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Cortona,Tuscany - the main sights

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Here we describe briefly some of the principal sights of Cortona, Tuscany. Cortona is worth at least a full day of exploration.

Cortona Piazza della Repubblica

The 13 C town hall and clock tower are on one of Cortona's main squares, Piazza della Repubblica and there are cafes nearby for enjoying the piazza life.

Cortona Piazza della Repubblica Cortona

Piazza della Repubblica

Cortona Duomo - the 15 C Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta

The Duomo rests on the ruins of the ancient parish church, discernable in the structure of the fašade. The original church was one of the oldest if not the oldest church in Cortona, possibly dating from the 4 C and built on the foundations of a pagan temple. The Duomo as it appears today is the result of construction carried out in the second half of the 14 C based on designs attributed to Giuliano da Sangallo. Upon completion, the church was declared the Diocese cathedral, taking away that title from the Church of San Vincenzo located outside the walls. The central doorway and the side door are both works by Cristofanello (16 C). The main altar was created in 1664 by Francesco Mazzuoli of Cortona. The bell-tower was erected in 1566 and is the work of the Cortonese architect Francesco Laparelli, who constructed the city of La Valletta on the island of Malta and the fortification of Castello Sant'Angelo in Rome. The interior of the church has underwent heavy remodelling in the 18 C.

Duomo Santa Maria Assunta, Cortona, Italy

Duomo Santa Maria Assunta, Cortona, Italy

Cortona is richly endowed with magnificent churches in a wide range of architectural styles, including two fine Renaissance churches, Santa Maria Nuova, designed by Giorgio Vasari, begun in 1554 but not finished until the 17 C, and Santa Maria delle Grazie, built in 1484-1515 by Francesco di Giorgio Martini to house the miracle-performing image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the "Madonna del Calcinaio".

Santa Maria delle Grazie Cortona

Santa Maria delle Grazie, Cortona

The Chiesa di Sant'Angolo a Metelliano is an extremely ancient structure built on the foundations of a Roman Temple of Bacchus and later a Longobard church. The present structure is largely the work of the Aretine architect Maginardo who was sent in 1019 to Ravenna Ravenna to study the Byzantine style. Romanesque and Byzantine columns alternate inside the church.

Chiesa di Sant'Angolo a Metelliano Cortona Chiesa di Sant'Angolo a Metelliano

Chiesa di Sant'Angolo a Metelliano

Cortona, Tuscany Museums and Libraries

The Museo dell'Accademia Etrusca, the Civic and Academy Library and the Historic Civic Archive are located in the 13 C Palazzo Casali (Palazzo Pretorio) on Piazza Signorelli where the historic Etruscan Academy has its headquarters. The museum is located on the first and top floor, the library which can be entered from the courtyard of the palace is tucked away on the mezzanine and on the top floor. While the Historic Archive has its entrance on Via Casali on the mezzanine.

Cortona Museo dell'Accademia Etrusca

The Etruscan Academy was founded in 1727. The Grand Duke of Tuscany, Giangastone dei Medici provided space in Palazzo Casali where the members could meet and which has continued to be the hub around which studies and research promoted by Cortonese institutions continue to rotate. The museum and library were founded upon important donations and legacies from 18 C collectors, including Onofrio Baldelli (1667-1728). One of the last important donations was that of the member Girolamo Tommasi. With his death in 1896, the oldest branch of his prestigious Cortonese family ended and his collections and also furniture etc passed to the museum.

The museum collections are divided into three sections:
-The archaeological collection
-The Egyptian collection
-The Mediaeval and Modern collection
Among its most famous ancient artefacts is the bronze lampadario or Etruscan hanging lamp, found at Fratta near Cortona in 1840 and then acquired by the Academy for the large sum of 1600 Florentine scudi. Its iconography includes (under the 18 burners) alternating figures of Silenus playing panpipes or double flutes, and of sirens or harpies. Within zones representing waves, dolphins and fiercer sea-creatures is a gorgon-like face with protruding tongue. Between each burner is a modelled horned head of Achelous. It is supposed that the lampadario derived from some important north Etruscan religious shrine of around the second half of the fourth century BC. A later (second century BC) inscription shows it was rededicated for votive purposes (tinscvil) by the Musni family at that time. The Museum contains several other important Etruscan bronzes.

Etruscan lampadario Cortona

Etruscan lampadario

The Diocesan Museum of Cortona, Tuscany, should on no account be missed. It is one of the most important museums in Tuscany for the richness of the works it exhibits, including masterpieces of 14 C and 15 C Italian painting, gold work and textile art. The Museum is located in the old church of Buon Ges¨.

Cortona's chief artistic treasures are two panels by Fra Angelico in the Diocesan Museum, an Annunciation and a Madonna and Child with Saints. (A third surviving work by Fra Angelico is the fresco above the entrance to the church of San Domenico, also painted during his stay at Cortona in 1436.)

The Diocesan Museum also contains some of the most important works of Cortonese painter Luca Signorelli, from the years of his maturity, when he ran a prolific workshop in Cortona (1512-23), and the famous Deposition for the Sanctuary of S.Margherita (1502).

The museum houses a famous Roman sarcophagus depicting the Struggle of Dionisus and the Amazons, celebrated since the 15 C to the extent that Donatello and Brunelleschi to made a journey from Florence to Cortona to see it.

Cortona, Tuscany - town walls

The Etruscan component of the Cortona city wall is unusually large, even among towns that are of Etruscan origin. There are 3 km of wall in toto, with the Etruscan element dating back to the 5 C B.C. and easily recognisable from the size and "cylcopean" nature of the stones, as opposed to the small, more uniform Roman and mediaeval work. One of the Etruscan gates (Porta Bacarelli) has been re-opened and restored but the exact number and location of the other Etruscan gates is uncertain. The views over the Val di Chiana from the many lookout points on the walls are spectacular.

Cortona, Tuscany town gates

After the Roman conquest in the 3 C, the damaged parts of the walls were reconstructed and four gates were constructed at the exits from the Roman city: Porta Santa Maria and Porta San Domenico (also called Peccioverardi) from the decumano (the principal east-west Roman road) and Porta Sant'Agostino and Porta Colonia from the cardo (principal north-south Roman road). In the middle ages, the walls were reconstructed following the sack of 1258. The double-vaulted Etruscan Porta Bacarelli was closed and other gates were opened: Porta Montanina (originally called San Cristoforo), Porta Berarda and Porta San Giorgio. The latter two were closed-up again, probably at the beginning of the 17 C. Towards the end of the 19 C, the existing wall was opened to form Porta Santa Margherita to give access to the sanctuary nearby.

Cortona, Tuscany Medicean fortress

The huge fortress located on the highest point of the hill of Cortona was constructed in 1556 by the first Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I upon the remains of fortifications dating back to Etruscan, Roman and Mediaeval times, the latter having been destroyed in the sack of 1258. The fortress was the work of Gabrio Serbelloni, nephew of Pope Pius IV, and Franceso Laparelli of Cortona. The fortress is trapezoidal in shape, with four large bastions. It is beautifully preserved example of the military architecture of the 1500's, perhaps because it never faced an attack. The fortress is now a venue for art exhibitions and the "Centro Studi e Documentazioni sulla CiviltÓ Contadina della Valdichiana e Trasimeno", a research centre dedicated to the study of the peasant or folk history of the Val di Chiana and Lake Trasimene areas.

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