Pienza is town and commune in the province of Siena, in the Val d'Orcia in Tuscany (central Italy), between the towns of Montepulciano and Montalcino.
In 1996, UNESCO declared the town a World Heritage Site, and in 2004 the entire valley was included on the list of UNESCO's World Cultural Landscapes.
The History of Pienza
Pienza was built on a village called Corsignano, which was the birthplace (1405) of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, a Renaissance Humanist born into an exiled Sienese family, who later became Pope Pius II. Once he became Pope, Piccolomini had the entire village rebuilt as an ideal Renaissance town. Intended as a retreat from Rome, it represents the first application of humanist urban planning concepts, creating an impetus for planning that was adopted in other Italian towns and cities and eventually spread to other European centers.
The rebuilding was done by Florentine architect Bernardo Gambarelli (known as Rossellino) who, most scholars agree, probably worked under the guidance of the renowned humanist Leon Battista Alberti, even though there are no documents to prove it for sure. Alberti was in the employ of curia at the time and served as a close advisor to the pope on matters of architecture. Construction started about 1459. Pope Pius II consecrated the Duomo on August 29, 1462.
Worth seeing in Pienza
The trapezoidal-shaped piazza is defined by four buildings. The principle residence, the Palazzo Piccolomini, is on the west side. It has three stories, articulated by pilasters and entablature courses, with a window set within each bay. This structure was to serve as a model for Alberti's design in Florence of the Palazzo Rucellai and other later palaces. Noteworthy is the internal court of palazzo. The back of the palace, to the south, is defined by loggias on all three floors that overlook an enclosed giardino all'Italiana and the spectacular views into the distant landscape.
The Duomo (Cathedral), which dominates the center of the piazza, has a façade that is one of the earliest designed in the Renaissance manner. Though the tripartite division is conventional, the use of pilasters and of columns, standing on high dados and linked by arches, was novel from the time. The bell tower, however, has a Germanic flavor as is the layout of the plan which is in a form known as a Hallenkirche where the side isles are almost as tall as the nave; scholars suggest that this is linked to the fact that Pope Pius, before he became pope, served many years in Germany and was familiar with German architectural traditions. Artworks in the duomo include five altar paintings from the Sienese School. The Baptistry (or San Giovanni) is located under the apse of the church.
The Palazzo Borgia, on the third side of the piazza, was built as the palace to house the bishops who would travel to Pienza to be close to the pope. It is now home to the Diocesan Museum, and the Museo della Cattedrale. The collection includes local textile work as well as religious artifacts. Paintings include a 7th century painting of Christ on the Cross (La Croce), 14th century works by Pietro Lorenzetti (Madonna with Child) and Bartolo di Fredi (Madonna della Misericordia). There are also important works from the 14th and 15th centuries, including a Madonna attributed to Luca Signorelli.
Across from the church is the town hall, or Palazzo Pubblico. Since Corsigniano was originally a village without a town governance, there was before the transformations no town hall. But since it was only fitting that a Pope be born in a city, Corsigniano was given the status of an offical city, and thus the town hall, though it was certainly more for show than anything else. It has a loggia on the ground floor and council chamber above. It also has a brick bell tower that is, however, shorter than its religious counterpart to symbolize the superior power of the church. The Palazzo Pubblico was probably also designed by Rossellino.
The travertine well on the Piazza carries the Piccolomini family crest, and was widely copied in Tuscany during the following century.
About fifty meters west from the piazza, is the church of San Francesco, with a gabled façade and gothic portal. Among the buildings that survived from the old Corsignano, it is built on a pre-existing church that dated from the 8th century. The interior contains frescoes depicting the life of Saint Francis, those on the walls having been painted by Cristofano di Bindoccio and Meo di Pero, 14th century artists of the Senese school.
Other noteworthy buildings in Pienza include the Ammannati Palace, the Gonzaga Palace and the Palazzo del Cardinale Atrebatense, all built in the 15th century.
The Pieve of Corsignano, in the neighbourhood, is one of the most important Romanesque monuments of the area.
The frazione of Monticchiello is home to a characteristic Romitorio, a series of grottoes carved in the rock by heremite monks.