ABOUT CORTONA TOWN
Cortona is a charming Tuscan hill-town that may soon become one of your favorites. Nestled amidst olive groves and vineyards, it offers breathtaking views of Lake Trasimeno and the Valdichiana plain. Despite its two notable galleries and several churches, it remains relatively undiscovered, making it an ideal destination for those seeking a peaceful getaway. The town’s medieval streets are a delight to explore, and it also offers a variety of accommodation options, including charming B&Bs, apartments, hotels, and restaurants, making it a great place to spend the night.
Cortona is also steeped in history and legend. According to tradition, it was founded by Dardanus, the founder of Troy and the namesake of the Dardanelles. The story goes that while fighting a local tribe, he lost his helmet (corythos) on Cortona’s hill, and the town that grew up there took its name (Corito) from this missing headgear. The Etruscans built the first set of town walls in the 4th century BC, and traces of these can still be seen in the present fortifications. As a member of the Etruscans’ 12-city Dodecapolis, Cortona was one of the federation’s leading northern cities. Its importance was further maintained under the Romans due to its proximity to the important consular road, the Via Cassia.
However, Cortona’s fortunes waned during the Middle Ages as the plain below turned into marshland. Despite resisting neighboring cities such as Perugia, Arezzo, and Siena, the comune was captured by King Ladislas of Naples in 1409 and sold to the Florentines two years later.
The church of San Francesco, located on Via Maffei, is notable for being the first church established by the Franciscans outside of Assisi. Inside, the third altar on the left (north) wall features an unfinished Annunciation painting from 1669 by Pietro da Cortona. While the painting is considered a poor representation of the artist’s best work, which can be found in various Rome’s baroque churches and the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, the ceiling frescoes in the Palazzo Pitti brought the artist fame. The church’s crypt is also believed to contain the tomb of another famous painter from Cortona, Luca Signorelli (1441-1523).
The church of San Francesco, located on Via Maffei, is a notable destination for its historical and artistic significance. It was the first church established by the Franciscans outside of Assisi. Inside the church, the third altar on the left (north) wall features an unfinished Annunciation painting from 1669 by the famous artist Pietro da Cortona. This painting is considered to be a less impressive representation of the artist’s best work, which can be found in various Rome’s baroque churches and the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, where his ceiling frescoes brought him fame. Additionally, the church’s crypt is believed to contain the tomb of another famous painter from Cortona, Luca Signorelli (1441-1523).
Make sure to include a trip to the cypress-lined San Nicolò church. The church is known for its double-sided painting by Luca Signorelli, one side depicting a Deposition and the other a Madonna and Child. Ask the custodian to demonstrate the pulley system that rotates the painting.
Another must-see is the old church of San Domenico, where a faded fresco by Fra Angelico can be found above its portal. Inside, a chapel to the right of the high altar showcases a Madonna and Saints painting by Signorelli and a detached fresco of San Rocco by Bartolomeo della Gatta.
The altarpiece, The Coronation of the Virgin (1402) is by Lorenzo Gerini. To the east of the church, visitors can take a stroll in the lovely Giardini Pubblici, also known as “Parterre”, which offers beautiful views.