The ring of walls and gateways of the town of Cortona was originally built up by the Etruscans around the 4th century B.C., it was then restored in the Middle Ages and in the mid 16th century by Cosimo I de Medici, who wished to restore the whole defense system, from the Fortress to the city walls and the neighborhoods outside the city walls.
The Etruscan construction is easily recognizable because they made use of massive square stones joined together, that are laid down near Porta Montanina and between Porta San Vincenzo and Porta Santa Maria; a well-preserved part, that didn’t undergo the Renaissance restoration, is located below the Fortress of Girifalco, in the area called Torre Mozza.
There were ten gateways in the Etruscan time and eight gateways in the Renaissance. Today only six gateways are still in place, which are all used, except one called Porta Berarda.
Beautifully open onto the mountains of Cortona, this gateway has an Etruscan origin as clearly proven by the big stones at the base of the surrounding walls, and was then restored during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
Along the wall on the left-hand side, while entering the town, we can recognize the old Roman aqueduct that from this point entered into the town collecting the water from the surrounding mountains. Still on this side, it is possible to follow the shape of a massive wall, with Etruscan base, which was probably part of the city walls that were used to protect the upper part of the Etruscan Curtun, i.e. the acropolis.
Both on the right-hand and on the left-hand side of the gateway, in the lowest part of the walls, the big stones laid down by the Etruscans are clearly visible, on top of which smaller stones were progressively added in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance.
Porta Santa Maria
Porta Santa Maria is located at the end of Via Roma and like the other ones has an Etruscan origin and – apart from the big stones – shows a well-preserved part of the old sewage system of the town.
Between Porta Santa Maria and Porta San Vincenzo (or Sant’Agostino) we find an old gateway known as Porta Ghibellina or Porta Bacarelli, now called Porta Bifora. It is an Etruscan double gateway dating back to the 2nd century B.C., which was built over older structures and underwent a number of restorations over the centuries.
Due to the narrow openings, the absence of wheels tracks on the paving stones and the discovery of two bronze statues of Etruscan deities (now on display in the MAEC Museum) found nearby, archaeologists have supposed that this gateway had a religious and ceremonial function. Tradition has it that the Guelphs of Arezzo, helped by some traitors, entered the town through this gateway in 1258, destroying and setting fire to the town. Then, when the Ghibellines of Cortona regained control of the town, this gateway was walled up and damned. It was only reopened in the 1990s.
Porta San Vincenzo
Once back on Via Guelfa, at the end of the street, nearby the walls at Porta San Vincenzo, there is a vaulted-covered space with an opening at the center of the ceiling, probably used as cistern or tank.
However, its original use seems to be connected with a vaulted and covered road, maybe linked to the gateway.
This structure probably dates back between the 2nd and 1st century B.C.
Along Via Santa Margherita one of the medieval gateways of Cortona, Porta Berarda, is still visible although today it has been incorporated into a private villa. This gateway owes its reputation to penitent Saint Margaret, who entered the town from this point in 1272.
Next to the gateway we see the first station of the Cross, characterised by a mosaic by Gino Severini, running from Porta Berarda to the Sanctuary of Santa Margherita. Gino Severini conceived the fourteen conventional stations of the Cross, plus one at the beginning representing Saint Margaret praying in front of the Crucifix, made with mosaics within stone niches.
Fortress of Girifalco
The Fortress of Girifalco rises at an altitude of 651 m ASML in an area towering above the whole underlying valley named Val di Chiana. This castle was occupied since the Etruscan and Roman times, at the beginning as sacred and defense area, then as control and defense area. We know from some documents that the first fortress was built here in 1258, but Grand Duke Cosimo I wanted the complete restoration of the town walls (1520) and of the Fortress too because it was connected to the walls; therefore in 1556 the renowned engineer and soldier Gabrio Serbelloni, helped by Francesco Laparelli, Bartolomeo Salti and Ludovico Sernini, started the reconstruction works of the Fortress that were completed in 1561. According to the standard requirements applied by Sangallo in the other Medicean Fortresses, the Fortress of Cortona has a trapezoidal base and four corner bastions of different shape to better adapt to the uneven soil: the Southern bastion of Santa Margherita, the Western bastion of Santa Maria Nuova, the Northern bastion of Sant’Egidio (the one that better shows the typical features of a 16th-century bastion, with semi-circular sides and four emplacements for cannons) and the Eastern bastion of San Giusto. Within the bastions there were cannon embrasures, one of which can be visited. The central fortified tower, called keep, can be visited in its entirety; it is accessible from an external walkway (so-called “via cordonata”) or through a modern internal staircase.
At the moment the Fortress is open to the public during the summer, and is becoming an important center for contemporary art as well as a space used for exhibitions or cultural events.
Outside the town walls: Fortress of Pierle
This is an astounding example of castle built up to defend and protect important mountain paths; the castle is located along the road leading to Umbertide in Umbria and from there to the Val Tiberina, the region Marche and the Adriatic Sea.
This Fortress was built under the Casali domination towards the end of the 13th century, in a literally breathtaking location. When in 1409 Cortona was conquered by the king of Naples Ladislaus, this castle too was sold to the Florentine Republic together with the town. Four towers (two of which are still in place) rose up over its huge rectangular base.
The hamlet built at the foot of the castle, partly still inhabited, is really interesting to be visited.
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