7 things to do in Cortona

Planning to travel to Tuscany soon and dreaming of your very own romantic Tuscan holiday?  Have you rented a car and are you browsing the map for the next destination?

 Here’s your next trip: Cortona.

Cortona is one the most popular hilltop towns in Tuscany (the region in Italy). It is a town and comune (municipality) in the province of Arezzo and not far from the Trasimeno lake. From its verdant hill, it watches like an ancient guardian over the Val di Chiana, where it is one of the main cultural and artistic centres.

It is a fascinating place, with picturesque narrow lanes, spectacular views and huge protective walls built by the Etruscans. Here’s a list of 7 things to visit and sightsee in Cortona.

1. The Old Town

Built on the slopes of the hill and still surrounded by well-preserved walls, Cortona has its wonderful history still tangible and preserved in the Old Town. Piazza della Repubblica is the town’s main square; on the west side it is dominated by the imposing Palazzo Comunale, which was already in existence in 1241, 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 and the flight of steps leading up to it.

To the northwest of the Town Hall in Cortona is the Piazza Signorelli, with the Palazzo Pretorio, whose facade bears the coats of arms of former podestàs (the town’s rulers); it now houses the Accademia Etrusca (founded 1726) and the Museum of Etruscan Antiquities.

In the centre of the square stands the obelisk dedicated to Giuseppe Garibaldi, and from here it is possible to get a wide view of the Val di Chiana up to Lake Trasimeno and Montepulciano. Stop here to enjoy this breathtaking panorama.

2. Explore the Etruscan heritage

 Cortona’s civic museum at Piazza Signorelli offers a fascinating and eclectic collection that goes beyond the Etruscan limits suggested by its name . The Accademia, a historical institute founded in 1727, numbered Voltaire among its early members. The museum occupies one of the town’s most impressive medieval palaces, the 13th-century Palazzo Casali (or Palazzo Pretorio), former home to Cortona’s leading medieval family.

A 2500-year-old chandelier, attic vases, bronze figures, and Roman statuettes line the walls, together with paintings by Pietro da Cortona and Luca Signorelli, both natives of Cortona (as well as works by Pinturicchio, Cristofano Allori, and more minor artists).

The Archaeological park of Sodo is located at the bottom of the hill of Cortona about 4 km. Situated on the right bank of the Rio Loreto, the Melone tumulus consists in an artificial mound and is an example of archaic Etruscan funerary architecture. The burial site was investigated and unearthed during an excavation campaign carried out in 1909.

3. The Monastery of San Francesco “Le Celle”

The Monastery of Celle is a sacred building located in a village “Le Celle”, 10 minutes from Cortona. The monastery of Celle of Cortona, built at the turn of a narrow valley, is very suggestive for the spirituality of the place: from here you can also enjoy a splendid view over the Valdichiana.

The convent of The Celle is the first monastery built by St. Francesco of Assisi (Saint Francis of Assisi) around 1211 and was inhabited by him even after receiving the stigmata. Today you can visit his cell with some objects used by St. Francis and the oratory.

4. See the Fortress and the Church

The fortress (known as Fortezza del Girifalco) was possibly built by the Etruscans and was a post used by the Goths first and later by the Lombards at the time of the Barbarian invasions. Throughout the years, it underwent numerous alterations and restructuring carried by many and, among others, Cosimo I de’ Medici at the half of the XVI century. The Florentine he decided to transform it into one of the most imposing bulwarks of the Medicean power in the territory of Arezzo. Eventually, the Fortress of the Girifalco became the base of a small garrison that acted as a town police, only.

The shrine is dedicated to the figure of Santa Margherita, patron of Cortona and Franciscan tertiary, and subsequent cultural and spiritual activities of the Observant Franciscans. On the death of the saint it was decided to build a church in her honor, next to the ancient church of St. Basil that Margaret herself had restored after it is chosen as the place of penance and prayer. In 1304 the sacred building was already built, but it continued to embellish it with important frescoes throughout the fourteenth century. This cycle mural have come to us only a few fragments preserved in the Diocesan Museum (Museo Diocesano). In August 1927 it was elevated to the rank of minor basilica.

5. Visit Santa Maria delle Grazie and Santa Maria Nuova

This outstanding 15th-century Renaissance church is located on the winding approach road to Cortona (2 miles from Porta Sant’Agostino). It was built on the site of a tannery (known as a calcinaio after the lime used in the tanning process) to house an image of the Virgin that had miraculously appeared on the tannery walls.

The Sanctuary of Santa Maria delle Grazie contains within itself all the main features of Renaissance art and architecture: the geometric perspective that organizes space, simplicity, geometric lines (in the style of Brunelleschi).

The church of Santa Maria Nuova is located just outside of the walls of the town of Cortona. The church was built to house a miraculous image of the virgin that previously had been in a private chapel. Construction was begun in 1550, and the church was consecrated in 1610.

6. Villa Bramasole

Today the villa is a destination for thousands of tourists especially foreigners from all over the world who come to visit to savor the atmosphere of the famed best selling book “Under the Tuscan Sun”.

The countryside villa can be reached on foot with a nice walk starting from the public gardens in Cortona “Parterre” about half an hour on foot for a distance of about 4 Km.

7. Hikes and other attractions

Descending the hill of Cortona among the olive groves you can visit the Tanella of Pythagoras, a famous monument known to travelers since 1500. The Tanella is a small mound of the Hellenistic period (II if BC.); it can be reached by car or by hiking trails, ideal for whoever wants to spend outdoor in the nature.

Visiting Cortona is a far-from-the-city experience that can offer a lot of other activities: from cooking classes, to spa and wellness treatments, gorgeous food in the many restaurants, wine tasting of the famous Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino, among other wines.

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