Is Cortona the Oldest Village in Italy?

Is Cortona the Oldest Village in Italy?
03 November 2016 0 Comment

Centuries before you and I began singing the praises of Tuscany and villages like Cortona, ancient stories appeared and under the watchful eye of historians and soothsayers of the time studied the history of this village. Even then the results of these studies raised many an eyebrow.

Deciphering the Past

The foundation of Cortona remains mixed in legends dating to classical times but is there any truth to these wondrous legends? We know that these stories were later reworked, especially in the late Renaissance period under Cosimo I de’ Medici. And again in the 17th-century Guide of Giacomo Lauro, a reworking of the writings of Annio da Viterbo, who wrote 108 years after the Great Flood, Noah entered the Valdichiana via the Tiber and Paglia rivers. He preferred this place better than anywhere else in Italy, because it was so fertile, and dwelt there for thirty years. One of Noah’s descendants was Crano, his son who came to the hilltop and, liking the high position, the fine countryside and the calm air, built the city of Cortona on its slopes 273 years after the Great Flood.

Learning from Mythology

The world of mythology is as old as time itself and has given rise to a lot of what has become western culture; could Cortona’s ancient past be a product of such writing? “Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth; penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words, beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told” wrote Joseph Campbell, in his book The Power of Myth. Where does the truth of the origins of Cortona lie; perhaps by moving forward into the world of men and their wars?

A Regal Pedigree

According to Virgil, Cortona is nothing less than the “Mother of Troy and Grandmother of Rome!” Founded by Dardamus who according to legend was fighting another tribe on the hillside where Cortona sits today when he lost his helmet (corythus) giving the name Corito to the village that grew on that very spot. Dardamus went on to Asia to found Troy and give his name to the Dardanelles. The Etruscans, of which we have ample evidence of their existence in and around Cortona from around 800BC, claim to have originated from Western Anatolia and inscriptions very similar to Etruscan have been found on the Greek island of Lemnos near Troy. Could there be some truth in these ancient stories after all?

Ancient Cortona lives and breathes for us to enjoy today – and while her beginnings go back to an ancient time when truth and mythology merge; this Tuscan town is still a joy to visit. 

Peter Kilby
About the Author

Peter Kilby is an artist, writer, story-teller, journalist and avid traveller who has lived and worked in Italy since 1987. He created Perfect Traveller to bring the world of art and history closer to you. Download the “free” Perfect Traveller app and enjoy the best audio tours available; about Italy today and yesterday. Sign Up to this website and submit your travel stories and become part of the Perfect Traveller community.

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