Top Ten Towns of Tuscany – #9 Cortona

by LaLaItalia on September 4, 2013

Top Ten Towns of Tuscany   #9 Cortona


Cortona is a small charming town in the Valdichiana, or Chiana Valley, in the province of Arezzo in southern Tuscany. 
The city, enclosed by stone walls dating back to Etruscan and Roman times, sits on the top of a hill about 600 meters (about 1968 feet) above sea level. This dominant position over the valley offers a spectacular view from all over the town of the surrounding valley and even Lake Trasimeno.  Cortona is world famous for its medieval streets, renaissance palaces, museums, piazzas, and walkways. Many world-famous movies have been shot here, including “Life is Beautiful,” “Sostiene Pereira,” and “Under the Tuscan Sun.”

The heart of Cortona is Piazza della Repubblica, with the Palazzo Comunale or town hall building overlooking the square.
The city is small but offers many interesting places to visit, among these the Diocesan Museum (where you can admire a beautiful panel painting of the Annunciation by Beato Angelico) and the MAEC (The Etruscan Academy Museum of the City of Cortona), where it is possible to see many artifacts found in the Eruscan archeological sites in the area. You can also request additional information about the Archeological Park at the museum.

You should not miss a visit to the beautiful Santa Margherita Sanctuary, patron of the city, and to the Girifalco Fortress. Both are on the highest point on the hill and are easy to reach after a short, uphill walk.  Following the path that follows the city walls, you can also enjoy a beautiful view over the surrounding countryside. The Girifalco Fortress, constructed for military purposes, has undergone many substantial changes throughout the centuries and today only a part is open to the public.

Various small shops on the main streets of Cortona offer local handmade items and gastronomical products. Great red wines are made in the area (we are just a few kilometers from Montepulciano and Montalcino) and all of the wine bars offer a wide selection. 
There are many restaurants in the city, most offering traditional local and Tuscan cuisine (the Chianina cattle, one of Italy’s oldest, high quality bovine breeds is bred in Valdichiana).

Just outside of Cortona’s walls you’ll find the Franciscan hermitage Le Celle, the first monastery built by Saint Francis of Assisi in 1211, where a small community of friars still lives today. Through the course of the centuries, the hermitage was restructured and enlarged several times but Saint Francis’s small cell has always been conserved in its original state and can be visited today.  In summer, Cortona organizes the Tuscan Sun Festival, an annual event dedicated to the arts which sees the participation of several international stars and artists.

Cortona is a town and commune in the province of Arezzo, in Tuscany, Italy. Three thousand year old Etruscan walls surround Cortona. It retains much of its history through its architecture, layers of history built upon the Etruscan core. The plain below Cortona is speckled with Etruscan tombs. But Cortona isn’t just about the past; Cortona’s thriving Expat community is quite involved with the city, so a tourist speaking only English will feel welcome–and have interesting things to do.



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The Top Ten Towns of Tuscany – #8 Fiesole

by LaLaItalia on September 1, 2013


The Top Ten Towns of Tuscany   #8 Fiesole

Fiesole Archaeological Site

The Archaeological area of Fiesole, near Florence, includes Etruscan and Roman remains.

There are three main Etruscan features still visible:

The Etruscan Temple. It is situated on the northern side of the site and it dates back to the fourth century AD.
The Etruscan temple was built on earth foundations overlaid with stone. From its surviving outer walls, archaeologists have been able to reconstruct its original layout. It was a rectangular building with a single central cella and two side chambers separated from the cella by columns. The cella was reached by a series of steps which led down to the altar. Both the altar and position of steps were altered in the Roman period.

The City Walls. The walls date back to the fourth century AD and were built to strengthen Fiesole’s defences against the Gallic incursions. They are 2.5 kms long and were also partially rebuilt by the Romans.

The Etruscan Tombs. Also known as the Via Bargellino tombs, these tombs are situated outside the ancient city walls. Six tombs were discovered dating to the third century BC. Each tomb was built from large, uncemented blocks of stone. Each of them was rectangular with interior space maximised by the construction of platforms for cremated remains.
Parallel piped cremation urns with flat lids, a second century stone urn with a small illustrated box and an egg shaped urn of terracotta with a conical lid dating to the first century BC were found in the tombs. Grave goods have included terracotta unguent containers and bronze personal instruments.

The Etruscan settlement in Fiesole was conquered by the Romans in 90BC. The town was taken by Marcus Portius Cato’s troops after a lengthy siege using a nearby campsite as a base that later on became the city of Florence.
The conquest of Fiesole was destructive and many of the Etruscan buildings burnt to the ground. Archaeologists have discovered that after a period of abandonment, the Etruscan walls and one of the temples were rebuilt along Roman lines. The site was then completely occupied and became aRoman town.

Nowadays you can find both Roman Baths and a very well preserved Roman Theatre.

The Roman Baths
The Roman baths have been diffusely restored. Little decorative material has been recovered, apart from some bronze sheets of epigrams and the marble base of a statue of Hercules recovered from the tiepidarium.
The baths were divided into an internal and external area. The interior bathhouse followed the typical Roman pattern:a caldarium with an opus signimum floor and with 3 small pools; the tepidarium, heated by one furnace; the oldest room, the frigidarium, divided into three areas, with a semi circular plunge pool to the left.

The Roman Theatre
Built into the natural rocks of one of the town’s hills, the Roman theatre has been extensively restored and still remains one of the best preserved buildings in Fiesole. It was built shortly after the reoccupation of the site in the first century BC and was situated along the Cardo, one of the Roman town’s main streets that led to the forum.

The best seats in the house, situated near the orchestra and tribunalia arcades were reached by a series of vaulted passages that ran under the cavea or rows of seats. Several flights of stairs that ran up through the cavea could be used for seating elsewhere. Each stairway consisted of three flights of ten steps. The original rightside staircase of the theatre are still visible today.

Only the foundations of the frons scenae or stage area remained. These are sufficient to show thethree doors, actors used to access the stage. The most interesting area of the backstage is a semi circular room that would have been used to operate the mechanism that opened the theatre’s curtain.
The theatre was redecorated in the third century AD. Only a few fragments of the ornamentation of the multicoloured orchestra mosaics remains as well as marble reliefs of mythical scenes and deities, preserved in the site’s museum.

Leslie Halloran
Villa Rentals –


Garfagnana & Grotta del Vento

by LaLaItalia on March 16, 2013

Garfagnana & Grotta del Vento

Garfagnana, located between theApuan Alps the main part of the Apennines, is a rugged, mountainous area in the northwest corner of Tuscany north of Lucca. It is wilder and more isolated than the rolling hills and vineyards that make up the classic central Tuscan landscape, with winding mountain roads, gushing rivers and medieval towns perched on top of hills.  Castelnuovo, the capital of the region, is situated at an altitude of 277 metres in the heart of the green Garfagnana area, a territory that constitutes the northern part of the valley of the Serchio River, which runs between the mountain walls of the Apuan Alps and the Appenines. Many ancient outlying villages are beautifully situated and accessible on country paths through “green woodland”. A walk to these villages allows visitors to be in contact with nature and at the same time to discover the traditional daily rhythms of an agricultural people and to admire their rural architecture.


Garfagnana & Grotta del Vento

Grotta del Vento is a spectacular and interesting karst phenomenon. Here the weather conditions have constantly dug, carved and modeled the limestone rock, creating impressive natural sculptures, such as the Panie Massif, the enormous arch of Monte Forato or the stone waterfalls and crevices of the Vetricia Plateau.  Immersed in these awesome surroundings, the Grotta del Vento offers an exceptional variety of underground karst aspects ranging from living and shining stalactites and stalagmites, to little lakes, water courses, forms of erosion, mud formations and even perfectly-vertical shafts which can be visited with practical walkways.

Cave Tours

 The touristic route is divided into 3 parts, with aspects completely different from one another.

On the first part, the flattest, a great amount of limestone formations such as stalactites and stalagmites can be seen and most of them are still growing.

On the second part a descent is made into an area of the cave that is still expanding, without limestone formations, but with forms of erosion on the walls, a little underground river on the bottom and some unusual mud formations in the tunnel taken on the way back.

On the third part a shaft is visited, a perfectly vertical 90-metre shaft, which is climbed from the bottom to reach a final chamber at the top, followed by a short underground canyon.

The tour of all 3 parts, the third itinerary, lasts about 3 hours, but it’s possible to visit only the first part with the first itineraru, about one hour, or the first 2 parts with the second itineray of about 2 hours.



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