This time Roberto Giuliani takes the stand.
I’d wanted to return to Monte San Savino for quite some time: Perhaps because of Sgarbi, the famed art critic, who mentions the town occasionally to remind us of how culture is all too often reserved for the few, and that promoting our attractions should be a priority of any government, or perhaps because the Florence exit of the A1 motorway lists it among the attractions one can visit, but the desire to visit the town in the province of Arezzo had become a need.
Thus last week Laura and I decided to go for Easter. And we did have to overcome a number of obstacles: terrible weather for the entire week, and despite this the top restaurants were already booked solid, and then on Friday my wife came down with the flu, caughing and feverish.
But the desire was unabated, and on Easter, armed with an hour’s less sleep (daylight savings time) we bundled into our car with umbrellas and rain coats and set off, hoping the weather would be kind.
Our wish was granted! Perfect temperatures, such that just a sweater was necessary to walk the streets of the town, whose air was warmed by sudden bursts of sunlight. It took an hour and a half to get there, and ten minutes more to park by the walls surrounding the heart of town.
According to Emanuele Repetti’s Dizionario Geografico Fisico Storico della Toscana Monte San Savino boasts about 8000 residents: “A large and noble town, judicial seat and center of government, it is perched atop one of the hills of Monte di Palazzuolo, which overlooks it on the side of the highway from Arezzo to Siena, at an altitude of 600 braccia fiorentine (about 350 meters), at 29° 23′ degrees longitude and 43° 20′ 1″ degrees latitude, 13 miles from Arezzo; 6 miles from Lucignano; 10 miles from Castiglion Fiorentino, and 22 miles from Siena”. Doesn’t get any clearer than this…
But what is so special about Monte San Savino as to make it worth a visit? I’ll skip over its history, which would become a boring treatise, but note its many churches and renowned ceramicists, who have passed down artisinal techniques for centuries.
Assuming you park in the lot to the right of Porta Fiorentina, the main gate, you will find a brief stairway that leads to the street inside the walls. The walk leads to Piazza di Monte, where you will see, to the left, the Church of Sant’Agostino (which I didn’t photograph because there was a baptism). It dates to the XIII century, though it was expanded three centuries later, and rebuilt in the XVII century. The frescoes attributable to the school of Spinello Aretino, Pietro Schiavo’s Pietà e Saints, Orazio Porta’s Adoration of the Magi, and Giorgio Vasari’s beautiful Assumption, in the presbytery, are well worth admiring.
From Piazza di Monte take Corso Sangallo, which leads to the beautiful Palazzo di Monte, the Town Hall, which was unexpectedly closed, making it impossible to visit its hanging gardens. Continuing on the Corso you will reach the Chiesa della Misericordia or of Saints Santi Egidio and Savino, which is also known as the Pieve Vecchia. The interior is quite beautiful, with a main altar and six side altars in the classic 17h century baroque stye.
Directly in front of Palazzo di Monte, you will see the Logge dei Mercanti, a 16h century palace in Pietra Serna, a green-blue stone from the quarries near Florence, with columns with Corinthian capitals.
Corso Sangallo leads to Piazza Gamurrini, with the beautiful Museo del Cassero, born of the annual ceramics shows the town began hosting in 1971, and transformed into a permanent exhibition in 1989; since then museum has become a reference point for the ceramics produced in the Province of Arezzo. Admission is free. The building is a medieval fortification (cassero means keep) built by the Sienese between 1382 and 1384 under the direction of Bartolo di Bartolo.
The halls are divided thematically; some contain paintings of important masters and manuscripts dedicated to the history of Monte San Savino, one room contains antique photographic equipment, and another is dedicated to ceramics, with antique and more modern pieces.
The time passed swiftly and we began to look for a place to eat; after several failed attempts we decided to go to Castello di Gargonza, which is about 7 km from town: It’s a beautiful 12th century fortified town surrounded by green that belongs to the Guicciardini Corsi Salviati family. They have turned it to hospitality; the houses have been transformed into apartments and rooms for visitors. The hamlet includes a tower, a small XIII century church dedicated to Saints Tiburzio e Susanna (restored in 1928), a well, a park, and outside the walls a restaurant with a swimming pool.
Suffice it to say they were also booked solid for lunch, but one of the waiters was kind enough to prepare some excellent sandwiches with prosciutto and cheese, which I couldn’t resist pairing with an excellent Chianti Classico Riserva 2006 di Castello di Cacchiano, purchased for a very honest price, 25 euro. Nor was this all; the waiter prepared a delightful basket with food, plates and glasses.
So where did we have our Easter lunch? Where he suggested: crossing the street, it’s a two-minute walk to a picnic table next to an a shrine with Madonna and Child. We sat there, admiring the town in perfect peace. A experience I highly recommend!