Updated on December 1st 2020
Audio Tour of Pienza
The Perfect Traveller Tour of Pienza begins at its main entrance called the Porto al Murello or Porta al Prato. Pienza is one of the few villages in Tuscany that is located on flat ground and makes for an easy walk for anybody who comes to visit this village.
Upon entering you will notice immediately that the buildings on the left are made of rendered brickwork; they are modern day structures that replaced the old stone building you see throughout this village, the victims of Nazi bombing.
- Walking straight ahead along the Corso il Rossellino the entire village, the size of a dolls house, opens before you. There are a number of shops that may entice you, and you can begin to smell the pungent aroma of the famous Pienza Pecorino Cheese, as it’s sold in abundance along this street.
In a short-time you will arrive at the little church of St. Francis, on your right at Corso il Rossellino, 26. Most of what you see today is early 13th century but without a doubt this is the oldest standing structure in the area dating back to a much earlier church dating from the 9th century AD.
On the same side and just further along you will clearly see the imposing edifice of the Palazzo Piccolomini. Built in 1459 as a summer home for Pope Pius II, it is considered the first example of Renaissance architecture and its back garden the first example of a "roof garden" in the Renaissance. In just 3 years, the architect Bernardo Rossellino, student of another famous architect, Leon Battista Alberti, began and completed the construction of the central square in town where you now see the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, the Piccolomini Palace and town hall (palazzo comunale). The city then changed its name to Pienza, city of Pius, in honor of its illustrious citizen. This main square in Pienza is the heart of the small town. Sadly, the visionary Pius II never saw the completion of the transformation of a simple farming village into the “perfect city” as he envisaged with his architect Rossellino, dying in Ancona on the 14 August 1464.
The palazzo overlooks the magnificent Pizza Pio II which by any architectural standard in stunning in its design and execution. Dominating this square is Rossellino’s masterpiece, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, the main church of Pienza, it is recognized as one of the most important Renaissance complexes in Italy, symbol of the great power of Pope Pius II. Built in 1459, it is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and was erected on the ruins of the ancient Romanesque church of Santa Maria.
- Influenced by his master Alberti, the building has a travertine façade divided into three portals and three big arches, each with a small recess. It reads more as a classical temple than a Christian church which does suggest the liberal thinking of the pope. The sloping roof and the central rose window are features that refer to the French Gothic style. The interior, with three naves, resembles the style of the Austrian churches that the Pope used to visit during his trips to northern Europe as does the decidedly northern European looking bell tower. The apse is divided into chapels, the largest one is the magnificent choir.
Among the works of the church, there are altarpiece paintings made by Sienese painters of the fourteenth century like Giovanni di Paolo, Matteo di Giovanni, Lorenzo di Pietro (known as Vecchietta) and Sano di Pietro.
In the crypt there are sculptures from the ancient Romanesque church of Santa Maria and the baptismal font by Rossellino.
Pienza Subscriber Tour
Monday mornings can often be a problem when visiting the small towns and villages of Italy because many of the shops will not be open until after 15.00 in the afternoon. It is however a lovely time just to wander about the quieter streets at this time and do some window shopping.
About Peter Kilby
Peter Kilby is an artist, writer, story-teller, journalist and avid traveller who lived and worked in Italy from 1987 to 2018. He created Perfect Traveller to bring the world of art and history closer to you and in a way that is entertaining and informative; together with great travel tips. Getting off the beaten track in Italy is always an adventure and he invites you to join him in discovering an Italy that will surprise and amaze you.