Cortona Tourist Attractions
SituationThe town of Cortona lies close to the eastern border of Tuscany, north of the Lake Trasimene in Umbria, and 30km/19mi south of Arezzo.HistoryCortona is one of the oldest towns in Italy. It was one of the twelve cities of the Etruscan League, and later became a Roman colony. During the Middle Ages it passed through various vicissitudes before coming under the control of Florence in 1411. The painter Luca Signorelli (d. 1523) was born in Cortono in 1441 or 1450.
Piazza della Repúbblica
In the center of Cortona, built on the slopes of the hill and still surrounded by well-preserved walls, lies the Piazza della Repúbblica, on the east side of which is the Palazzo del Pópolo (14th century, rebuilt 1514 onwards).
The west side of the square is dominated by the imposing Palazzo Comunale, which was already in existence in 1241; it was rebuilt in 1275, enlarged in the 16th century and rather clumsily restored in 1896. The front of the palazzo is given its characteristic aspect by the battlemented clock-tower (1509) and the flight of steps (also 16th century) leading up to it.
To the northwest of the Town Hall in Cortona is the Piazza Signorelli, with the Palazzo Pretorio, the facade of which bears the coats of arms of former podestàs; it now houses the Accademia Etrusca (founded 1726) and the Museum of Etruscan Antiquities (Etruscan bronze candelabrum; fifth century B.C.).
Museo dell'Accadémia Etrusca
The Palazzo Pretorio in Cortona houses the Accadémia Etrusca, which was founded in 1726. The museum contains Roman and Egyptian antiquities as well as Etruscan material. Its greatest treasure is a famous Etruscan bronze lamp of the fifth century B.C. Notable among the Etruscan bronze statues are a figure of Jupiter hurling a thunderbolt ("Giove Tonante") and winged goddess (both seventh-sixth centuries B.C.). The Egyptian section of the museum displays a rare funerary boat of painted wood (12th Dynasty, c. 2000 B.C.), sarcophagi, etc. Also of interest are the collection of coins and medals, ceramics and paintings by Italian masters, mainly of the 13th-17th centuries. On the east side of Piazza Signorelli is the rear of the 15th century Palazzo Fierli (main front on Via Benedetti).
A short distance north of Piazza Signorelli, in the Piazza del Duomo, stands the cathedral (Santa Maria), a Renaissance structure built over an earlier Romanesque church. In its present form it is predominantly the work of Giuliano da Sangallo (1445-1516) or of his followers. The interior is divided into three aisles by slender columns, with fine carved altars (1644) by Francesco Mazzuoli. The choir contains a number of good paintings, including some by pupils of Luca Signorelli. Adjoining the cathedral is the Bishop's Palace (Palazzo Vescovile), the present aspect of which dates mainly from the late 19th century.
Opposite the cathedral in Cortona, to the west, is the Chiesa del Gesù, a Jesuit church now deconsecrated. It has an unusual structure, consisting of two churches, one on top of the other. Originally built between 1498 and 1505, it was altered in the 16th century by Giorgio Vasari. The upper church and its adjoining rooms now house the Museo Diocesano (Diocesan Museum).Among the most notable items are works by Fra Angélico ("Annunciation", triptych with Virgin and Child; scenes from the life of St Dominic), Pietro Lorenzetti ("Crucifixion", "Madonna") and the school of Duccio di Buoninsegna, altar-pieces by Luca Signorelli and Sassetta, a Roman sarcophagus of the second century A.D. and the Vagnucci Reliquary (1457), of gilded bronze, silver and precious stones. The lower church has rich fresco decoration painted or designed by Giorgio Vasari (16th century) and a painted terracotta "Descent from the Cross" (c. 1500).
To the east of the cathedral, from the Porta Colonia, there is an impressive view of the town walls (2,600m/8,580ft long; lower parts Etruscan).
To the east of the Palazzo Comunale is the Church of San Francesco, the building of which began in 1245, making it one of the earliest Franciscan churches. The exterior of this aisleless Gothic church is plain and undecorated; the interior was, rather unhappily, remodeled in the Baroque period. Its greatest treasure (not always visible) is a Reliquary of the True Cross, consisting of a Byzantine ivory tablet in a 16th century frame. In the choir can be seen the tomb of the church's founder, Fra Elia da Cortona. The painter Luca Signorelli (d. 1523) is also believed to have been buried here.
St Dominics Church
The Church of San Doménico in Cortona, outside the town walls to the south, was originally the church of a Dominican friary to which the famous painter Fra Angélico (Giovanni di Pietro, c. 1400-55) belonged for a time. This aisleless Gothic church was built in the early 15th century, in the plain architectural style favored by the Mendicant Orders, and altered later in the century. The altar has a triptych by Lorenzo Gherini (14th/15th centuries); in the chapel on the right is a "Madonna with Angels and Saints" by Luca Signorelli (15th century) and on the wall of the presbytery an "Assumption" by Bartolomeo della Gatta (15th century).
Madonna del Calcinaio
From the Piazza Garibaldi a twisting road with four sharp bends descends for 3km/2mi to the southern slope of the town hill, on which stands the church of Santa Maria del Calcinaio, a beautiful domed building on a cruciform plan by Francesco di Giorgio of Siena. The church was dedicated to a miraculous Madonna (originally on the wall of a lime pit = calcinaio).
Santa Maria Nuova
Outside the town walls (Porta Colonia), to the north, is the Church of Santa Maria Nuova, a Renaissance structure on a square plan with a high dome. Designed by Giovanni Battista Infregliati, it was completely remodeled by Giorgio Vasari. Of the paintings in the interior the most notable is a "Birth of the Virgin" by Alessandro Allori (16th century).
Above the center of the old town of Cortona, half-way up to the Fortezza, is the little 15th century Church of San Nicolò which has a small porch with slender columns. The interior (remodeled in Baroque style) has paintings by Luca Signorelli (two-sided panel-painting, "Descent from the Cross" and "Madonna Enthroned"; fresco, "Madonna with Saints").
St Margarets Church
Just below the Fortezza, on the flank of the hill, is the Santuario di Santa Margherita, with a pilgrimage church dedicated to St Margaret of Cortona (1247-97). The present church, in Neo- Byzantine style, was built between 1856 and 1897. The Saint's tomb dates from 1362; her relics are in a silver shrine (1646) on the high altar. From the square in front of the church there is a magnificent view into the Val di Chiana.
High above the old town of Cortona, at the northeast corner of the walls, looms the Fortezza Medicea. This Médici stronghold was built in 1556 on earlier foundations. It now houses an agricultural college and research institute. Fine panoramic views.
Church of Santa Maria del Calcinaio
From the Porta Sant'Agostino, the southwestern town gate, the road to Camucia runs southeast to the Renaissance Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie al Calcinaio or of the Madonna del Calcinaio (1485-1513). This is one of the most architecturally important Renaissance churches of Tuscany, was designed by Francesco di Giorgio Martini, it is a finely proportioned aisleless domed church on a Latin cross plan. It was built to house a miraculous image of the Virgin, originally on the wall of a limestone quarry (calcinaio) belonging to the local Tanners' Guild and now on the high altar of the church.
Cave of Pythagoras
To the south of Cortona (reached by the road from the Porta Sant'Agostino) is the so-called Cave of Pythagoras, an Etruscan tomb of the fourth century B.C. on a cruciform plan. The tomb chamber, measuring 2.05m by 2.53m/6ft 9in. by 8ft 4in., was enclosed by large wedge-shaped blocks. The tomb has no connection with Pythagoras; the name seems to come from a confusion between Cortona and the Greek city of Kroton (now Crotone) in Calabria. There are other Etruscan tombs at Camucia and Il Sodo, in the plain below the town.
Outside Cortona to the east is the Palazzone Passerini, built by Giovanni Battista Caporali for Cardinal Passerini. Dominated by a massive battlemented tower, it has a charming garden with arcades. The rooms of the palace are decorated with frescoes; those in the chapel are attributed to Luca Signorelli, and the story goes that while working on them in 1532 he fell from the scaffolding and died from his injuries. The palace now houses an educational establishment.
Convento delle Celle
The Convento delle Celle, on the slopes of Monte Sant'Egidio, is a charming complex of monks' cells, the first of which were founded by St Francis of Assisi between 1211 and 1221. Visitors can see the little church (1573) and a number of cells. From the convent there is a very fine view of Cortona.
Map of Cortona Attractions