The area surrounding Cortona
This sightseeing tour will make you discover the surroundings of Cortona, through a guided tour to the main points of historical and artistic interest, amid old Etruscan tombs, Roman villas, Medieval castles and Benedictine abbeys. Because of the distances, this itinerary can be only covered by car.
- The tour in the surroundings of Cortona starts from the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie al Calcinaio (15th century), with a Latin-cross plan and in Renaissance style with an elegant dome. It was built by the Shoemakers Guild, which had lime basins for curing leather next to the church. A miraculous image of the Virgin Mary, once on the walls, is now displayed over the main altar. The rose window with the Virgin of Mercy and the two windows of the transept with Saint Paul and Saint Sebastian have been made by Marcillat. This monument is considered as one of the most relevant architectonical masterpieces of the Renaissance.
- The dirty road in front of the church leads to via Scotoni. Turn right, go up towards Cortona and, once arrived at the big crossroads made up of five streets, turn left in the direction of Arezzo. After a hundred meters from the crossroads, park the car to visit the Tanella di Pitagora (2nd century B.C.). This cylindrical-shape monument of nearly 7 meters of diameter is made up of a round basement in which is inserted another tambour with juxtaposed blocks. The interior has a short entry-corridor called “dromos” and a small rectangular room covered with a barrel vault. Judged by Vasari as Archimedes’ tomb, it was considered by others as Ulysses’ tomb or Pythagoras’ tomb, because of the Greek Hellenistic style of its architecture. The monument has been damaged over the centuries and today belongs to the Etruscan Academy.
- Continue going down on the street leading to Sodo, where you can admire two beautiful Etruscan burial mounds. The Tumulo I of Sodo (called “Melone” because of its spherical shape) was investigated for the first time in 1909. It consists of an artificial mound that is more than 50 meters long and 10 meters high. To enter the tomb you have to walk along an uncovered “dromos”, whose walls are 3.50 meters long and made of travertine and sandstone blocks. The internal plan is made up of a five-chamber area, with four chambers opening onto a central corridor and one central chamber at the end of it. In spite of the pillages, the tomb has still preserved important Attic ceramic ware with black figures and one fine golden cat-shaped fibula. The Melone I is open on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 9.30 am to 12.30 pm.
- In front of the Melone I you will find the Tumulo II of Sodo (or Melone II). In 1928-29 archeologists unearthed one tomb dating back to the 6th century B.C., consisting of a “dromos” and six lateral chambers and one central chamber at the end of the corridor. On the opposite side of the tomb, excavations brought to light a monumental altar-platform accessed by means of a stairway made of sculpted blocks, which are decorated with fight scenes between a soldier and a wild beast. The stairway had probably another flight of stairs leading to the top of the mound, where there was a small temple. Another tomb dating back to the 5th century B.C. is made up of a “dromos” and two chambers. The oldest grave goods are made up of more than 150 objects, like finely wrought golden jewels, ornamentations and garments. The Melone II is open everyday from 8.30 am to 1.30 pm.
- From Sodo take the street leading to Camucia and follow the signs to Monsigliolo to arrive in Farneta (about 14 km away from Cortona). You cannot miss visiting the Abbey of Farneta (8th century), built by the Benedictine monks and dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The abbey reached the height of its splendor between the 9th and the 14th century and remained in possession of the monks until the 18th century. The church has a single nave with a jutting out transept onto which five apses open. The magnificent crypt sustained by Roman columns differently decorated and by one Egyptian column is really impressive.
- Let’s go back to Camucia and take the street leading to Terontola. Stop the car in Ossaia, where an outstanding example of late Republican-Imperial Roman villa has been recently discovered. This villa dates back to the Augustan Age at the end of the 1st century B.C. The complex was inhabited at three different stages from the first half of the 1st century B.C. and the 5th century A.D. It covers an overall area of about 1,000 sq. m. and is divided into three different areas separated by an intermediate terrace. During excavations a 50 sq. m. black and white mosaic with geometrical figures has been found. Other mosaics, funeral inscriptions, amphorae, oil lamps, keys, coins and jewels, which have been discovered in the villa, are now exposed in the MAEC Museum in Cortona.
- From Ossaia take the road leading to Pergo up to Metelliano, where our guided tour will make you stop at the Church of San Michele Arcangelo (7th century). Erected by the Lombards, it was rebuilt around the year 1000 in pre-Romanesque and Byzantine style, leaving the two beautiful side apses from the 7th century intact. The church has one nave and two aisles, separated by octagonal columns and pillars, which make the building airy anticipating the Gothic style, and three apses decorated on the external part with blind arches. The Church of San Michele Arcangelo was declared national monument in 1907.
- From here go towards Mercatale, until you see the Fortress of Pierle (11th century), the last stop of our guided tour. This magnificent fortress is about 28 meters high, has an irregular squared plan and is surrounded by a wall that is about 220 meters long. It used to have two towers, but only the North one is still visible. Two of the four towers on the surrounding walls are still preserved, as well as the sentry boxes, the walkway, the groove of the drawbridge, the rainwater ducts and the loopholes. The castle was seven-storey high and had high underground vaults and a well with iron points where the condemned were thrown down. In 1387 there was the massacre of 60 conspirators by Uguccio Casali. The Fortress of Pierle owned by King Ladislas of Naples was bought by the Republic of Florence and in 1576 the Medici destroyed part of it, in order to prevent wrongdoers from Tuscany and from the Papal State from hiding there.