Anghiari, but not Poppi, 26.10.05
Posted by Lisa Hill on September 12, 2006
Donatella’s advice had served us well so far, but her suggestion of an alternative route to Poppi turned out to be a disaster for drivers not used to tortuous twists and turns in the back roads of Tuscany! I had read about Poppi in H.V.Morton’s A Traveller in Italy, and was keen to see his favourite medieval town. According to Morton’s book, written back in 1964 so not to be trusted entirely, 800 incunabula and 600 illuminated manuscripts were still in the town library, but I wanted to see the castle even if the books had been moved elsewhere. It was not to be.
After an eternity of narrow, winding, badly signposted hairpins and sharp turns up a precipitous slope, we had made it only to La Verna. The restaurant was closed but its hosts took pity on us and rustled up some tagliatelli Bolognese before we soldiered on to Bibbiani, a large industrial town of no interest whatsoever. There we turned around and went back, with Poppi visible in the distance but not enough time left to see the things I wanted to see.
It’s a good thing we had at least stopped off at Anghiari en route or the day would have been a total write off. Anghiari is the birthplace of Piero della Francesca and it’s a delightful little town with narrow winding pathways and plenty to see. It has a fairytale castle perched high above the Tiber valley, with stunning views to admire over coffee and cakes. This strategic position made it crucial in 1440 during the Battle of Anghiari, between the Milanese Visconti armies and the Florentines allied with the Pope.
Inside the Battle of Anghiari Museum there were ceramics on display, in an effort to revitalise the town and reverse the decline in population. The works of the master craftsmen from the early 1900s were there, juxtaposed with stuff about the battle of Anghiari which was apparently a decisive one and they are very proud of it. There are copies of Leonardo da Vinci’s cartoons of the horses in combat, but I was captivated by the scale models of the battle.
There were tiny little soldiers all lined up in very precise (and dare I say it? rather unItalian) formations across the plain, complete with the officers’ gaily coloured tents on the hill. There were fields of maize and sheep, and the river winding through the plain, with even a tiny Roman column toppled over, in homage to its more ancient history. Cute!
My favourite, however, was the painting of a 19th century schoolroom depicting boys learning their catechism. We asked permission to photograph it, and the boys went through a tremendous performance with their competing digital cameras, while I just snapped it with my so-last-century APS film camera – and that’s the only one that came out properly!