Pienza Was Pope Pius II’s Idea of the Perfect City:
From our base in the spa town of Chianciano Terme, we took an excursion to Pienza, a small town in the Val d’Orcia in Tuscany. Pienza was Pope Pius II’s idea of the perfect Renaissance city and it is also famous for its pecorino cheeses.
Pienza and Pope Pius II
Pienza was a town that was conceived of by Pope Pius II. As a young man, Enea Silvio Piccolomini (Pope Pius II), was very well travelled and being a bright and curious individual, he found his way into
the humanism circles in many of the Italian cities that he visited. Piccolomini was a true Renaissance man, he became an expert in classical and legal matters, studied literature and was a much admired poet and a prolific writer. In one of the panels in the Piccolomini Library in Siena there is a painting of young Piccolomini being crowned as court poet by emperor Frederick III. He was also a respected diplomat and a great speaker.
Piccolomini then went on to pursue an ecclesiastical career and became a pope in 1458. It was during this time that he decided to endow his home village of Corsignano with new buildings and to make Pienza his summer court. The fortified village of Corsignano was the perfect setting for his ideal Renaissance city (città ideale del Rinascimento) as it overlooks the wide-open spaces of Val d’Orcia. So, putting into practice the concept of Renaissance town-planning, Corsignano was transformed into the Renaissance town of Pienza, with the Piazza Pio II being the centre of town. In terms of ground-breaking architecture, Pienza was the first Tuscan town where Renaissance town-planning was adopted.
Today the town that Pope Pius II built is a UNESCO world heritage site and a tourist attraction. On the four sides of the small main square of Pienza (Piazza Pio II) are the main sights:
- the Pienza Duomo or Cattedrale dell’Assunta containing paintings by renowned Sienese artists of the time. There’s also a nice statue of Pope Pius II in a reflective pose
- the Palazzo Piccolomini was the Piccolomini residence. Its loggia looks out on to a small but beautiful garden. The loggia also offers panoramic views over Val d’Orcia
- the Palazzo Comunale (Town Hall) and
- the Palazzo Borgia
Behind the Duomo is the belvedere with magnificent views of Val d’Orcia. Having arrived in the morning, we did have to wait for the thick fog to lift before we could see the valley.
When Pius II left for Ancona to launch his crusade, he left instructions that nothing is to be touched until his return. He died in 1464 and Pienza remained exactly as it was before Pius II’s death. Pienza may not have grown to a full town status but no doubt the Pope will be thrilled to know that his Pienza has what it takes to attract Hollywood here. Movie fans may be interested to know that scenes from the English Patient and Franco Zeffrelli’s Romeo & Juliet were filmed here.
The two large hotels in the historical centre of Pienza are the Relais Il Chiostro di Pienza with 37 rooms and the Hotel Corsignano with 30 rooms. There are also a few small B&B places in central Pienza. Other accommodation types around Pienza include agriturismo farm houses. For the complete list of Pienza accommodation see Here.
How to Get Here
There is no train station in Pienza, but you can get here by bus from Siena and Montepulciano. If you’re based in Siena, you can join a Small-Group day tour of Montepulciano and Pienza.