Toscana - Places to Visit - Cortona
Arriving in Cortona from the bottom of the valley allows you to take in the layout of the city, which is situated on the slope of the mountainous ridge dividing the Valdichiana from the Tiber valley.
The most striking features are the city walls, joined up by the Fortezza del Girifalco, and the compactness of the city centre which comprises just part of the area included within the walls. At a glance it's possible to see the important role the city has had since Etruscan times.
In that period, Cortona was undoubtedly a point of local convergence, but it also lay at the crossroads of two important roads, one linking Arezzo and Perugia, and the other joining the Val Tiberina and Siena.
Later, in the Roman period, it maintained its importance because just below it ran the Via Cassia, the main means of communication between Etruria and Rome.
It was only later, when the valley became marshy, that the more westerly Chiusi-Florence route was developed, and this was undoubtedly one of the factors leading to the marginalising of Cortona during the Imperial age.
The city's most marked period of growth took place during the period of the comune city-state in the 13th century; the Palazzo Comunale had already been built by 1241, and just a few years later, in 1245, the comune gave the monk Elia the land on which to build the Church of S. Francesco.
During this century many families from the surrounding countryside moved into the city, and the Palazzo del Popolo was built around 1250. In the same period, a fountain (subsequently destroyed in 1530) was also placed in the piazza.
Although many of the most distinctive and characteristic buildings were erected in this part of the century, it was only later, after a period in which Ghibelline Cortona was in conflict with the Guelph Arezzo, that the architectural structure of the city really took on substance.
After the Battle of Montaperti and the defeat of the Tuscan Guelphs, the fuoriusciti from Cortona returned to the city in 1261 with the support of Siena.
The restoration of the city, the laying out of the street plan, and the further development that occurred in this period definitively established the shape of the city. Soon after this, in 1325, Cortona was elevated to the status of city with the institution of a separate diocese.
The city was enriched over the centuries by artists who produced some of the finest products of Tuscan and Italian art.
The urban fabric of the city has only really undergone substantial modification since the end of the 19th century due to the changing nature of social relations, the economy, and the communications network.
The building of the railway station at Camucia meant that new settlements sprang up there in the 20th century, with a consequent depopulation of the old city centre.
In more recent years, the growth of tourism and other commercial activity, combined with environmental concerns and objective structural restrictions, have led to the sensible decision to close a large part of the city centre to traffic.
This is not a limitation, however, because you only need private transport to visit the sites lying outside the city walls. A visit to the central Piazza della Repubblica, the heart of the city, is a must; dominating the piazza is the Palazzo Comunale, opposite which there is the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo.
In the adjacent piazza there is the Palazzo Pretorio (previously called Casali), which houses the Museo dell'Accademia Etrusca, established in 1727 with a donation by Abbot Onofrio Baldelli, to which further artworks and archaeological finds were subsequently added.
The Duomo was built in the 15th century, taking in the pre-existing Pieve di S. Maria; it has a simple stone facade and some signs of the earlier construction can still be seen. The right flank has a 16th century portico altered in the 19th century when the upper gallery was built.
The campanile, with two layers of double mullioned windows, is the work of Francesco Luparelli. The interior, with a central nave and two side aisles, dates back to the 15th century, but it was partly altered at the beginning of the 18th century.
If you visit Cortona in mid-August, you'll get the chance to taste particularly good grilled steaks. The main dish of the Sagra della bistecca is succulent steaks from cattle reared in the valley below, the famous chianini.
A few weeks later, Cortona is host for 10-15 days to the Mostra mercato nazionale del mobile antico. Cortona has become one of the most important centres for antique furniture in Italy, and the fair is an important opportunity to exhibit.
Less important but no less interesting is the Fiera del rame lavorato held at the end of April, where a wide variety of copper products go on display. Cortona has discovered a wide popularity after the publishing of the best-seller "Under the Tuscan Sun".