Pienza lies in the Orcia Valley, about 55 km south of Siena. Pienza is just as picturesque as it is small. Its beauty is the reason why it has been chosen as a setting for many films, including Zeffirellis "Romeo and Juliette", "The Brewer" and "The English Patient ". But even if you are blind to its visual charms, it’s worth a visit for its cheese, because in the hills around Pienza they make the best pecorino- sheep’s milk cheese that Tuscany has to offer.
If you are allergic to other tourists, try to come either early in the morning or in the evening, because in the daytime the town is simply heaving with visitors and there is not much room for manoeuvre.
Pienza is a rare example of complete Renaissance town planning. It is a living example of an attempt to create an ideal living and administration model by designing a town that could meet its residents’ requirements for peaceful and profitable cohabitation.
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The town’s main square is the trapezium-shaped Piazza Pio II, containing the cathedral, Palazzo Piccolomini, Palazzo Borgia and the town hall, all designed by the architect Rossellino. Other accommodation buildings and palaces were then built out in all directions around these central buildings in the same style as the main buildings in the square under the watchful eye of the architect Pietro Paolo del Porrina from Siena.
The cathedral was built on an older church of the Virgin Mary in the second half of the 15th century. The apse was built against the slope of the hill because the planners wanted to create a very broad nave and also create a square, which respected all existing ideas of proportion. But the huge foundations were not sufficient to ensure stability, since this area has been known to suffer landslides. Today the foundations of the church have been reinforced so it stays more or less in place. The exterior of the church is reminiscent of Alberti’s work in Florence, but is clearly the work of Rossellino. The interior is divided into three naves and is inspired by Gothic lines with slim columns on which the ceiling’s cross vaulting rests. The apse is lit through the Gothic windows. The church tower is octagonal and is above the antique crypt.
On the left of the square is the presbytery, built on sober lines typical of the second half of the 15th century. Today this building houses the town museum. Here you can see exhibited archaeological finds from local excavations, as well as art, paintings and other artefacts, which originally adorned the cathedral.
Beside the presbytery is the Palazzo Borgia, which is these days known as the bishop’s palace Palazzo del Vescovo. Pope Pious II requisitioned the building of this palace for his supporter, Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, who later became pope under the name Alexander VI. Notice how the colonnades get lower and lower towards the palace and force the Guelf patterns at the windows up to the highest floor. The palace’s inner courtyard is also worth a visit, with its arched colonnades.
The town hall style also varies between solid medieval lines and the new Renaissance sensitivity of that time. The loggia has three arches on which an order of columns rest opening up in narrow oblong two-part windows made of travertine marble. On the right is the bell tower with a Guelf battlement.