Rising high on a rocky outcrop in the Val di Chiana, Cortona, the ancient Curtum, was the seat of one of the twelve supreme magistrates of the Etruscan confederation. Between the 6th and the 5th Centuries BC it was surrounded by encircling walls whose perimeter (nearly three kilometres) conveys an idea of how powerful it was. Traces of the ancient walls are still visible as the base for the more recent medieval walls.
Priceless testimony to these times are the great funerary mounds which surround the city, first that of Camucia, the Meloni del Sodo - of typical semispherical shape - and the Tanella di Pitagora, a drum tomb of Hellenistic age with circular plan containing six burial niches.
Pre-Roman antiquity relives again, thanks to the work of the Etruscan Academy founded in 1727, in the display cases of the Museo dell'Accademia Etrusca of Palazzo Casali, which safeguards archaeological finds of invaluable worth. Among them the bronze lamp from the 4th Century BC, unique in size and wealth of decoration, consisting of a Gordonís head with satyrs and sirens and the Tabula Cortonensis, one of the most important manuscripts in Etruscan language.
Cortonaís tourist image is now entrusted to a more recent past, finding expression in the 13th Century Town Hall, with facade surmounted by a sturdy crenellated clock tower, emblem of a Middle Ages which has left important traces throughout the municipal territory, such as the hermitage of Celle, founded by St Francis himself, and the imposing Abbey of Farneta.
The architectural face of the city was then remodelled in Renaisance times with the church of Madonna del Calcinaio, lying at the foot of the hill, the masterpiece of the Sienese architect Francesco di Giorgio Martini, and with the Medicean fortress of Grifalco, constructed on the place where the Etruscan acropolis once stood.
The artistic wealth is instead displayed by the precious paintings in the Diocese Museums, whose greatest treasure is the Annunciation of Fra Angelico.
The access to Cortona is not so easy due to its position on the side of a high hill and to the steep, winding road which is the only access to the old town. The visit to its treasures and the spectacular view over the entire Val di Chiana, with Lake Trasimeno on the left, Montepulciano and Lucignano in the front and Civitella della Chiana on the right will end up highly paying back the effort. The experience of climbing this ancient fort will give an ample idea of how important it was to dominate the valley, have a difficult access and a strategic position. The narrow alleys that give to the town a suggestive aspect and the good quality of restaurants, cafes and bars open until late will do the rest.