Cortona Things to Do
Like all Italian towns, there are so many things to see and experience. From ancient churches to fun events, Cortona is a charming town with so many places to discover and explore.
Monuments & Museums
Built in the 1500s, on the orders of the Bishop of Cortona, this classically Renaissance building is a striking edifice on the hillside. Because of its placement outside the city walls, an almost 140 foot high tower with adjoining battlements was built surrounding the villa. From the walls, you can see a beautiful view of Lake Trasimeno. Inside the villa, there is chapel that contains Signorelli’s fresco, Baptism of Christ, which unfortunately is not in the best condition. It was never fully completed as Signorelli passed away while working on it. In the “Sala del Papacello,” there are vivid frescoes by Tommaso Bernabei – Papacello – that narrate scenes from ancient Roman history. On the other side of the villa is the Sala del Cardinale, with beautiful frescoes and Etruscan sarcophagi.
Palazzo Casali & Museo
Built by Cortona’s ruling family, the Casali, it was a residence until 1409. The Grand Duke of Tuscany, who gave it to the Accademia Etrusca to house its library and museum, renovated it in the 1600s. Today, it is known as the Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca e della Città – or the Etruscan Museum – with one of the largest collection of Etruscan artifacts, sculptures, and jewelry. There are also some incredible Egyptian and Roman collections, Renaissance artwork, and a grand narrative of the medieval history of the city. It is absolute must-see for any visitor to Cortona.
Melone I & II of Sodo
Located northwest of the city, these tombs are an interesting glimpse into Etruscan funerary rites. You can view the terraced altar that is decorated with scenes of humans battling mythical animals. Archeologists believe the Etruscans may have used the area as a sacrificial altar.
Cortona Archeological Park
Preserving its Etruscan heritage has become an important mission for Cortona. Every year, new antiquities are unearthed and preserved for generations to come. The Tanella di Pitagora, a Hellenistic tomb, was created in a tranquil spot amongst the ancient cypress trees. Already known in the 1500s by Vasari – famed painter, writer, and cousin of Luca Signorelli – it was once considered the tomb of Archimedes. Through time, people have let their imaginations run wild with speculation, attributing the tomb to Ulysses and Pythagoras. The Tabula Cortonensis is another interesting ruin where you will see the longest Etruscan inscription ever unearthed. At Cortonensis, there is also a 45-foot long section of wall that is believed to be on the supporting walls of the Etruscan acropolis. At the Tanella Angori, there is a 2200-year-old inscription carved into the sandstone.
Hermitage le Celle
A Franciscan hermitage built in 1211 by Saint Francis himself, it is still inhabited by seven friars who still practice Saint Francis’ teachings. You can see Saint Francis’ cell, which has remained untouched since his death. There is lodging available if you would like to stay for a spell and they offer spiritual retreats that can last from a week up to a month.
The Cortona Duomo
The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta was built upon an ancient Etruscan temple site in the 1400s. Sangallo designed the cathedral, Cristofanello did the central doorway and side door, and Mazzuoli eventually finished the altar in the mid-1600s. In 1566, the bell tower was erected based on the designs of Laparelli. In the 1700s, the church’s interior underwent heavy remodeling. Today, it houses works by Berettini and Signorelli, and is the final resting place of the Venuti brothers, the founders of the Etruscan Academy.
In front of the Duomo, there was once another church, Compagnia del Gesù, which now houses the Museo Diocesano del Capitolo. This museum has one of the finest collections of Tuscan art seen in the world. There are pieces ranging from the 13th century up to the 19th century, such as The Annunciation by Beato Angelico, The Deposition by Signorelli, The Ecstasy of St. Margherita by Crespi, and Bartolomeo della Gatta’s Madonna in Glory. Some highlights of the collection also include furnishings from other churches in the area, a goldsmithing section that contains 15th century reliquary by Vagnucci, and a fabric section with the famed Parato Passerini made for the Cardinal Silvo Passerini.
Events , Fairs and markets
This ancient event dates back to 1397 when it was originally created to celebrate the wedding of Francesco Casali and Antonia Salimbeni. Today, held on the second Sunday in June, it is celebrated as a way to connect with the city’s medieval splendor, with streets decorated in medieval style, people in period costumes, and the jousts and weapon shows. The five separate quarters of the city come together in a day of joyous delight and friendly competition for the “Veratta,” the Golden Arrow.
Taking place annually in August and September, this gigantic antiques fair is held in the Palazzo Vagnotti. Exhibitors and collectors from around Italy and the world take part in this renowned market. It is more than just an antiques market, it is also a grand social event, a wine-tasting gala, and a fun way to say farewell to summer and welcome autumn.
Tuscan Sun Festival
Every year, from July through August, this classical music and arts festival takes place in Cortona. There are concerts, open-air shows, musical galas, cinematic gems, and operas. It is an event you have to experience.
Cortona Food Festivals
Throughout the year there are different food fests dedicated to a particular food or cuisine. There is a T-bone steak festival, an escargot festival, a porcini mushroom festival, a chestnut festival, a pasta festival, and a festival to welcome autumn and the harvests.
Cortona is full of small boutiques and great shops in its historic center. You can find excellent shops for wine, souvenirs, jewelry, artwork, antiques, clothing, and more. The Antichita Beato Angelico has the cutest ceramic handcrafted figurines that are a great way to commemorate your trip. Family-owned DelBrenna Jewelry has been making fine jewelry for over three generations. Their designs are distinctive and reflect the passion and dedication of this family to creating beautiful wearable designs. The Maledetti Toscani is a great boutique that offers locally crafted leather products, clothing, and more.