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.
Pienza, Tuscany, Italy – A bit of history
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.CC BY 2.5, Link
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.
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. 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.