Rising behind the Basilica of Santa Margherita, at over 2000 feet above sea level, the Fortezza del Girifalco is the highest elevation on our walking tour of Cortona. While there has likely been some type of stronghold in this location since the Etruscans settled the area in the 5th century BCE, the earliest written record of a fortress on the hilltop dates from 1258 CE. This medieval citadel, along with the rest of Cortona, was annexed by the Florentine Republic in 1411, and in 1527, the structure was joined with the walls surrounding the town. The Fortezza del Girifalco is often referred to as a “Medici fortress” because its 16th century restoration was decreed by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I de’ Medici. The fortress has not seen battle since the medieval period, and in 1776, it was disarmed and sold to the city of Cortona. Since then, the space has been used for a variety of purposes, including a prison, a storage facility for stone and wood, and a home for displaced children during WWII.
Today, the magnificent view afforded by the Fortezza del Girifalco makes the site a popular destination for tourists and photographers. The fortress itself now functions as a venue for cultural events such as wine-tastings, concerts, and art exhibitions, including Cortona On The Move, the city’s annual contemporary photography festival. The marble blocks on the overlook in front of the fortress are a favorite place for UGA students to gather and discuss their study abroad experiences as the sun sets over the Valdichiana.