, especially the viewing of the Legend of the True Cross, has been one of my favorite activities so far during my study abroad experience. I would really like to repeat the journey to the Basilica di San Francesco in particular to further collect my thoughts on Piero’s work on the interior, as it is difficult to talk fully about such an impressive piece with one short exposure.
“Piero Della Francesca | The Legend of the True Cross.” Podere Santa Pia. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Sept. 2014.