Friday, October 8, 2010

“The Wonder of a Walled City”

The longer I stay in Italy it seems the more walled cities I come across. Sansepolcro, my new home, was the first walled city that I visited and have now come to love. The idea of an ancient walled city is completely fascinating to me. If you look closely at the wall you can see the individual stone, mortar, and small plant life growing in the crack. What I always forget every time I walk through the Porta Fiorentina and into the “walled part of the city” is that the walls have endured world wars, trial and tribulation, and my favorite, the joys of the Balestra. When I look at the walls my new deepest desire is what I could hear if walls could talk. This weekend I visited and experienced two new walled cities, Anghiari and Urbino, furthering my wish to hear the stories the walls could tell.

Anghiari was the first walled town that I visited. Two euro and forty cents later I was on a twenty minute bus ride across the valley to the next closest city to Sansepolcro. The ride up to the city went past fields of golden sunflowers past their time, tobacco ready to be picked, and small houses sitting adjacent to majestic cyprus trees. The main road into the heart of the city was a steep incline. The walled city perched on top of a hill appears as if it has been dropped straight out of a scene of a movie. It still to this day reminds me of the city of Rohan in the movie Lord of the Rings. Every minute I expected to see men in medieval garb riding out on horseback on their way to battle, defending homes and honor alike.

Anghiari, most well known for the famous lost painting by Leonardo da Vinci in 1505. It was painted over later, and efforts to recover the great work of art have been in vain. The lost painting of the Battle of Anghiari depicts the battle fought in 1440 between the Visconti armies of Milan and the armies of Florence allied with the Pope. Even though the location of the painting is thought to be known, the work has yet to be found. Anghiari is a spectacular city. Small and mainly residential the inhabitants have a breathtaking view of the Upper Tiber Valley, and I am sure on a clear day Sansepolcro can be seen. Anghiari is located on the site of a Roman settlement. It was a prominent city in the 11th century due to its central location between central Italy and the Adriatic Sea. Anghiari was home to the Camaldolesi monks. The walls surround Anghiari are original to the twelfth and thirteenth century. I was able to climb below the original walls to see how they were constructed, and the craftsmanship was astounding. The idea of walls being over eight hundred years old and still solid as a rock is unheard of the United States where the oldest buildings are only a couple of hundred years old.

Walking around Anghiari felt like walking in a maze. Every narrow street would dead end on another and I ended up just winding around the city. In a way I enjoyed just admiring the gardens full of ripe tomatoes, dogs hanging out of windows waiting to be petted, and flowers that peaked from behind wooden gates. During the time I spent in Anghiari I think I saw more animals than I did people. The most spectacular part of the entire trip was weaving my way down to the edge of the wall. From that exact position I could see out onto the hazy valley and the mountains beyond. I like to think that my eyes could spot Sansepolcro in the haze, but honestly I might have needed binoculars.

The second walled city I was fortunate enough to visit was Urbino. The two hour bus ride up to Urbino was one hairpin turn after another climbing up into the mountains of Italy. At one moment when I looked out of the window the entire valley below was filled with billows of pure white fog. If Anghiari reminded me of Lord of the Rings, the valley of fog looked straight out of a Jurassic Park movie. It would not have even fazed me if a pterodactyl had swooped in front of the bus. Even though the driver could only see a few feet ahead he maneuvered every turn like a professional racecar driver. Urbino is most well known for the Ducal Palace, home to Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, and the setting for the fictional Book of the Courtier. There I was able to see firsthand what life in medieval Urbino might have been like.

This picturesque medieval city is surrounded by again the most amazing walls. The idea of a walled city is unheard of in the United States, sure we have our civil war forts scattered along the east coast, but they are nothing compared to these impressive cities. The Ducal Palace was an illusion. What appeared to be a modest home was an entire city devoted to the nobility of Urbino. The palace at its height, could house five hundred nobles. Vast bedrooms, ballrooms, and countless guest rooms were filled with art, sculpture, and an insight into the court life. The staircases were made with small treads to accommodate the men on horseback, and virtually every room was able to be accessed by horseback (further emphasizing its vastness). After a tour of the palace and the enormous stables and quarters below I was convinced that I had only seen a portion of the Ducal Palace.
After my short but exciting stay in Urbino and my visit to Anghiari I have changed my desired super power from mind reading, to listening to walls. I know if I could listen hard enough they would tell me the most amazing stories, because let’s face it, walls can hear everything. Until later, Ciao!

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