Cortona is a medieval town in the province of Arezzo, in Tuscany. It is a cultural and artistic center whose standing as a tourist destination has intensified since the publication of Frances Mayes's book 'Under the Tuscan Sun' which is set there. Cortona's current good fortune in attracting large numbers of tourists can be attributed in large part to Frances Mayes. The town is encircled by defensive walls dating to the Etruscan period and medieval houses pack the slopes.
Our 10 days in Cortona provided us a central location from which to explore not just Tuscany but also neighboring Umbria. We arrived as the local townspeople were setting up stalls in the central square (Piazza della Repubblica) in preparation for 'medieval week'' when the city reverts to the life and customs of the past. In the square you can see artisan crafts and produce, you see craftsmen shaping copper to create jewelry; stalls with leather-bound books, masks, medieval jewelry. Ancient flavors mingle with old crafts. The week culminates with the 'Joust of the Archidado' where the city celebrates: ladies, horsemen and children parade, in medieval clothes, along the streets of Cortona for the re-enactment of the medieval marriage between Francesco Casali, Lord of Cortona and Antonia Salimbeni, a noble woman from Siena.
Walking the streets of Cortona gives you a chance to step back in time. Every medieval tuscan town has its own history and Cortona with its steep cobblestone streets and hollow archways has its own story to tell. The heart of Cortona is Piazza della Repubblica. Built in the 1200's it is the central thoroughfare with a variety of shops and restaurants lining its perimeter. At night you find Italians doing what they do best....conversing and dining. Dining in Italy is an experience centered around, friends, family, good food and good conversation.
Cortona has one main street lined with small boutique shops and restaurants which is used for walking (no cars or trucks) and from which narrow alleys lead off to either residences or other stores. The alleyways have lots of shadows and bright light so exposure must be controlled. Exposing for the highlights and subsequently bringing the details in the shadows back in Lightroom worked quiet effectively. However in those cases where the light and dark areas were extreme two images were captured and subsequently blended in Photoshop using luminosity masks. Photographing the alleyways is best in the late afternoon when the warm tones illuminate and enhance the terracotta colors of the medieval homes. Artistically rendering the photographs serves to reflect the character and romantic nature of Cortona.
At night the streets take on a completely different dimension being somewhat mysterious and haunting. Using an aperture of F/16 I was assured of the star burst effects from the street lights and a wide angle lens provided a depth view of the narrow medieval streets.
...and of course Italy is all about food, and market day beckons the best.
Just outside of the walls of Cortona in a quiet and somewhat mystical setting is the Franciscan hermitage, Le Celle built by St Francis of Assisi in 1211. Since that time the hermitage has been restructured and enlarged but St Francis's small cell (shown below, on the right) has been conserved in its original state. To photograph the interior of the building required a wide angle lens and a tripod as it was quite dark.
Lake Trasimene is only a short distance from Cortona in the adjoining region of Umbria. Three islands are within its perimeter with Isola Maggiore being the only one that is inhabited. Isola Maggiore is a tiny fishing village with houses dating back to the 14th and the 16th centuries. The settlement of this tiny island dates back to the 13th century when a group Friars settled there. As the story goes, St Francis was hosted by the Friars for a lenten season. The village has a main paved thoroughfare lined with 13th and 14th century buildings. The Church of St. Michael Archangel with frescoes made between the 13th and the 16th century (second image below) stands on the main street and the 12th century Church of St Salvatore stands at the top of the hill. Along the main street you will also find elderly woman continuing the crafts of long ago.