Most great churches are intended to draw the eye heavenward, but few achieve the effect quite as dramatically and almost playfully as this 12th-century arched facade. Three stacked arcades of beige stone, one piled atop the other, become slightly narrower as they rise above a five-arched lower floor and the narrow street below, and above it all rises a bell towers with five rows of windows. The effect is all the more powerful since the church is built on a slope, so the towering facade is often viewed from below and seems all the higher for it. In the rear, three rounded tiers of arches face Piazza Grande. Inside, beyond an entryway carved with the months of the year (with the two-faced pagan god Janus representing the month of January, named after him), is an altarpiece by Pietro Lorenzetti, a Sienese artist who would eventually perish when the Black Death devastated the city in 1348. His work here is multi-tiered like the church’s facade, with figures getting smaller on each successive layer. The paintings are unusually vivacious for the typically remote Sienese school and show the Madonna draped in a luxurious ermine-lined robe, surrounded by a retinue of similarly well-attired saints; among them is St. Luke, recording the “Annunciation” in his Gospel. It is one of relatively few altarpieces that remain in situ in the church for which it was intended, as most have been broken into segments and scattered around the world. Some of the remains of the town’s patron saint, Donato, are here, too, in a beautiful gold reliquary. Donato was a 4th-century bishop of Arezzo, and must have been a welcome presence: He could bring the dead back to life, restore sight, and exorcise demons, and he slew a dragon that was poisoning a well (the bones of this beast, along with other parts of Donato, are in the church of Santa Maria e San Donato on the island of Murano, near Venice). Donato met his end after pagans broke into a church where he was saying mass and smashed a chalice; Donato pieced the vessel back together save for one large fragment, but in his hands the chalice did not leak—a miracle that convinced 79 pagans to convert on this spot. This was too much for local authorities, who had the bishop beheaded soon afterwards.
Santa Maria della Pieve
Corso Italia 7
Our Rating Hours May–Sept daily 8am–7pm, Oct–Apr daily 8am–noon and 3–6pm Phone 0575/377678 Other Free admission
MapCorso Italia 7 Arezzo
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.