Cortona was originally part of Umbria; however, throughout is fascinating history it has changed hands many times. In the 600s BC, the Etruscans conquered the town and significantly developed it under the new name of Curtun. Later, according to the historical analysis of George Dennis, it fell under Roman rule and, during the dying stages of the Gothic War, between 535 and 554, it was almost entirely razed to the ground. In the 13th century, it was reborn as a Ghibellinian city state, and it became a prominent location with its own currency. In 1409, Cortona was conquered by Ladislaus of Naples and, two years later, the Medici purchased it. Just over 300 years later, the senior hierarchy of the Medici line collapsed, and Cortona fell under the rule of the House of Lorraine. After the Wars of Independence, Cortona, together with the rest of Tuscany, formally became a part of Italy.
Cortona’s Fascinating Legends and Architecture
How and when Cortona was founded remains somewhat of a mystery. A variety of different legends that describe the formation of Cortona exist, some of which can be traced back to classical times. Many of the original legends were reinvented and transformed during the late Renaissance period when Cortona was under the rule of the Cosimo I de’ Medici.
One legend, which features in the 17th-century Guide of Giacomo Lauro, a historical document that borrowed from the work of Annio da Viterbo, described how Cortona was formed a century after the Great Flood. Having arrived in Valdichiana via the Tiber and Paglia rivers, Noah chose to remain in the region because of its abundant natural resources. He remained there for 30 years. The legend has it that Crano, Noah’s son, came across a stunning hilltop location 273 years after the Great Flood. Enchanted by the clean air, beautiful countryside and elevated position, he built the city of Cortona on it.
The Must-visit Locations in Cortona
Cortona offers an inherently medieval architecture that is characterised by narrow streets that wind up the steep hillside, reaching as high as 2,000 ft. (600 meters) in some locations. From the elevated slopes of Cortona, visitors can enjoy a spectacular view of the entire Valdichiana region. The Piazza Garibaldi, which many local residents continue to call Piazza Carbonaia, offers a spellbinding view of Lake Trasimene, the location at which Hannibal ambushed the Romans at the Battle of Trasimene in 217 BC. Some elements of the ancient Etruscan city wall are still in place today and can be found sitting alongside the more contemporary elements of the current city wall.
The central street of Cortona, which the locals call Ruga Piana, is the town’s only street that is not any way inclined.
Many visitors to the town specifically seek out the Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca (Etruscan Academy Museum), a diverse museum that holds artefacts from Etruscan, Roman, Medieval, Renaissance and Egyptian periods. It was first founded in 1727 and was originally designed to house the private library and collections of Onofrio Baldelli. One of the museum’s most notable exhibits, and one of a number Etruscan bronzes, is the bronze lampadario or Etruscan hanging lamp. It was originally unearthed at Fratta, near Cortona, in 1840 before being acquired for 1600 Florentine scudi. It features a mesmerising iconography of figures of Silenus that appear playing musical instruments. Each of the 16 burners is adorned with the horned head of Achelous. Historians believe that the lamp was originally positioned on a religious shrine of Etruscan importance at some point in the 4th century BC. An inscription on the lamp indicates that it was reused for votive means (tinscvil) by the Musni family.
The region is also famous for its chamber tombs. One of the most notable examples of these is the Tanella di Pitagora, which is located approximately half way up the hill from Camucia. Although the delicate masonry of the tomb is now completely exposed. It was once covered by an earth mound. An additional tomb of interest is that of Il Sodo I. The ‘Grotta Sergardi’, or ‘Il Melone’ as it is more commonly known, contains a series of parallel passageways that lead into an inner chamber, at the centre of which is a mound that has a circumference of around 640 feet. The walls of the chambers were built from large rocks that were roughly moulded into brick-like structures before being paved with thick masonry. Il Sodo II is particularly well known for the large stone-stepped altar platform that was historically used for religious ceremonies. The altar is decorated with carved images of sphinxes in the process of consuming warriors.
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