On our recent trip to Italy, we toured many well-known places along the Amalfi Coast and in Tuscany. We visited Pompeii, Capri, and other notable tourist destinations– and enjoyed them immensely in spite of the crowds. Yet as the heat increased and “high season” arrived, our tolerance for the difficult pleasure of visiting places on the tour-bus route plummeted. After a particularly hot day of trudging through the picturesque and much too lively city of Siena, we returned to the villa and recounted to our hosts the tribulations of driving, of parking, of standing in multiple lines, of trying to see the town’s marvels around or in-between the heads and shoulders of thousands of fellow tourists. ( I know, I know. Everyone should have such problems.) Nodding sympathetically, Joseph said: “tomorrow you should visit Sansepulcro and Anghiari”. Despite not really knowing much about the towns, we took Joseph’s advice (and his list of things to see) and headed out on the road less traveled. On this little excursion, we inadvertently became “della Francesca pilgrims” and fell in love with the tiny town of Anghiari.
Anghiari was our first stop. We drove in from Cortona and stopped near the first Anghiari sign we saw. We ducked into the little church not realizing that we were on the outskirts of the old village. Only after we walked down one street, up another and through a gate did we realize that this town was something special. We were there by 9am, so not much was going on yet, but the narrow paved lanes, the high stone walls of the buildings, the views of the river, and the flowers everywhere charmed us instantly. And we seemed to be the only tourists in town.
So we enjoyed the charming sights and went on to Sansepolcro where we discussed the paradox of stolen relics, bought some tea towels, and visited the Museo Civico. Now, we’d seen plenty of religious art on this trip and others, but the Madonna della Misericordia is quite stunning, well-displayed, and nicely explained. The gorgeous Resurrection of Christ was being worked on by conservators, so we couldn’t see the complete painting, but we were hooked anyway. We had previously seen The Legend of the True Cross in Arezzo and were impressed, but now we were further intrigued, and by purchasing tickets at this museum, we could buy discounted tickets to other museums.
This time we approached Anghiari from the direction that permitted a view of the entirety of the walled village. We had to pull over and take a picture. We also found a more logical parking lot with an elevator up the hill that deposited us directly in front of two museums. We went into the Museum of the Battle of Anghiari that boasts a great exhibit and explanation of Leonardo da Vinci’s lost work. I find it comforting that even great geniuses can have spectacular failures. The museum’s explanation is very similar to the one on this site.
On our way back, we made one last stop in the tiny spiral village of Monterchi to see della Francesca’s playful Madonna del Parto. Just looking at the socks on the angels made me smile. That and being the only tourists in the museum. Getting off the beaten path helped restore our morale, our appreciation, and our stamina for sightseeing.