Welcome to Cortona

Cortona is a city rich in history, yet with a contemporary vision that welcomes the modern world.

Tradition refers to Cortona as the ‘Mother of Troy and Grandmother of Rome’. Its story takes inspiration from the Cortonese Dardanus, son of King Koritus, who set out from Cortona for the Troad. There, his descendants founded the city of Troy, until, after the ten-year war narrated by Homer, Aeneas (himself a descendant of Dardanus), returning as a refugee to his original homeland, founded Rome. This proves the remarkable antiquity of this Tuscan city. However, regardless of the myth, history and archaeology confirm the importance of Cortona in Etruscan times, when it was one of the twelve most important kingdoms in then Etruria. Impressive traces of this period can still be seen in the town and in the territory. The monumental burial sites of Sodo and date from the 7th century B.C., the town walls from the 4th century B.C., whilst the Angori and Pythagoras tanelle [tombs] date from the 2nd century B.C.. Along the Etruscan walls of Cortona, recognisable by their imposing size and the special technique used to lay the stones, there are two city gates that have retained the Etruscan imprint most clearly: the monumental double-arched mullioned gate at the end of Via Ghibellina and Porta Montanina on the upper part of the town.

Roman Era

Little is known about Cortona in Roman times. After a slow but inexorable process of Romanisation, we know that it became a Roman municipality and that it maintained substantial autonomy even during the Imperial Age. Even from the point of view of the city plan, very little remains, although we can perhaps guess at the structure of the decumanus major and cardo major from when the city was founded as roman Corito, as reflected in the modern-day layout of the Via Nazionale-via Roma and Via Guelfa-Via Benedetti-Via Dardano. At the intersection of these two routes, in the area between today’s Piazza della Repubblica and Piazza del Duomo, was presumably the forum, with its associated buildings, of which unfortunately nothing remains except for a complex system of wells and cisterns. Much more conspicuous are the imprints on the surrounding landscape, from which come traces of centuriazioni, a Roman system of land division, and imposing remains of Roman villae rusticae [old country villas]. This is the case, for example, of the Villa della Tufa at Ossaia.

The Church and Convent of Sant’Agostino

The St. Augustine complex, consisting of the church and adjoining convent, is considered one of the oldest in the city. Although the exact date of its foundation remains approximate, it is already mentioned in some 13th century extracts. The original Gothic church, traditionally dated to 1273, was much smaller than the present one. An initial reconstruction was carried out in 1481 and traces of it remain in the cusped entrance portal incorporated into the present façade. The renovation is probably linked to the Zefferini family, as is the construction of the new chapel where the body of Blessed Ugolino Zefferini was laid to rest. A second, and much more substantial building intervention dates back to 1681, when the church and convent were enlarged and redesigned into the present form, and the eight side altars were added to the church. The pre-existing part and later extensions can be clearly distinguished on the façade, where the original gabled layout, divided horizontally by two string-course cornices, is supported by the unclad 17th century extension. At the current door, traces of the Gothic portal are visible, though these have been closed off and replaced by new openings.

Whilst the interior of the church retains the original hall structure, 1681 saw the addition of Baroque altars, four on each side, along with three apsal chapels. The chapel on the left originally housed Berrettini’s painting of The Madonna Enthroned, which also depicts the saints James the Greater, John the Baptist, Stephen and Francis, and which is now kept at the MAEC- the Museum of the Etruscan Academy of the City of Cortona. The body of Blessed Ugolino Zefferini, himself an Augustinian from Cortona, whose remains have since been transferred to the church of San Filippo (also in Cortona), was also kept and venerated in Sant’Agostino. The church itself can only be visited during events and exhibitions. Next to the church are the premises of the former Augustinian convent, now used as the conference/event centre. It is typically configured in the manner of the convents of the Order of Preachers, centralised around the cloister, which, thanks to a sympathetic and careful restoration carried out in the 1980s, was only partially altered. It is flanked by the church, directly accessible from the public street.

In the 13th century, the vaulted lower floor of the convent was used for service rooms and community halls, while the upper floor, constructed using trusses, was dedicated to the monks’ living quarters. During the 14th and 15th centuries, with the renovation of pre-existing buildings and the landscaping of the surrounding area, the monastery took on an aspect somewhat similar to the present day, with the two main bodies of the building running parallel to each other, connected on the opposite edge to the church by a smaller body of the building. During the Renaissance period, the internal portico was constructed, using two architectural ‘orders’, one floor on top of the other, with the lower one archivolted and the upper one architraved. To complete and embellish the lower order, the lunettes were frescoed with episodes from the life of Sant’Agostino. The upper order was built according to the original design on two sides only and was remodelled in the first half of the 20th century. After the establishment of the Kingdom of Italy, many of the rooms expropriated from the religious orders were used for school buildings. Having passed to the Scolopi (The Piarists), the Cortona convent of Sant’Agostino was also adapted as a school, indeed the closing off of the lower order of the cloister probably dates back to this period. The cloister is currently open to the public.

From the 12th century to the present day

Although there appears to be very little historical evidence of the late Roman and early Middle Ages, Cortona, on the other hand, reappears clearly from the end of the 12th century, when sources delineate it as a free commune, with its own laws and its own mint. Traces remain of the first Statute of Cortona, dated 1250, which demonstrates a great intellectual openness and a remarkable liveliness given its position as a small centre in the midst of other great rulers. The history of the town in this period is in fact inextricably tied to the struggles of wars. These were conflicts of independence and struggles for freedom from the attempts of subjugation by neighbouring Arezzo, Florence and Perugia (the only exception being Siena, with whom it was always allied) and internal struggles between Guelphs and Ghibellines. In particular, it was with Guelph Arezzo that the clashes were concentrated, especially in the middle of 13th century Cortona, when the Ghibellines prevailed, and which was besieged by the troops of the bishop of Arezzo, who managed to occupy the town in 1258. Cortona was sacked and devastated and all the Ghibelline mayors were exiled and sentenced to death in absentia. However, after the battle of Montaperti in 1260, with the help of the loyal Sienese, the Exiles managed to reconquer the town in 1261, on 25 April. From that day Cortona celebrated its liberation from Arezzo by making San Marco one of the town’s patron saints. Having gained importance and power during this important event, [the local nobleman] Uguccio Casali would then go on to found and develop, some decades later, the small local lordship of the Casali family. This was made official in 1325 when Ranieri Casali was invested by the Emperor with the title of Dominus[ruler], thus enabling the ratification of the new Statute. At the same time Pope John XXII recognised Cortona as an Episcopal centre and erected the suburban church of San Vincenzo as a cathedral. The proximity to the city of Siena meant that in this period the artists working in the city were mainly of Sienese origin, such as the Lorenzetti brothers, who were entrusted with the task of frescoing the entire church of Santa Margherita, and who left many other notable masterpieces in the city. The period of the Casali Seigniory is characterised by a remarkable liveliness, not only political but also intellectual and spiritual. To give just some examples, as early as 1211, St. Francis had taken refuge in the wild countryside round Cortona, and there had started a flourishing community of friars, which would later become known as the Convent of Le Celle. In 1272 Margaret of Laviano arrived in Cortona, and according to sources, became Uguccio Casali’s friend and counsellor. Only a few years later she would be referred to as Santa Margherita. An extraordinary corpus of confessional hymns was written in Cortona between the 13th and 14th centuries, preserved in codex 91 of the Biblioteca Comunale, the Accademia Etrusca, and the Laudario di Cortona. Perhaps it was this climate of intense spirituality, in addition to inspiring numerous religious conversions, that caused the City of Cortona to be chosen very early on by the ’emerging’ mendicant orders (Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians and Servants of Mary) as the site for their churches and convents; the convent of San Domenico is one of the oldest established in Tuscany, the church of San Francesco is the second Franciscan church ever constructed. Indeed, it could be suggested that it was the presence of these mendicant orders that not only helped bring about a cultural, moral and political awakening, but also contributed to the urban reorganisation of the city, which was transformed around the convents and churches that were erected between the 13th and 15th centuries. The complex of Sant’Agostino is an eminent example. In 1409, the troops of the King of Naples, Ladislaus, were passing through the Val di Chiana, whereupon the citizens of Cortona, exasperated by the last Casali, offered him the keys to the city. The king accepted and promptly sold the city to the Florentine Republic. This meant the end of independence for Cortona and its allegiance therefore transferred to both the Republic of Florence and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Cortona would remain under their influence from then on until the unification of Italy, in a substantially long period of calm, peace and prosperity. As the political order evolved between the 15th and 17th centuries, Cortona’s artists, all linked to Florence, correspondingly changed with it. Mention must be made of Beato Angelico, who, living in the Cortonese convent of San Domenico in the 1430s, painted two masterpieces that are today kept in the Diocesan Museum (the Annunciation and the Triptych). We also note Bartolomeo della Gatta, Giorgio Vasari, Alessandro Allori, Andrea Commodi and Baccio Ciarpi, as well as the most famous Cortonese artists of Luca Signorelli and Pietro Berrettini, whose works can be found copiously in the city’s churches and museums.

Dr.Eleonora Sandrelli explains the history of Cortona from the Middle Ages to the present day.

You can view other videos regarding the history, art and culture of the city of Cortona on the Cortona Social Media youtube channel.

The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw the establishment of various cultural academies, including the Accademia Etrusca, which still exists today. It was known for its enlightened spirit and European openness, and soon became celebrated in the most prestigious intellectual circles in Italy and Europe and was recognised as the mother of modern Etruscology. At the end of the 18th century, Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo oversaw the drainage of the marshland of the Val di Chiana, rendering it viable for cultivation and thus greatly improving the health of the entire area. During this time, specifically in the period from the first half of the 18th century to the middle of the 19th century, the Leopoldine villa evolved. This was a type of farmhouse with precise architectural characteristics: an independent detached building comprising a pavilion roof, portico, loggia and dovecote, with a rustic living/working area on the ground floor and official living quarters on the first. Of these, roughly twelve were Fattorie Granducali (larger more important estates), three of which were in the Cortona area, specifically in Montecchio, Creti and Chianacce. 260 others were standard Leopoldine ville that sprang up in the middle of the reclaimed land. Cortona’s fortunes thus went hand in hand with the Grand Duchy of Tuscany until the Unification of Italy. Its last major transformation took place in the 19th century, and it is this, at least from an urbanistic point of view, which largely accounts for how Cortona looks today. Work was carried out in the very heart of the city, with the building of the Teatro Signorelli, as well as around the perimeter of the city walls; the Viale Cesare Battisti, the Parterre Promenade and the colossal Cimitero della Misericordia are outstanding examples, culminating with the complete rebuilding of the sanctuary of Santa Margherita on the top of the hill. Among Cortona’s artists of the 20th century, we could not fail to mention the famous Gino Severini, the eclectic father of futurism. In his will, he donated a hefty body of works to his hometown, an important corpus now exhibited in the MAEC – Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca e della Città di Cortona. In short, it is a town rich in history, yet open minded and contemporary, which welcomes the modern world. In recent decades, for example, numerous international schools and universities have chosen Cortona as their Italian base, as well as national and international artists who appreciate its spirit of great intellectual openness and extraordinary quality of life.


The Sant’Agostino complex, consisting of the church and adjoining convent, is considered one of the oldest in the city of Cortona.

Meeting Rooms

The Sant’Agostino Conference Centre has several types of meeting/events room equipped with the latest and most innovative technology and can offer both indoor and outdoor event spaces.


An efficient conference organisation for the planning and coordination of congresses, conventions, meetings and cultural events.

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