We first saw it when climbing over the tail of the Apennines on what’s touted as Europe’s straightest road, though there’s not a lot of opposition there. It’s listed as one of the ‘most beautiful villages in Italy’ though I wonder how the 13th century walls, renovated in the 15th and 16th centuries, rate on the scale of beauty. They’re still attractively intact, as is most of the town, though here and there you can clearly see the architecture has been moulded from more ancient brickworks.
Anghiari — a hilltop town in the provence of Arezzo, Tuscany, Italy — is tricky to access. You park outside the town (as you do with most) but there’s a bus takes you somewhere further up. Just where we never find out because we stumble over Busatti, a place I’d targeted for Lorraine. Set in Palazzo Morgalanti, a grandiose name for an interesting building, it’s more than just a fabric shop, it has history running through its veins, including machinery more than a century old that is still used today though that is one storey down from the retail outlet that we first walk into.
The family opened a store here in 1795 and kicked off manufacturing in 1842 when Mario Busatti installed eight wooden looms and a warping machine. They source cotton from Egypt, linen from Ireland and wool from the Apennines. Woad was once a great colouring agent and made fortunes for traders throughout Europe and it was grown in the area before the dyes from India took over. Today, it has been resurrected and Busatti still use it.
At one stage, post-World War II, the company was run by Francesca, widowed and with eight children! Her granddaughter, who runs the show today, remembers her with fondness and passion. You can sense the pride in the place as you walk through the imaginative displays and see the faces on the staff.
It got a whole lot better when we were asked if we’d like to join a private tour of the workings beneath. Try holding Lorraine back from that! It just made a wonderful stop a whole lot more special.
Beneath were the historic machines and two of the incredibly noisy looms were fired up while we were there. You couldn’t help but wonder how the factory workers in the 19th and 20th centuries put up with the racket! No wonder they ended up deaf.
After buying a couple of lengths of fabric we were out on the cobbles again, passing a sign that indicated there was a lift down the way and so we found ourselves in a tunnel, part of an extension of the Convent of the Church of St Agostino, noted for housing Thomas Beckett when he was in exile. We pass a 14th century well beneath the round tower that rises above us and find the lift; except it wasn’t working.
Still, we were on the 15th century wall, a modified-for-gunpowder edifice commenced in the 12th century, looking out over the plain where the locally famous Battle of Anghiari took place in 1440. You become a part of the history walking these stones, viewing where Leonardo da Vinci’s famous lost painting of the conflict referred to. It was Florence versus Milan, a fierce rivalry that still surfaces today in football matches. The urban myth of the battle is that, after thousands of soldiers fought for four hours, only one was killed and that occurred falling accidentally off his horse. Needless to say, historians don’t concur. Still, I couldn’t help but think it would be such an Italian thing to do!
We continued to the double entry (for defensive purposes) of Porta Sant’ Angelo and then turned right and climbed to the Bastione del Vicario (bastion of the vicar) and through a gateway of the vicar that leads you to the Palazzo Pretorio where, embedded in the walls are the emblems of former justice administrators and vicars. They almost look like someone stuck some glue on the back and threw them at the walls.
We were ready for time out and stepped into a bar above the old vicar’s garden that had panoramic views across Tuscany on the other side and a distinctly Italian cemetery surrounded by pencil pines somewhere in the middle. We figure, if you have to stop, there are worse places in the world to do it.
Time marched on and we marched down, buoyed by the fact that the town has thoughtfully put maps in key places so you know just where the heck you are and, when you’re tired, the quickest way out. It’s also probably the best as we glide down narrow alleys, go between a couple of museums in old palaces (so called) at Piazza Goffredo Mameli and head down through one of the two key entries to the town, Porta Nuova and Porta San Martino, which are side by side and lead to the Piazza Baldaccio where the weekly markets are held. It’s just outside the walls and a statue of Garibaldi stands in commanding pose over the piazza.
We’re 200 metres from our car and Anghiari is behind us when we can’t help but notice a tractor on the road ahead surging along with a load of giant green leaves, which Lorraine thinks might be chard. I have no idea but reef the camera out and try to get a picture just when a local gent steps up and excitedly starts to pour out the tale of the crop. Turns out it’s tobacco, a leaf called Kentucky White that has been refined and is used mainly in cigars. He’s so excited I’m guessing he must be a shareholder in the company. I chose not to tell him about what we really think about smoking, especially in the outdoor settings where we somehow always manage to be sitting downwind when someone lights up, but we thank him for enlightening us and know we’ll remember Anghiari for a long time after this day.