You fall in love with Cortona, in the province of Arezzo. An Etruscan gem, a food and wine paradise, a set of magnificent and breathtaking views; this city can offer history and art at will, spirituality, well-being and entertainment for all tastes.
I mean, if you go to Cortona, you will find a real diamond at the top of the hill. Here, there are some tips for visiting this beautiful town less than an hour’s drive from Arezzo. Get ready to be amazed.
A stroll through the old city centre
Whether you are by car or by public transport as you climb the hairpin bends you can get an idea of the incredible view you will get on arrival. From the terrace of Piazza Garibaldi your gaze sweeps over the whole Val di Chiana to Trasimeno Lake. When the sky over Cortona is clear from this square you can even see Monte Amiata. Not bad as a business card.
Of course, you are just at the beginning of your full immersion in the beauty of this town. Take Via Nazionale where refined buildings host shops and clubs and where you can get advice from the expert traders and restaurant owners of the city
You will recognize Piazza della Repubblica thanks to the Fourteenth-century Palazzo Comunale, with its stately facade and the clock tower. Climb the sumptuous staircase and enjoy the view from above.
From here, every direction is fine to start your tour in the old town. The Roman, Medieval and Renaissance past of Cortona is written in the streets and buildings, in the details of the architecture and in the structure of the city itself.
To the discovery of the Etruscan Cortona
If you are fond of archaeology, Cortona is the perfect tourist destination for you. Observe its massive walls, whose original layout dates back to the Etruscans. Once upon a time, here, there was an important lucumony for this ancient civilization, which was known as Curtun.
Etruscan Cortona is very famous for its the burial mounds of the Archaeological Park in Sodo. If you dedicate a visit to these graves you can immediately understand why the locals call them “Melons”. No one remains indifferent in front of the majestic staircase-terrace and the oriental style decorations of these monuments. Burials are also time machines capable of transmitting to you the mysterious charm of a great civilization and its rituals.
Another treasure, belonging to the people of Etruria, is the Tabula Cortonensis, which is a bronze foil engraved with an inscription. This is the third Etruscan text by length, found so far. To see it buy a ticket for the MAEC (the Museum of the Etruscan Academy and the City of Cortona).
Keep your curiosity under control and contain your surprise to discover the heritage which is preserved. It is enough to say that you will jump from one era to another, always in the sign of art. Pieces of particular importance are the Musa Polimnia, an Eighteenth-century painting inspired by a Roman fresco, the Tempietto Ginori in white and blue porcelain, an Egyptian funeral boat in wood and the works of the futurist painter from Cortona Gino Severini.
In the name of Signorelli: the Diocesan Museum and the theatre
Cortona was the birthplace of famous people: an example being the Renaissance painter Luca Signorelli. One of the two main squares of the city, where Palazzo Casali (headquarters of the MAEC) is located, is named after him. If you want to admire some of the works of this master of painting the right destination is the Diocesan Museum del Capitolo of Cortona.
Here, you will also find a selection of works, many of which have a religious theme and are collected in several churches of the territory; they are of different historical periods and authors. Study the expressions and postures of the protagonists chosen by the artists, the various uses of the gold and the wonderful Roman sarcophagus with the sculpted scene of Dionysus fighting the Amazons.
Even the Nineteenth-century theatre of Cortona is dedicated to Signorelli. You can walk under the amazing arcaded loggia of this neoclassical building or enter and take in theatrical shows, musicals and films.
Spirituality and wonderful places
In the land of Arezzo there are many places linked to the preaching of San Francesco. A place to visit is the Eremo Le Celle in Cortona. It is an oasis of tranquility in the middle of nature a few kilometers from the town. This place has the magical power to predict inner listening and peace. You are in one of the first settlements wanted by Francis of Assisi, where today live the Capuchin friars.
Stone and water are the predominant elements in the Celle di Cortona. A realm of silence and simplicity, where an intense mysticism touches and embraces you. Here, more forms of reception are possible, depending on whether you are secular or religious. This could be just the experience you need to regenerate and find yourself again.
The Basilica of Saint Margaret is another extraordinary place to visit. Here the remains of the patron saint of Cortona are kept. The church has Medieval origins, but it was completely transformed in baroque and modern times. Practically, only the central rose window in the facade remains the one of the Fourteenth century.
You can park in front of the basilica, but we advise you to walk up until the top of the hill. Trust me because what awaits you will reward you for the toil. The interior of the religious building is a riot of colors and works of art (many are gifts of the faithful to Saint Margaret of Cortona). The several decorations do not prevent you from perceiving the authentic charm of the basilica. The atmosphere of recollection and sincere devotion which you breathe here make it shine with its own light.
Your tour in Cortona ends at the highest point of the city. It is the Girifalco Fortress, on top of the hill. The four bastions of the fortress were built by Cosimo I de’ Medici, but the castle existed since the Etruscan time.
It has been transformed over the centuries: from a prison to a refuge for the population during the Second World War. Explore the manor and try to find some trace of its history and the different uses to which it was destined in time.
The fortified perimeter also encloses garden areas where, in summer, exhibitions and outdoor concerts are held. If you think about it, it is an ideal location for cultural events, a bit secluded but close to the centre of Cortona. The dreamy view from up here gives you an intoxicating feeling.
Try to collect in your mind all the wonders Cortona paid in tribute
e to you. The emotions you feel are the most precious thing which this extraordinary destination in the province of Arezzo could give you.