The Civic Palaces
The palaces were built on the initiative and at the expense of the civic or religious community, meant for the political, cultural and religious affairs of the community. The most famous and ancient of these palaces rise from the ruins of the old Etruscan and Roman cities and have undergone notable reconstruction through the centuries. Among these are to be noted:
PALAZZO DEL CONSIGLIO COMUNALE (12th century) The City Council Palace was built together with the autonomous Comune in the 12th century on the ruins of the Forum of the Roman city at the crossroad of the Decumano (the main Roman road) and the Cardo (the axis road). Originally a single large hall was placed on the top of the present staircase and was used for council meetings. Clear traces of the ancient construction can be noted on the right side of the building which faces Piazza Signorelli. In the 1500's it was extended to the left side beyond the present Via Roma and the bell tower was raised above the arch passing over this street connecting the two buildings. The large entrance stairway was also built at that time. In the following years, the building underwent numerous reworks and in 1896 it was restored following the whims of architect Castellucci, the same Cortonese architect who designed the present day facade of the church of Santa Margherita. On the side of the building that faces Piazza Signorelli there is a column which was raised in 1508 and supports Florentine sandstone. In the Council Hall, which can be reached by the staircase near the column, there is a fireplace found in the Sernini Palace in Piazza Alfieri, carved in stone by G.B. Infregliati, also known as Cristofanello (16th century).
PALAZZO DEL CAPITANO DEL POPOLO (13th century) The Palace of the Capitano del Popolo was constructed in front of the City Council in the 13th century, when the role of Captain of the People was established. The palace originally crenellated and crowned with a high tower, which there are remains of on the left side, where a bell was placed to call meetings. In 1411, after the Comune was purchased by the Florentine Republic, the position of Captain of the People was removed and the palace was turned over to the tax and duty offices. In 1512 it was donated by the Council of the Comune to Silvio Passerini, to win his favor, as he had been named datary by Pope Leo X Medici. The Medici were the Signori of Florence, whom the Cortonese depended on. Passerini decided the bell should be moved and wanted the palace to be enriched with frescoes and stained glass windows by Guglielmo Marcillant, works of art that no longer exist today. He hosted in this palace Pope Leo X on November 15, 16 and 17, 1515, a stop that the Pope made during a trip to Bologna to meet the King of France François I.
The palace became property of the heirs of Cardinal Passerini in the following centuries and underwent such a big number of transformations and expansions that it is difficult to read the primitive form of the building. The property has now been divided into many small condominiums, which seems to hold little respect for its glorious past.
PALAZZO VESCOVILE (16th century) The Episcopal Palace rose from the ruins of old buildings that had been used by the clergy who served the antique urban parish church of Santa Maria. Legend has it the Palace was also the home of Brother Elias during his first period of residence in Cortona. The remains that can still be seen on the facade show evidence of a medieval door that would have been part of the building. The expansion and the transformation of the Episcopal Palace are credited to Cardinal Silvio Passerini, who was nominated bishop of Cortona in 1521. Other expansions and embellishments were added by successive bishops. To the left of the 1500's entry door there are three crests. The first on the left is of the bishop Leonardo Bonafede (1529-1539), the centre one of Matteo Contini (1560-1562) and the last on the right of Costantino Veltroni (1577-1595). The palace is the headquarters of the offices of the Bishops Curate and its archives. On the side facade two marble plaques commemorate the visit to Cortona in 1803 of Queen of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Etruria, Maria Luisa Infant of Spain. She was the guest of the Florentine bishop Filippo Ganucci (1802-1806). The Queen was hosted by the Mancini family in their palace on Via Nazionale, where another commemorative marble tablet may be found.
PALAZZO CASALI (16th century) Legend has it the Casali Palace was built on the area of old Etruscan and Roman buildings, which there are visible remains of in the cellars of the nearby "Cassa di Risparmio" (a bank). In the Middle Ages after the inauguration of an autonomous Comune, the Abbot of Farneta constructed a few houses, which became the residence of the Consulate of the Terziere di Santa Maria (the headquarters of the council of the medieval neighborhood called Saint Mary). It was later bought by the Casali family, who became the Signori of Cortona (1325) and built their palace on the same spot. After the fall of the Casali family and of the free Comune, the Florentine administration established itself in the building. Between 1613 and 1621 they completely expanded and crests belonging to these administrators can be seen on the interior walls of the courtyard and on the external walls on the right of the building, which now houses the Accademia Etrusca ( The Etruscan Academy), its museum and the libraries of the Comune and of the Academy, as well as the Civic Historical Archives. Because of its arrangement, this place of history is considered today as the Palace of Culture.
PALAZZO VAGNOTTI (18th century) The Vagnotti Palace was destined to become a theological study centre for the preparation of young priests. The first stone was placed by bishop Giovanni Ippoliti in 1760. The building rose from a plan by the grand-ducal architect Romualdo Cilli. The architecture is simple and austere inside as well as outside. The palace has two facades, the main one on Via Vagnotti and another on Piazza Giuseppe Franciolini where over the elegant doorway there is the stone tablet which commemorates Francesco Vagnotti, the man who had willed to his heirs the means for constructing this palace. The internal chapel, constructed in the 1600's by architect Francesco Jannelli was modified by Cilli at the end of the 1700's. The picture on the altar was painted by Giuseppe Valiani of Pistoia (1721-1810). Today the palace is property of the Bishops Curate and is no longer a centre for theological studies in Cortona, but it is used for other needs. Between the end of August and the beginning of September it hosts the renowned National Antique Furniture Exhibit.
TEATRO SIGNORELLI (19th century) The Signorelli Theatre is owned by the Accademia degli Arditi. It is located on the corner of Piazza Signorelli, on the spot where there was the ancient Church of Sant'Andrea. It was designed by architect Carlo Gatteschi in 1854 following the Neoclassical style. The loggia has seven arcades and at the interior two rows of eight pilasters covered with lunette vaults. It has always hosted lots of activities and events and is also used as a cinema.