Inhabitants in 1991 : 22,598
The Municipal territory of Cortona extends for 342,34 square kilometres
in Val di Chiana, partly on the plain and partly hilly ; the capital,
which has the typical features of an Etruscan centre, is situated on a
spur of the Alta di Sant’Egidio. Of Etruscan origin, Roman Municipality,
then Captaincy, it became community in 1774.
Leaving apart the legend handed down from Marco Porcio Catone, who would
have it among the most ancient of Italian cities, it seems the foundation
of Cortona - as is attested by archaeological finds - must go back to
the V century B.C. ; it was certainly one of the most important
Etruscan cities, perhaps reaching the height of its power towards the
end of the !V century B.C.. It entered in the Roman orbit
around this era, and maintained as a municipality of certain importance
until the Imperial epoch, thanks also to its nearness with the
route of the Via Cassia which connected Etruria to Roma. Then certainly
because of the valley turning into a marshland, but also because
of the variation of the route of the Cassia - at the beginning of the
II century - seemed to decline abruptly, so much so that after
the X century in fact it disappeared from History. If one excludes
an act of donation in 1008 made by the Bishop of Arezzo
to the Abbey of Prataglia, in which its district and news of its victorious
military struggles with Perugia (1046) and Arezzo (1065) are mentioned,
Cortona reappears only at the beginning of the XIII century as
a free community governed by a Podesta at war with the feudals of the
region and with its traditional rival Arezzo. Whom they bettered
with the help of the Perugini, but in 1258 it was forced to suffer the
vendetta of the Arezzo
Guelfi who put them to “sword and fire” banishing the
inhabitants who were loyal to the Ghibellini, who after only three
years - taking advantage of the outcome of the battle of Montaperto
- were able to return to the city following Uguiccio Casali. A
long period of economic prosperity started from then, the “Cortonese”
coin was minted, peace was formulated with Arezzo
which lasted for many decades. In 1319 a popular government was established
which in 1323 the local magnates tried to overturn ; defeated, in
the same year the Lordship of the city was offered to Ranieri dei Casali,
member of a powerful Arezzo family, and it remained to him and his
descendants for eighty years, during which time Cortona managed to
conserve a certain autonomy, even if they could not avoid the stipulation
pact of partnership with Siena in 1358 and Firenze in 1387.
In 1325 Cortona had also become an Episcopal Seat with jurisdiction over
a vast territory which ran from the Val di Chiana to the crest which divided
the two basins with the Val Tiberina. The end of the Lordship of the Casali
came in 1409 when the city was conquered by Ladislao di Napoli,
who in 1411 sold it to Firenze for the price of 60,000 florins.
Aggregated to the Fiorentino district and made Seat of Captaincy, as
such it remained until the Leopoldine reform, living a tranquil
provincial life, among the noteworthy civil, religious and military,
architectural interventions above all in the XV and XVI centuries
are the great cultural results achieved by the Etruscan Academy,
founded in 1727. The climate of tranquil provincial centre was
disturbed in the 1700s by the fierce opposition of the nobility
to the land reclamation of the Val di Chiana, being afraid to lose their
ancient privileges, and at the end of the century when the city was noted
as one of the principle centres of the Sanfedist and anti French movement
of the “Viva Maria”, among its illustrious citizens at
least the artists Stefano di Giovanni called the Sassetta (1400ca.-1450)
Luca Signorelli (1441-1523) and the literary critic Pietro Pancrazi
(1893-1952) are remembered.
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 Val di Chiana 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-Firenze route
was developed, and this was undoubtedly one of the factors leading to
the marginalising of Cortona during the Imperial age.
The city was enriched aesthetically with the works of art of the artists
which, between thirteenth and fifteenth century, produced the best 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.
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 chianina. 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".
|Places to Visit :
Town Hall, already in existence from 1236, altered and enlarged
in the course of the centuries, surmounted by a crennelated tower
furnished with a clock ; it overlooks the Piazza della Repubblica
in front of the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo, also dating from
Palazzo Casali, erected by the Casali family in the XIII century
(Lords of Cortona) and then becoming Seat of the Fiorentini Lords
and Captains, houses in its interior the Museum of the Accademia Etrusca
(1727), the Municipal Library and Historical Archives.
Palazzo Luparelli, among the most noteworthy buildings of Cortona,
it has a formidable facade in three styles.
Medicea Fortress, erected in 1556 on the ruins of an Etruscan
wall and of a successive small fort in an exceptionally panoramic
position desired by Cosimo I.
The Cathedral, constructed at the end of the 1400s encompassing
the pre-existing parish church, internally it has three naves and
preserves various works of art. Opposite, in the venue of the ex church
of Gesù is the Diocesan Museum in which are collected
pieces by important artists and a Roman Sarcophagus of the II century,
found near the Cathedral. Also worth a visit is the collection of
goldsmith’s craft and vestments and church plate.
Basilica di S. Margherita, of present day form (1856)
with Roman Gothic imitations, it was constructed to substitute a previous
church of the XIII-XIV centuries. Other than the precious works of
art preserved in its interior, on the altar there is a silver urn
containing the body of Santa Margherita.
S. Francesco, III century church of Gothic establishment, has
been altered several times.
S. Domenico, constructed in 1438, basilical interior with
Historical info reproduced upon authorization
of Regione Toscana - Dipartimento della Presidenza E Affari Legislativi
Translated by Ann Mountford
Picture by Sandro Santioli