The hill town of Cortona has very ancient origins, dating from Etruscan times, and is now one of the most attractive medieval hill towns in Tuscany. It also has lovely views across the surrounding olive groves and two interesting museums adding further to the interest of the town, and a visit is highly recommended.
Cortona is situated in the east of the Tuscany region of Italy and south-east of the town of Arezzo.
One of the first things you will notice after arriving in Cortona is the lack of flat streets - prepare yourself for walking up and down hills quite a lot!
Your visit to Cortona can start at the Porta San Domenico from where you can follow the Ruga Piana to reach the Piazza della Repubblica. Alternatively if you arrive at Piazzale Garibaldi, you can take in the extensive views and then follow Via Nazionale to Piazza della Repubblica.
The Piazza della Repubblica is a very lovely ensemble of medieval buildings. It is also here on this square that the Palazzo Comunale (1241) and the 12th century Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo are found. The Palazzo Communale, with its central clocktower and staircase to the front is one of the loveliest medieval buildings in Cortona.
The Town Hall is near Piazza Signorelli, which also includes the famous 13th century Praetorian Palace, the façade of which was renovated in 1608 by Filippo Berrettini. Note in particular the typical medieval characters that are visible along the Via Casali on either side of the building, which now houses the Etruscan Museum.
Among the most important works in the Etruscan museum in Cortona are a gold fibula (in the form of a panther crouching and decorated with the 'Tree of Life'); a Snout ('Grifo') of bronze, with a hooked beak from which a sharp tongue emerges, and an Etruscan bronze chandelier dating from the second half of the 4th century BC, with a gorgon's head in the middle and decorated with other animals.
Also in the museum you can see the Polyhymnia Muse (an encaustic painting in the Roman Pompeian style) and the 'Tabula Cortonensis', which contains an inscription written in Etruscan and which according to some scholars is probably a legal document.
Among the paintings in the museum note in particular the altarpiece by Pietro Berrettini da Cortona [1596-1669] called 'Madonna enthroned with four Saints'.
Continuing along Via Casali you reach the Piazza del Duomo.
Cortona cathedral (duomo) is in the Florentine Renaissance style and attributed to Giuliano da Sangallo (1445-1516). It was built on the ruins of the ancient parish Church of Santa Maria.
To the right of the cathedral is a portal by Giovanni Battista di Cristofano Infregliati (aka 'Cristofanello') built in the 16th century (remodelled in the 19th century).
Passing along from Piazza della Repubblica to Porta Colonia there are a whole series of medieval buildings dating from 14th century Cortona.
Opposite the cathedral stands the Church of Jesus which is home to the Diocesan Museum. This museum contains various important art works from the 13th - 15th centuries such as works by Pietro Lorenzetti ('Madonna and some Angels'); Luca Signorelli ('The Communion of the Apostles'); Bartolomeo della Gatta ('The Assumption') and Giovanni da Fiesole, called “Beato Angelico” ('The Madonna and Child with Angels' and also the famous 'Annunciation').
Next to the the Porta Colonia note the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Nuova, a work mostly by Giorgio Vasari who continued the work initiated by a local architect Battista Cristofanello. The construction was then continued by Giovanni Tristano and Mariotto di Bino in the 16th century.
Another church worthy of mention is the Sanctuary of Santa Maria delle Gazie in Calcinaio, by Francesco di Giorgio Martini, who began the work in 1485 and completed it in 1513.
In Renaissance-style, the church follows a central plan, with a single nave, two side chapels and a large dome. Martini was able to apply the principles of Renaissance architecture (the proportion and perspective) perfectly, reflecting lessons from Brunelleschi (1377-1446) and Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472).
After you have explored the ancient streets in this part of Cortona you should continue up the hill and passed the Church of Santa Margherita (enter the church to see the 14th century tomb of the Saint as you pass) to get to the fortress from where the highlight is undoubtedly the lovely far-reaching views that extend as far as distant Lago Trasimeno..
Cortona cuisine and traditions
Outside the town walls you can still see the old houses and furnishings typical of the rural area. While exploring find the time to stop in a tavern to taste some traditional Tuscan cuisine and recipes of Cortona. This local Tuscan cuisine includes the typical popular dishes of 'bean soup' and 'bread soup', while among the main courses the local boar is popular.
Wine production here also dates back to Etruscan times - they planted the vineyards using the technique of the 'live support', which involved the union of the vines with other plants. Pliny the Younger (61 ca.-112 AD) in particular praised a wine typical of the area of Cortona, called Estesiaca. See also history of Cortona.
Map of Cortona sightseeing & popular sights
Selected places to visit near Cortona, Italy
See the Tuscany guide for more travel ideas...