Culture of Cortona
Culture of Cortona

Ultimate Cortona Culture Guide

Tucked away into the heart of Italy is the small and historic town of Cortona. More modernly recognized for its role in the 2003 blockbuster Under the Tuscan Sun, the town has an ancient history that can be traced all the way back to the Etruscan Era. Throughout the centuries, Cortona has become a cultural hotspot in the province of Arezzo with renowned architecture, artistic masterpieces, music festivals, and cinematography. Make Cortona a vacation destination for your next trip to Italy and see the charm of this amazing city for yourself as you become immersed in the rich cultural heritage.


In the ancient town of Cortona, much of the city’s fabulous architecture is dominated by religion. The city is home to more than a dozen churches, some of which have roots that can be traced back for centuries.

The Cortona Duomo, also referred to as the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, is one of the city’s most visited churches. The church is thought to have been built on top of an Etruscan temple circa the fifteenth century. Throughout the years, a number of different architects made contributions such as Giuliano da Sangallo who worked on the design of the structure, Francesco Laparelli who designed the bell tower, and Francesco Mazzuoli who completed the church’s altar in the seventeenth century. Even after those improvements, the cathedral underwent additional remodeling in the eighteenth century. When visiting the Duomo, be sure to admire its artwork collection, which features a masterpiece called Adoration of the Shepherds by Pietro da Cortona.

The Basilica of Santa Margherita has a rich history based on Saint Margaret of Cortona. The woman is said to have had a turbulent upbringing including the loss of a parent at an early age and relationship troubles. Still, she was said to have a great deal of wealth. When her husband was found murdered, it forced a shift in her life and was a turning point for her. She gave up much of her money and moved to Cortona with her son where she made a career of tending to the poor and sick. Many regarded her as a saint and this basilica was named in her honor. The exterior of the basilica is stately with three main archways in the front that sit just under three rosette windows. The interior of the church is quite grand and colorful with dramatic archways and details.

While the Cortona Duomo and the Basilica of Santa Margherita are the main draws for religious architecture, there are many smaller churches located throughout the city that have similar historical roots. A few of the most notable yet smaller Cortona churches that would make an excellent addition to your itinerary include the Guzzetti Chapel, the Church of San Benedetto, the Church of Spirito Santo, the Church of San Domenico, the Church of San Francesco, the Church of Santa Chiara, and the Abbey of Farneta. Some visitors may choose to set aside a whole day or more to visit some of these historical marvels of architecture.


Renowned seventeenth century Italian painter, Pietro Berrettini, was born in Cortona and is a significant part of the city’s artistic history. Today, Pietro Berrettini is more commonly referred to as Pietro da Cortona. He is perhaps best known for creations such as frescoed ceilings, although he did create canvas paintings as well. Many of his works can be seen throughout Italy in cities such as Cortona, Rome, and Florence.

Another notable artist born in Cortona was Renaissance painter Luca Signorelli. He is best known for painting the large frescoes entitled Last Judgment located in the breathtaking Orvieto Cathedral, which are believed to have inspired Michelangelo’s masterpieces in the Sistine Chapel. One of Signorelli’s own works, Testament and Death of Moses, is present in the Sistine Chapel as well. In Cortona, several of Signorelli’s works can be admired at the Museo Diocesano, including Lamentation over the Dead Christ, Communion of the Apostles, and Immaculate Conception.

Italian painter, Gino Severini, is considered to have been influential in the Futurist movement. This nineteenth and twentieth century painter was born in Cortona to a poor family. For the early part of his life, Severini attended school in Cortona and worked for his father before eventually moving to Rome at the turn of the century. Severini remained in Rome for much of his artistic career and is best known for masterpieces such as La Danseuse Obsedante (The Haunting Dancer) and Le Boulevard.

Also born in Cortona was Italian etcher and sculptor, Bernardino Radi of the sixteenth century. In terms of his legacy to his hometown, Radi is said to have contributed to the design of the magnificent rosette window that is now part of the Church of Santa Maria Nuova in Cortona.


Perhaps one of the most influential writers in modern Cortona’s history is twentieth and twenty-first century writer Frances Mayes. She was born in the United States and has made a career out of creative writing including poetry and books. Mayes’ 1996 book, Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy, was and still is a popular memoir about her experience in buying, renovating, and living in a villa in Cortona. In 2003, Mayes’ book was the basis for a blockbuster movie. Mayes went on to write other bestsellers such as Bella Tuscany: The Sweet Life in Italy, and In Tuscany. She continues to write full time and spends much of her time in Cortona each year.


Music has long since been a part of Cortona’s story. It is still celebrated today in various forms throughout the city with annual festivals and events.

The Sacred Music Festival generally takes place during the month of July. This celebration of religious music, faith, and culture typically showcases musical performances courtesy of organ concerts, chamber orchestra concerts, and choir concerts. These performances are often described as awe inspiring to those fortunate enough to hear them in person.

Another local celebration of music is called The Tuscan Sun Festival. This celebration of music usually occurs in the months of July and August. The event honors different forms of art and classical music. Throughout the festival, attendees are treated to musical galas, operas, concerts, and open-air shows.


Cinematography is very much a part of Cortona’s culture. The elegant and luxurious Teatro Signorelli functions as a movie theater on the weekends and often has a packed house. It is a fabulous way to watch a movie in Italy.

Over the years, a number of Italian pictures were filmed at least in part in the beautiful city of Cortona. The town’s quaint and enchanting neighborhoods surrounded by the Tuscan countryside and the border with Umbria make it a fantastic backdrop for movies. A few Italian movies filmed in Cortona include Le due vite di Mattia Pascal (1985) starring Marcello Mastroianni and Roberto Benigni’s Academy Award-winning Life Is Beautiful (1997).

In 2003, Cortona, Italy was the setting for Audrey Wells’ blockbuster hit, Under the Tuscan Sun. This romantic dramedy is based on writer Frances Mayes’ bestselling book Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy. The movie is about a heartbroken writer who seeks to rediscover herself in a villa in Tuscany. A handful of the filming locations for this movie are in Cortona with others in various parts of Tuscany and Italy. This movie is often credited by locals for creating a new wave of tourism to Cortona.


Adjacent to the Abbey of Farneta, there is an Archeological and Paleontology Museum. The Museum hosts Roman tombs, Etruscan funerary urns, Roman statues, medieval terracotta statues, and fossils from the Pliocene Epoch. This is one of the best places to learn more about the natural history of Cortona and its surroundings.

Make a dream vacation and Italian getaway to Cortona a reality. Place your reservations and pack your bags for a cultural revival in this gorgeous corner of Tuscany that is sure to steal your heart.