Cortona

Cortona, founded by the Greek demigod Dardanus, is the undisputed gem of the Chiana Valley of the territory of Arezzo and one of the most important tourist attractions in Tuscany, due to its artistic, archaeological and natural heritages that, every year, are visited by people from all over the world.

In the 8th and 7th centuries BC, Etruscans turned the city into a “Lucumonia”, one of the 12 city-states in the Etruscan Region that were allied among them. In 310 BC, Cortona was conquered by Rome, becoming its ally.  Near the city, in 217 BC, took place one of the most violent battles between Romans and Carthaginians during the Second Punic War, called “Battle of the Trasimeno”, in which Hannibal won.

From 27 BC, with the Augustan Reform, Cortona became one of the municipalities of Etruria. The luxurious villa that was found in the locality of Ossaia also dates back to the Imperial phase of Roman history. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the city of Cortona lived a long phase of decadence that ended in the 12th century, when it became a free town under the diocese of Arezzo. Then, against Arezzo, Cortona fought some battles, like the one of 1258 that ended with the occupation and ransacking of Cortona, with the approval of the bishop of Arezzo Guglielmino degli Ubertini.

In 1325, wanting to weaken the power held by Guido Tarlati, the ghibelline bishop of Arezzo, pope John 22nd created the diocese of Cortona that existed until the unification of the dioceses of Arezzo, Sansepolcro and Cortona. Ranieri Casali became lord of the city and his family ruled it until the beginning of the 1400s, when Cortona was annexed by the Florentine Republic, becoming an important outpost on the border with the Papal States until the Unification of Italy.

Listing all of the art and architectural pearls that are in the perfectly kept historical centre of Cortona is a very hard task. Starting from the Archaeological Park, divided in 11 different places and magnificent monumental Etruscan tombs such as the Tumuli del Sodo, from the 6th century BC, the Tanella Angori and the Tanella Pitagora, from the 2nd century BC, then continuing on to the religious and nonreligious buildings from various points in time, the city never ceases to amaze.

Also the city walls, built in the 4th century BC, are Etruscan and largely were used as a base for the layers of walls built by Romans and during the Middle Ages. Around 1550, Cosimo I de’ Medici built the Girifalco Fortress on the remains of other fortifications.

Going up and down, along the steep alleys, one can really sense the history of Cortona, almost around every corner. The Town Hall dates back to the 12th century and has an elegant stairway that starts in Piazza della Repubblica. Casali palace, built during the 1200s in Piazza Signorelli, was the dwelling of the lords of the town during the 14th century and then the Florentine magistrate lived there. It was restored during the 1600s and nowadays, inside it there is the MAEC – Museum of the Etruscan Academy and of the city of Cortona, where the local Etruscan Academy, founded in 1727, has its collection on display.

Inside the museum it is possible to see works of art that narrate the history of Cortona, from the prehistory to the 1900s. Unique items like the “Etruscan Chandelier” of the 4th century BC and the “Tabula Cortonensis”, a bronze plaque of the 2nd century BC with the longest inscription in Etruscan language ever found, are right next to the works of Pinturicchio, Luca Signorelli, Pietro Berrettini and Gino Severini. In Piazza Signorelli there is also the prestigious Signorelli Theatre inaugurated in 1854.

The Diocesan Museum in Duomo square is another point not to be missed and inside it there are many works of art of Pietro Lorenzetti, Beato Angelico, Bartolomeo della Gatta and Luca Signorelli.

The tour of the churches of Cortona starts with the Co-cathedral of Our Lady of Assumption (Concattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta), built between the 5th and 6th centuries on the remains of a pagan temple, and the Sanctuary of st. Margherita, opened in 1304 but fully restored during the second half of the 1800s in a neogothic style, in which there are the remains of the patron of Cortona, Santa Margherita. The church of st. Cristoforo was founded at the end of the 12th century. The church of st. Francesco was promoted by the franciscan monk Elia from Cortona around 1250. Still in the 13th century, the churches of st. Agostino, now an auditorium, and of st. Benedetto, reconstructed in 1722, were built. The church of st. Domenico was constructed at the end of 1300s and, in the following centuries, were built the churches of st. Niccolò (15th century), st. Marco, st. Chiara and of the Holy Trinity (16th century); In town there are also the church of the Holy Spirit, 17th century, and of st. Filippo Neri, 18th century. The present aspect of these churches derives from some restorations.

Outside the historic center, three Renaissance masterpieces can be admired: the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie al Calcinaio, attributed to Francesco di Giorgio Martini, begun in 1485; the Palazzone, the residence of the powerful cardinal Silvio Passerini built between 1521 and 1527 according to the design of Giovan Battista Caporali; and the Church of Santa Maria Nuova designed by Giorgio Vasari in 1554. In the years 1554-55, Vasari himself and his collaborator Cristofano Gherardi, known as il Doceno, painted the oratory of the Company of Jesus with “Sacrifices of the Old Testament,” “Conversion of Saul,” “Descent into Limbo,” and “Transfiguration.”

The Celle convent (Convento delle Celle) was founded by Saint Francis in 1211 and the monastery of the Contesse, opened in 1225 as a convent for the Poor Clares and then for the Benedictine nuns.

Hamlets and historical places are scattered in all of the territory of Cortona, one of the biggest in Italy, that is composed by a mountain area near the Tiber valley, a lake area near the Trasimeno lake, and the part that is fully inside the Chiana valley, this last one that borders with the municipalities of Foiano and Castiglion Fiorentino.

Cortona contains many hamlets and small towns, some of them heavily populated, like Camucia and Terontola, each one with its own history. Among all of them, in Farneta there is the abbey of st. Mary (9th/10th century), Metelliano and its rural church of st. Michele Arcangelo that is of paleochristian heritage and was built on the remains of a temple dedicated to Bacchus and then rebuilt two times by Langobards and in the 11th century, and Pierle for the remains of the mighty keep built in the 11th century and reconstructed during the 1300s to defend Cortona against the attacks of Perugia and demolished in the 16th century by Medicis.

Cortona, an ancient city of Etruscan origin

Girifalco fortress

Basilica of Santa Margherita

Basilica of Santa Margherita

Town Hall

Annunciation, Beato Angelico (1430), Diocesan Museum

Palazzo Casali, MAEC, Museum of the Etruscan Academy

MAEC, Museum of the Etruscan Academy

MAEC, Museum of the Etruscan Academy

MAEC, Museum of the Etruscan Academy

Giorgio Vasari and Cristoforo Gherardi, known as Il Doceno, Frescoes of the Oratory of the Church of Gesù (1555)

Giorgio Vasari, Church of Santa Maria Nuova (1550)

Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie al Calcinaio

Tumulo II del Sodo / Altar for funeral ceremonies

Hermitage of Le Celle

Hermitage of Le Celle

Hermitage of Le Celle

The Valdichiana with Cortona in the background.

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