The town of Pienza, a UNESCO heritage site, sits in the heart of Tuscany, Italy. Expect Renaissance architecture at its best, gorgeous views and pecorino cheese to die for.
Pienza is the largest town in the Val d’Orcia in central Tuscany. It’s a city shaped by one man’s ambitious dream. That man was Pope Pius II whose aim was to create the ‘ideal city’ based on the humanist values of the time. Walking around today it’s hard to deny it the title, although its inspired design is really only visible in the trapezoidal main square Piazza Pio II. This square was designed by Rossellino and is surrounded by impressive buildings like the Cathedral and Palazzo Piccolomini.
Walking along Corso Rossellino and its narrow tributaries, your nose will lead you straight to one of the town’s many artisan cheese shops. Pecorino (sheep milk cheese) from the area is justly famous. We recommend a visit to an artisan cheese shop for a taste of some of this buttery and nutty goodness. There are plenty of variations in taste and texture, and you’ll find shops selling local honey too – a typical Tuscan pairing.
Cheese is the protagonist in a quirky game that takes place every year (usually in september) in the main square. Il “gioco del cacio al fuso” in Pienza is a sort of bowls played with cheese, where different contrade roll their way to local glory.
Once your tastebuds are satisfied, a little meandering will lead you to the southern part of the town from which you can see a spectacular view of the Val D’Orcia.
It won’t take more than a couple of hours to explore Pienza, but it is an excellent location from which to explore the many wonders of Val D’Orcia. Pienza is undoubtedly one the most romantic destinations in Tuscany, where you’ll find streets with evocative names such as Via del Bacio (Street of the kiss) and Via dell’Amore (Street of Love).
To see the best of the Val d’Orcia, check out our Val d’Orcia itinerary.
Pienza Tuscany, Italy – Discover the highlights
Piazza Pio II – If you want to feel the spirit of the Renaissance, Piazza Pio II is the place to do it. The architect Bernardo Rossellini used theories of Renaissance town planning devised by Leon Battista Alberti. It sets the buildings at angles to the cathedral in order to increase the sense of perspective.
Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta – A soberly geometric church with three high concave naves and a Papal crest near the top. After it was built in 1459, a Papal Bull forbade changes to the church and since then it has remained virtually the same.
Museo Diocesano – To the left of the cathedral is the Palazzo Vescovile (bishop’s palace), modified and enlarged in 1492 for Cardinal Borgia (later Pope Alexander VI), and now contains the diocesan museum. It displays an intriguing miscellany of artwork, illuminated manuscripts, tapestries and miniatures. Enter from Corso Rossellino.
Palazzo Piccolomini – This magnificent palace was the pope’s residence and is considered to be Rossellino’s masterpiece. It has a wonderful hanging garden and a three-level loggia which offers a spectacular panorama over the valley below. There are guided tours of the 1st floor every 30 minutes, but you can peek into the courtyard for free.
Palazzo Comunale – Worth a look for its beautiful exterior with Papal insignias and biforate windows.
Don’t miss the
Pieve Santi e Modesto, Corsignano: In the 10th century, Pienza was called Corsignano and this was its church. Its distinctive circular bell-tower, and atmospheric carvings of entwined sirens over the doorway make it a must-see.
Did you know? Pienza as the ‘ideal city’ in Tuscany
In the “ideal” city, moral and spiritual qualities had to be reflected in its amenities and urban structures, as well as its street layout. The name Pienza comes from its creator Pio II, Pienza means ‘city of Pio.’