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85km (53 miles) SE of Florence; 246km (153 miles) N of Rome

Arezzo is a medium-size Tuscan city, an agricultural center clambering up a low hill, best known for its artistic masterpieces by Piero della Francesca, and stained-glass marvels by Guillaume de Marcillat. As Arretium, Arezzo was an important member of the 12-city Etruscan confederation, and it was famous in Roman times for its mass-produced corallino ceramics. The Ghibelline medieval comune ran afoul of Florence's Guelphs, and the city's armies were soundly trounced by Florence in the 1289 Battle of Campaldino. (The Florentine forces counted a young Dante Alighieri among the foot soldiers.) More recently, the city's gotten some international face time as the setting for Roberto Benigni's 1999 Oscar-winning film La Vita è Bella (Life Is Beautiful).

Arezzo has produced an unusual number of cultural giants. Guido Monaco (or Guido d'Arezzo), born around A.D. 995, invented the modern musical scale and notation. The poet Petrarch (1304-74) helped found the humanist movement that was the basis for the entire cultural Renaissance. Spinello Aretino (1350-1410) was one of the great trecento masters of Italian fresco. Pietro Aretino (1492-1566), a gifted poet, was capable of writing the most vituperative, scandal-causing verses. Another towering Aretine was Giorgio Vasari (1512-74), a mediocre painter, a much more talented architect, and, with his book Lives of the Artists -- a collection of biographies of masters from Cimabue and Giotto through Michelangelo -- the unwitting author of the first art history text.