Things to see in Cortona: palaces, churches and fortressesJanuary 20, 2015
Cortona is a town located in the Italian region of Tuscany, specifically in the province of Arezzo. It has about 22,400 inhabitants and it is situated on a hill 600 meters above sea level, bordering the Umbria region. It is one of the oldest settlements, its origin dating back to the Etruscans age: thanks to its strategic position, in fact, it allowed to largely control the surrounding territories. The Etruscans built the imposing walls that still surround the city today, as well as the funerary altar adorned with sphinxes and the many noble tombs scattered all around the town’s territory.
With its 3000 years old history, Cortona is a destination that offers many attractions to tourists. First of all, one cannot ignore the historical center and Piazza della Repubblica, which is the city's main square and also the point where the old Roman roads crossed. In this square there are both the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo, which was built in the thirteenth century, and the Town Hall. The latter was built in the fourteenth century and it initially consisted of a single room, later expanded during the fifteenth century.
Adjacent to Piazza della Repubblica is Piazza Signorelli, where you can find Palazzo Casali. Built in the sixteenth century, it has always been considered the palace of culture and it is named after the family living there until the fall of Cortona, which occurred in 1409; it has undergone major renovations over the centuries and now it houses the Etruscan Academy Museum - MAEC, whose visit is highly recommended. Next to it stands the Teatro Signorelli, a neoclassical building of the nineteenth century.
In Piazza Duomo is the Concattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, also known as the Cortona Cathedral. Built in the early eleventh century, on the ruins of an Etruscan pagan temple, it was extensively renovated between 1481 and 1507. Today it conserves paintings of great value, as The Reliquario seicentesco. Just opposite the Cathedral stands the Diocesan Museum, which collects objects and works of art from local churches; the collection began in 1945 and it includes works by Pietro Lorenzetti, Beato Angelico, Bartolomeo della Gatta and Luca Signorelli.
In Cortona you can find a lot of religious buildings. Friar Elia built the Oratory of San Francesco in 1245, above some ancient Etruscan baths; it has a typical Franciscan and Gothic pattern, preserving different and valuable paintings, as well as the relic of the Holy Cross brought by Friar Elia himself from Constantinople. In the highest part of Cortona there are also the Church of San Niccolò, the one of San Cristoforo, the Monastero of Santa Chiara and the Basilica of Santa Margherita, all dating back to the period between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries.
At the highest point of the city, almost overtaking it, there is the Medici Fortress, also known as the Fortress of Girifalco. It was erected in 1561 at the behest of Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici, for defensive purposes; the imposing building has a trapezoidal shape and four bastions of irregular shape. It is almost entirely open to the public, including the long walkway, and it hosts the "Centre for Studies and Documentation on Rural Life of the Valdichiana and Trasimeno".
Worth a mention is also the Eremo delle Celle, dating back to the thirteenth century and founded by St. Francis of Assisi himself. He arrived in Cortona looking for a place of peace and meditation and found the perfect shelter in here. Even today, you can visit his cell, which remained intact after the saint's death, while the waterfall in front of the monastery offers a very impressive sight.
Finally, going out of Cortona and driving across the country all around the city, you will find Etruscan tombs, Roman villas, Benedictine abbeys and medieval castles, taking a tour of great historical and artistic value.