BEST ITINERARY 2017

 

One day in Cortona

Classic tours of Cortona

Path of the historic city center of Cortona

 

 

Cortona may become one of your favorite Tuscan hill-towns. Magnificently situated, with olives and vineyards creeping up to its walls, it commands enormous views over Lake Trasimeno and the plain of the Valdichiana. Its two fine galleries and scattering of churches are relatively unvisited, while its delightful medieval streets are a pleasure to wander for their own sake. Last but not least, pleasant bnb, apartments, hotels and restaurants make the town a good overnight base.

”Mother of Troy and Grandmother of Rome,” in popular speech. Tradition claims it was founded by Dardanus, the founder of Troy (after whom the Dardanelles are named). He was fighting a local tribe, so the story goes, when he lost his helmet (corythos) on Cortona’s hill. In time, a town grew up that took its name (Corito) from the missing headgear.

By the 4th century bc the Etruscans had built the first set of town walls, whose cyclopean traces can still be seen in the 2-mile sweep of the present fortifications. A member of the Etruscans’ 12-city Dodecapolis, it became one of the federation’s leading northern cities. An important consular road, the Via Cassia, which passed the foot of its hill, maintained the town’s importance under the Romans.

Medieval fortunes waned, however, as the plain below reverted to marsh. After holding out against neighbors like Perugia, Arezzo, and Siena, the comune was captured by King Ladislas of Naples in 1409 and sold to the Florentines two years later.

Also in this last street is the church of San Francesco, the first church established by the Franciscans outside Assisi. The third altar on its left (north) wall has an unfinished Annunciation (1669) by Pietro da Cortona, a poor substitute for the painter’s best work, which is divided between Rome’s baroque churches and the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, whose state rooms feature the ceiling frescoes that brought the artist fame (see page 117). The church’s crypt is believed to contain the tomb of Cortona’s other famous painter, Lyca Signorelli (1441-1523).

Also in this last street is the church of San Francesco, the first church established by the Franciscans outside Assisi. The third altar on its left (north) wall has an unfinished Annunciation (1669) by Pietro da Cortona, a poor substitute for the painter’s best work, which is divided between Rome’s baroque churches and the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, whose state rooms feature the ceiling frescoes that brought the artist fame (see page 117). The church’s crypt is believed to contain the tomb of Cortona’s other famous painter, Lyca Signorelli (1441-1523).

Northeast of the town center, be sure also to visit the cypress-shaded San Nicolò, known for an unusual double-sided painting by Signorelli. One face shows a fine Deposition, the other a Madonna and Child. Ask the custodian to operate the intriguing pulley system that turns the painting around. Fra Angelico’s old church, San Domenico, has a faded fresco by the painter over its portal. A chapel to the right of the high altar contains a Madonna and Saints (1515) by Signorelli and a detached fresco of San Rocco by Bartolomeo della Gatta. The strik- j ing altarpiece, The Coronation of the Virgin (1402), is by Lorenzo Gerini. To the east of the church the Giardini Pubblici called “Parterre” (public gardens) offer lovely walks with superb views.

MAEC Museo dell’Accademia Etruscan

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 MAEC occupies one of the town’s more impressive medieval palaces, the 13th-century Palazzo Casali (or Palazzo Pretorio), former home to Cortona’s leading medieval family.

The main hall contains a famous and unusual 5th-century bc chandelier. The largest object of its kind ever found, it consists of a gorgon’s head surrounded by dolphins and stylized waves, its 16 small oil lamps formed by alternating male and female figurines. 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).

Rooms off the hall include further paintings, notably a triptych by Bicci di Lorenzo, as well as (poorly labeled) fans, ivories, weapons, porcelain, miniatures, coins, and jewelry. Best of this miscellany are several medieval ceramics and an Egyptian collection amassed in 1891 by the Vatican’s Egyptian legate.

Open: daily, 10-1 and 4-7;
winter, 9-1 and 3-5;
closed Monday.
Admission charge (moderate).

diocesano-annunciazioneAnnunciazione from Beato Angelico

Museo Diocesano

Piazza del Duomo’s main draw is not so much its lackluster Duomo as the museum opposite, a rather gloomy former church whose interior is enlivened by a small but prestigious collection of Renaissance paintings. Perversely, however, it opens with a 2nd century Roman sarcophagus, whose carved centaurs and battle scenes were apparently much admired by Donatello and Brunelleschi. The fresco fragments here include The Way to Calvary by the Sienese master, Pietro Lorenzetti.

Two paintings by Fra Angelico dominate the gallery propera sublime Annunciation (1428-30) and a triptych of the Madonna and Child with Saints. Both were painted during the artist’s 10-year sojourn in Cortona’s Dominican monastery (the triptych’s predella depicts scenes from the life of St. Dominic). The room also contains three works that would be outstanding in any other company: a Crucifix by Pietro Lorenzetti; Sassetta’s Madonna and Child; and Bartolomeo della Gatta’s Assumption of the Virgin. Lorenzetti has another beautiful painting in the room beyond, a Madonna Enthroned. Local painter Luca Signorelli is also well represented by a Deposition and Communion of the Apostles.

Open daily

From April 1 to October 31 from 10.00am to 07.00pm (in October, closed on Mondays)
From November 1 to March 31 Open from 10:00am to 17:00pm | closed Monday |

Admission charge (moderate).