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The Angles of Anghiari

Anghiari is a small town.  It’s about 5,500 people.  I call it a partial hill town because if you come upon it from the east you will see it as a majestic hill town, but if you come upon it from the west, it looks pretty ho-hum.  The hill it occupies kind of flattens out on the west side with more gentle slopes than the eruption that appears on the east side.  It doesn’t crown the hill so much as spill down it.  I like this effect.  It’s like a secret coming in from the west – you just don’t know what you’re in for.

I’ve been here dozens of times and each time I see something new, or a new perspective.  These ancient buildings and streets have many nuances.  I think you could sit and study an alley or building for hours and discover new things about it by the moment.  The patterns of the stonework, the indentions and niches – do they serve a purpose or just aesthetic or whimsy?  Was there once a shrine there that has disappeared over time?

Much about this village, and most other towns like this, looks haphazard and random.  But I think it’s anything but that.  Most of these buildings that seem to lean on each for support are about 1,000 years old.  So not only were they built for very specific reasons, they have really stood the test of time.  These ancient stone buildings have housed people, shops, animals, warriors, and nobility for over 1,000 years.  Walking these cobbled streets, you truly feel like you’re browsing through time and your feet are the most recent in a long line to trod upon them.  You feel both a part of the past and an intruder all at the same time.  It’s simply amazing to me that people have inhabited these buildings for so long.  For Americans, whose experience with physical history is limited to a few hundred years, this is major stuff.  I can’t shake the feeling that I’m on a movie set or at a theme park.  I have to keep telling myself that this is real.

And if 1,000 years wasn’t old enough, there are Etruscan ruins underneath Anghiari which date back to BC.  These were discovered when the city hall was renovated a few years ago.  The Etruscans were all over this part of Tuscany from about the the 9th to the 3rd centuries BC.

There’s a church at the bottom of the Anghiari that dates back to the 7th century, Santa Stefano.  It’s not usually open, but recently we went by and the door was open.  We went in and had a quick tour.  It is

dramatically different from the other churches around in its stark simplicity.  It’s a small space with not a lot of ornamentation, and you really feel a presence there.  People have been worshiping in that space for about 1,400 years.  And they still do.  That’s another part of living with antiquity – you use it, you don’t make a museum of it.

There are many angles to this small town.  I feel like I’ll probably never discover them all and I certainly won’t know the history or meaning behind them, but at least I can marvel at them and enjoy their mystery.  As meaningful as this experience is for me – this year of living in a place so different from anything I’ve ever known – I will always feel like an uninvited, but welcome, guest in many ways.  And everyday that I’m here, I will thank my hosts for letting me in and letting me stay.  And for letting me become part of the history of this place.

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