Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Off the Beaten Trail: Cortona, Italy

Before beginning the newly featured Off the Beaten Trail edition, I would like to say, Happy March! It’s a month in which I think includes a new beginning, much like the beginning of the New Year, as it hosts the first day of Spring. It is a month of newly born animals, when flowers and plants just begin to pop up. It also has St. Patrick’s day, and the traditional corn beef and cabbage my mother cooks will soon be eaten. In Italy, there is the Ides of March, with the unfortunate assassination of Julius Caesar. And then of course, there is Women’s day on March 8th, which is not celebrated in the United States, but very much so in Europe.

So, Happy March everyone!

Off the Beaten Trail: Cortona

Santa Maria della Grazie al Calcinaio

You may have heard of Cortona from the book and/or movie, Under the Tuscan Sun. In the book, a couple buys a farmhouse which needs renovations, just outside of town. In the movie, a woman, just coming out of a horrible divorce, goes on a tour of Tuscany. She is enchanted by a charming farmhouse that she passes by on the tour bus, and decides to leave the tour. She winds up buying the house. Well, however you have heard about this quaint town, both the book and the movie fail to illustrate its beauty, its importance in history, its main attractions, or any of its other characteristics.

Cortona is a lucumonia, or ancient Etruscan city state, which is believed to have existed as early as the 8th century, and 12th century due to dating of its porte, entrances in its city walls. It was a major stronghold and had important trade routes. It was even allied with Rome. It houses

Palazzo Comunale

the MAEC, or Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca e della città di Cortona (the Museum of Etruscan Accademia and the City of Cortona), which was founded in 1727, showcasing classic archaeology and contemporary art. It also has an Egyptian exhibit; Medieval objects from Cortona’s Middle Ages; Roman inscriptions, Roman and Etruscan instruments, pottery, and objects used in daily life; and more.

The city’s most abundant remains come from its surrounding walls, which enclose both the medieval and modern day areas in which the Cortonesi live. There are many entrances that have been discovered to enter and leave the city. One such entrance, Porta Ghibellina or Bacarelli, dates back to the 11th century BC. It contains two arches, and due to the discovery of two bronze statues of Etruscan gods, are believed to have been used for religious and ceremonial events.

Via Nazionale

Like its well-known Tuscan neighbor, Florence, it is definitely worth a visit. And like all Italian towns, it has quite a few cultural and folkloristic featured festivities.

- the National Market of Ancient Furniture, occurring mid-August to the beginning of September;

- the Sagra della Bistecca, or beef-steak festival on the 14th and 15th of August, allows people to taste various kinds of Chianina beef-steaks;

- the Tuscan Sun Festival, featuring concerts and classical music at the end of the summer; and

- the Giostra dell’Archidado, a folkloristic festival and contests between competing crossbowmen of different towns.

These characteristics and festivities make it a rather unique city, transporting you into the past. Finding the ruins, artifacts, and tombs makes one pause to think about the amount of time that has passed until the present-day.

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