Pienza is a small, charming village in the south of Tuscany, located in the so-called Orcia Valley, which has been declared UNESCO World Heritage since 1996. During the Renaissance, it was called “the ideal city”. Let’s find out its must-sees.
The history of Pienza starts with Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who became Pope Pius II.
He was a great humanist, with the dream of transforming his native village, Corsignano, into an ideal city according the philosophy of the Italian Renaissance.
Thanks to his wealth and his relevant network of acquaintances, he succeeded in this project, which he put in the hands of Leon Battista Alberti, an Italian architect, and the sculptor Bernardo, known as “il Rossellino”.
Within only 3 years, from 1459 to 1462, wonderful buildings were erected, still visible today, such as the Cathedral, the Town Hall and Palazzo Piccolomini, all examples of the perfect harmony of Renaissance architecture.
These buildings, made of travertine stone which contributes to create an elegant and majestic flare, can be observed collectively from the beautiful central square.
In the middle of the square stands the Assunta Cathedral,both a religious temple and a treasure chest for art pieces of the highest value.
Its octagonal bell tower, a rare beauty, was built over the ancient crypt.
On one side of the square there is the famous Pozzo dei Cani, literally “the dogs’well”, a masterpiece designed by “il Rossellino”.
On the right side of the Cathedral, you will notice for sure the Piccolomini Palace, a huge building with a loggia which contains a hanging garden, from where you will be able to enjoy the amazing view of Orcia Valley.
The beauty of this place seduced also the Italian film director Franco Zeffirelli, who shot here a few scenes of his movie “Romeo and Juliet”.
Right in front of this building there is the Borgia Palace, an episcopal mansion offered by Pope Pius II to Rodrigo Borgia, the future Pope Alessandro VI.
Today it is the location of the Diocesan Museum, recognisable also thanks to its typical “cross” windows in Guelph style (from the German Welfen family, who gave their name to the Italian supporters of the Pope during the Middle Age).
Placed in front of the Cathedral, there is the Town Hall Palace, with a three arches colonnade and four mullioned windows on the facade.
This building was the headquarter of the city Priors, a Middle-Age title given to knightly orders.
From the centre of the city, following the road signs, you can reach Pieve di Corsignano, a charming Romanesque church. Its origins date back to the VII century, while its style is from the XII century.
Inside the Church looks quite empty,but impressive, a vast room divided
into three aisles, each with an altar.
On the last column on the left, you will admire one of the few existing representations of the Regolo Snake, a Roman god (this snake is actually an imaginary creature of the tradition).
On the right side of the entrance there is the very evocative baptismal font, the original one in which Pope Pio II was christened.
As you may have understood, Pienza is the portrait of the ideal Renaissance city and still today,a walk in this place will let you experience the atmosphere of that ancient age.
One of Pienza specialties is its pecorino, a hard cheese produced from pasteurised sheep milk, lactic ferments, vegetable rennet and salt.
There are many varieties: more or less seasoned, spicy or sweet, but the traditional one is seasoned for at least 90 days in oak barrels.
Its history has very ancient origins, as it was already produced by Etruscans and Romans.
The secret of its tastiness is in the grazing lands: sheep are free to eat the wild herbs of Orcia Valley, such as spearmint mint, barbabecco and ascenzio (typical products of the area).
Since 1960, in Pienza, every year between August and September the Cheese Expo takes place: a traditional fair where you can taste local products.
During this event, the Spindle Cheese Palio is also held in the main
square; it is a folkloric game in which players from different city quarters
have to roll a wheel of pecorino cheese around a small wood spindle
planted in the pavement in the middle of a marble ring designed by
architect Il Rossellino.
If you are looking for a unique experience, you can have a picnic in Pienza surrounded by art and nature, while admiring the view over Montepulciano.
Your basket will be filled with seasoned Pienza pecorino, cold cuts, flavoured fresh cheese, saffron cheese and you will enjoy those delicacies laying on the grass or sitting at the outdoor tables next to the shop in which you might wish to buy your souvenirs.
I hope all this may sound tempting enough to attract you to visit Pienza,
making you ready to appreciate its Renaissance atmosphere.
By the way, this town is also a suitable starting point to reach Siena,
another beautiful Tuscan city, in order to continue your discovery of this