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Towns of the area

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Cortona

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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 1200.
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 single nave.

Historical info reproduced upon authorization of Regione Toscana - Dipartimento della Presidenza E Affari Legislativi e Giuridici
Translated by Ann Mountford
Picture by Sandro Santioli

 
 
 
   
 
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