Cortona is a pleasant little town in the province of Arezzo in Tuscany, Italy. It is situated in the Val di Chiana or Chiana Valley and is known for its culture and artistic history throughout the region.
The city sits on the top of a hill at an altitude of 600 meters and had been enclosed by stone walls in Etruscan and Roman times. Spectacular panoramas greet people visiting Cortona as it provides beautiful views of the surrounding landscapes and of the nearby Lake Trasimeno.
The origins of its name seem to come from the name ‘Curtun’ that the locality was called during Etruscan times or the name ‘Corito’ as it was known to the Romans. Much like most of Tuscany, Cortona was once an independent state that became part of Italy after the Italian Wars of Independence.
The central square within the town is Piazza della Repubblica (Republic Square) where the Palazzo Comunale (Town Hall) was built in the 13th century and still exists to this day. This piazza is also the most famous within Cortona as compared to the Piazza Signorelli and the Piazza Garibaldi.
However, both of these are worth seeing as well. Piazza Garibaldi was built by the French during the Napoleonic wars. A visit here, to the Piazza Carbonaia, as the locals call it, will allow you to see some spectacular views of the Lake Trasimeno.
Piazza Signorelli is located adjacent to the Republic Square, where Sunday Flea Markets are held. Antiques are sold with these markets. The Teatro Signorelli (Theatre of Signorelli) is also situated in this piazza and many shows and presentations are held here for tourists and locals alike. The Piazza Signorelli has become an important location for all the various festivals held within Cortona.
Although the city is small, it offers various places of interest for visitors and tourists. Among these places is the Duomo di Cortona (Cortona Cathedral), dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Museo Diocesano (Diocesan Museum), where some valuable art collections are put on display. The town’s major artistic treasures are two panels made by Beato Angelico, an ‘Annunciation’ and a ‘Madonna and Child with Saints’; both of which are displayed within this museum.
Another place to visit is the Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca Cortona – MAEC (The Etruscan Academy Museum of the City of Cortona), where findings from various archaeological sites have been collected. The museum is located inside the Palazzo Casali and the relics are mostly from the Etruscan and Roman times, but some historic displays of Medieval and Renaissance can also be found here. The museum was actually founded in 1727 with the collections and library of Onofrio Baldelli.
There is even an Archaeological Park in the city and visitors can go there to see more of the findings if they have a keen interest in historic findings.
If you want to see true Renaissance architecture, visit the two churches of Santa Maria Nuova and Santa Maria delle Grazie al Calcinaio, built in the 16th century. The Santa Maria Nuova is a square church built by the famous Giorgio Vasari, topped with a dome that was finished in the 17th century. Huge columns support the internal structure and inside are works of art by famous Italian artists.
The Santa Maria delle Grazie al Calcinaio was built by Francesco di Giorgio Martini and is also covered in a central cupola or dome. It was restored over time and has a combination of ancient as well as modern architecture. It is considered to be the most beautiful structure made in the Renaissance within the region.
The main street Via Nazionale, is the only street in town without an incline and is still known to the locals as Ruga Piana. It offers many different shops where local handicrafts are sold. Red wine is a specialty of the region and all the wine bars offer a wide selection for you to choose from. Local as well as Tuscan cuisine is sold at the numerous restaurants around town.
The Tuscan Sun Festival is held here each year in the summer and the people of Cortona celebrate this event with great joy and anticipation. It is a celebration of the arts and many international artists often participate in it as well. Hiking, Biking and Horseback Riding are a few activities that tourists can enjoy within this area.
Leave the city walls behind and roam the luscious countryside to see the true beauty of Cortona. If you want to get close to nature, you can’t go much farther from it here. So book Cortona as you next holiday destination!