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Sansepolcro, in the heart of the Tiber river Valley

Accommodation in Sansepolcro

Sansepolcro is situated in the very center of Italy - the city is known as the city of the Palio of the Crossbow and of flag waving. La Balestra, the crossbow competition is held with the neighbouring town of Gubbio on the second Sunday of September each year. This festival and the preceding week is the high point of the year and full of medieval pageantry. The local museum houses several of Piero Della Francesca's works. His other works are hung in the National Gallery in London and other major galleris worldwide. The Romanesque Cathedral with works of art by local painters including Raffaelino dal Colli, Perugino and a rare 9th century wooden Volto Santo (life-sized carved crucifix).

The beautiful Centro Storico is considered a fine example of the Italian Renaissance, with the main square Piazza Torre di Berta where the people of the town come to meet and shop. The Corso is the main street full of cafès, shops and palazzi where you can participate in the passeggiata on summer evenings. Antiques market held every Friday evening during the summer. Don't miss the fantastic swimming pool set in beautiful pine woods. The town is surounded by rolling hills and countryside.


Antiques market held every friday night in summer
The olympic pool of Sansepolcro set in beautiful pine woods with tennis courts and bar
(10 mins. drive from Pianettole)
Slides at the olympic pool


This area of Italy was populated first by the Etruscans, then by the Romans. The Etruscans had their principle cities in Perugia, Cortona and Arezzo (all towns within a 40 mile radius of Sansepolcro) and they used the Valtiberina (Valley of the River Tiber) as a source of timer - at that period (c. 1000 BC) the valley was covered in walnut trees. However, toward 700 BC the might of the Roman army had destroyed all the Etruscan empire and a group of Roman centurions chose the site where Sansepolcro is today to build a camp - Birtugia. A number of other Romans, including Pliny the Younger, build their summer villas in the Valtiberina.

Legend has it that the town of Sansepolcro was founded by two pilgrims returning from the Holy Land with a fragment of Christ's tomb and they chose the area as a site for a religious community and a shrine for this holy relict. The name Sansepolcro is derived from Santo Sepolcro meaning "holy sepulchre".

There is another legend that the settlement Biturgia was destroyed by a massive earthquake and so many people died entombed in the rubble that the town became known as San Sepolcro in reference to the victims. Sansepolcro, like the whole of Italy, is a seismic area and has been destroyed by an earthquake at least once in recent history. The earliest standing palazzos date from 1300 (i.e. the stone palazzo in the corner of the Piazza Torre di Berta which houses the "Happy Bar") due to a massive earthquake at the beginning of the fourteenth century which destroyed Sansepolcro.

Sansepolcro is essentially a Renaissance town and it was during this period (14th and15th centuries) that the town flourished. Sansepolcro had 26 noble families who all had stone towers attached to their elegant palazzos. However, when the powerful Medici family took over the control of Sansepolcro, they made the nobles shorten their towers to the height of the adjoining palazzos as a sign of subservience. These towers can still be seen as you walk around the town. The only tower left standing at its original height was in the center of Piazza Torre di Berta. In fact, the square was named after its tower, the Berta tower. However, the tower, having survived the Medici, was blown up by the retreating German army in 1944.

The Medici were not the only family to govern Sansepolcro. Due to the position of the town on the very edge of Tuscany, bordering with Umbria and Le Marche, control of Sansepolcro alternated between the Medici, the powerful Dukes of Montefeltro from Urbino, and, very briefly, the Church. However, Sansepolcro has never had its own ruling family and the democratic feeling that held it together during the Renaissance can still be felt today.

The town has an abundance of churches and monasteries (about 18), most dating back from the 13th and 14th centuries. For this reason, the town museum and, indeed, many of the churches are extremely rich in art. The most famous son of Sansepolcro is Piero della Francesca and four of his works can be found in the town museum. Of these the most famous is the Resurrection. This was painted for the council chamber of the town hall (in the 1400s the museum building was in fact the town hall) and has never been moved. Aldous Huxley described the Resurrection as the "greatest painting in the world," and even if you do not agree it is hard not to be impressed by this fresco. There are two points of particular interest in the picture. The first is that the figure of Christ stand with his left foot on the grave edge and, at the side of the fresco, all the plants and trees in the background are alive and flourishing (representing the rebirth of life), while the other side, where Christ's foot is still in the grave, has a desolate, dead background. The other point of interest is that one of sleeping soldiers is a self-portrait of the artist.

Other renowned artists of the same period came from Sansepolcro - Santi di Tito, Matteo di Giovanni, Raffaellino del Colle - and their works can be found in the museum and various churches. A dramatic Deposition by Rosso Fiorentino, a mannerist artist (called "Rosso Fiorentino" because he had a huge red beard and a lot of red hair and cam from Florence), can be seen in the church of San Lorenzo at the bottom of Via Luca Pacioli.

An unusual piece of art that is worth seeing is in the left-hand apse of the Cathedral. This is a carved wooden Crucifix called the Volto Santo which dates from 900 AD. It is very unusual - one of just 3 surviving examples in the whole world - and has recently been restored.

Sansepolcro's other famous son was the mathematician Luca Pacioli. For part of his life he lived in the monastery of San Francesco and two years ago a statue of Pacioli was erected in honor of the five hundredth anniversary of the publication of the Summa. It was in this book that he set out the theory of double-entry bookkeeping.

After the glories of the Renaissance, Sansepolcro went into a kind of decline. Up to the second half of the 19th century the main source of income for this area was from agriculture - mostly tobacco. Towards the end of the last century, the Buitoni family started the now famous pasta company which was extremely successful. Until then, all Italian families made their own pasta and Buitoni offered the first ready-made pasta. The company was family-owned until the mid-1980's and it is now part of Nestle. However, it is still the largest employer in Sansepolcro.

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