We love Pienza, Italy. It’s a UNESCO World heritage site, and one of our all-time favourite small towns in Tuscany, located in the magical setting of the Val d’Orcia. Maybe we love it because of the soft colours of its stone, the graceful main square, or maybe because the drive there takes you through some truly splendid Tuscan landscapes. Whatever the case, spending some time in this delightful town will reconcile you with life.
Pienza, Tuscany, Italy – A town born out of a dream
Piazza Pio II is Pienza’s main square and the town’s beating heart. It’s named after a very interesting character who gave Pienza its name and a design with a purpose.
The Pope Enea Silvio Piccolomini was born here in 1405, when it was known by a different name – Corsignano. He took it upon himself to use this town, that wasn’t much to look at, as an architectural experiment. He employed the famous architect Bernando Rossellino, who set to work transforming the Medieval patterns and giving shape to the very first Renaissance “ideal city” in Italy, where proportions and harmonic shapes would reflect human virtues and good living.
This is how Pienza (‘city of Pio’) was born. It was the year 1459, and it took only 3 years to give the town a total facelift, starting from the main square that became the perfect example of Renaissance urbanism.
The best bits of Pienza, Italy
Piazza Pio II
The perfectly geometrical setting of Piazza Pio II gives you an idea of what ‘harmonic proportions’ meant for Rossellino. In this relatively small square, all eyes are drawn to the luminous Cathedral and Palazzo Piccolomini, the Pope’s palace. The shape of the square serves a precise purpose: to make the cathedral’s facade look bigger than it actually is.
Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta
Visit the Cathedral interior to admire some 15th century paintings, and walk in the crypt. Despite the general Renaissance planning, the sombre elegant interior is influenced by late Gothic Germanic churches. Notice the emblem of the Pope Piccolomini on the travertine facade.
Don’t miss a visit to the Palazzo Piccolomini (it’s the one on the right, if you’re facing the church), a splendid papal residence with an internal courtyard and a geometrically-shaped garden that offers stunning views of the Val d’Orcia. You can spot Mount Amiata in the distance, and appreciate how the love for the landscape influenced Pienza’s town planning.
⇒ Would you like to explore the Val d’Orcia by car? Here’s a driving itinerary that shows you the best of this area.
Museo Diocesiano in the Palazzo Vescovile
The beautiful Palazzo Vescovile, or Bishop’s Palace, that overlooks the square (on the left of the Duomo) today hosts the Museo Diocesano, with a collection of sacred art with pieces from the Cathedral and other churches of the area. There are paintings, altarpieces, religious ornaments, vestments and tapestries.
A passeggiata along Corso il Rosellino
The corso is where people in Italy take their leisurely stroll. And Pienza’s Corso Rossellino is a perfect example. It’s lined with small shops, selling food, artisan-worked leather goods, house decor and of course souvenirs of all sorts. A passeggiata along this historic street is a window to the life of the town.
It joins Porta a Prato (where you find the Tourist Information office) with the 13th century gate Porta del Giglio. Along Corso Rosselino you find the small San Francesco Church, a typical Franciscan church for its simplicity – in the interior you find with some 14th century frescoes that depict scenes from the life of Saint Francis.
Where the streets speak of love
As you walk around the town centre and pay attention to the streets’ names you’ll discover some surprises. You have the romantic Via del Bacio (kiss street), the famous Via dell’Amore, the lucky Via della Fortuna, but also Via Buia (dark street) to remind you that there’s dark and light in all places, even the most beautiful ones.
♥ Discover the most romantic places in Tuscany, and the top experiences to have in the region during your trip!
Taste the delicious Pienza Pecorino cheese
If it wasn’t for the loveliness of the place, people would still come to Pienza to taste and buy the gorgeous locally produced Pecorino sheep’s milk cheese. When you eat this Pecorino cheese you’re tasting a piece of history. According to Plinio Il Vecchio the Etruscans were already making a delicious cheese in the area of the Crete Senesi. Today it is produced with traditional methods. The ‘fresco‘ and ‘semistagionato‘ are younger and softer, while the ‘stagionato‘ is aged, darker in colour and has a more intense flavour.
Find out about some of the typical Tuscan dishes & food.
Take part in one of Pienza’s Festivals
“Pienza e i Fiori” Flower Festival
If you happen to visit Pienza in May, you’ll witness first hand how the historical centre gets beautifully decorated with flower displays, embracing the spirit of spring and all its colours.
Il Gioco del Cacio al Fuso
On the first Sunday of September Pienza hosts an apt game for a town famous for its pecorino cheese: the Cheese Rolling Game. Played in Piazza Pio II you’ll see big wheels of cheese being rolled along towards a target: a spindle set in the middle of the square.
⇒ Here’s an article dedicated to the Best Tuscan Festivals.