The Internet's most comprehensive Travel website for Italy
Use quote marks to search for exact names eg "Hotel Florence"

Landscape Surrounding Tuscan Village of  Pienza - By J. Andrews

                Pienza Back Road

Main piazza of Pienza, Jesse Andrews

Landscape Surrounding Tuscan Village of  Pienza - By J. Andrews

Landscape near Pienza

       Landscape as seen from Pienza

Welcome to Pienza and the Val d'Orcia

from Jesse's Journeys in Italy

Population:  2,231 (2001)
Official website:
Wikipedia: Pienza

The town of Pienza sits in the Val d'Orcia in Tuscany between the towns of Montepulciano and Montalcino.  Such are the characteristics and qualities of these Italian places that in 1996 UNESCO declared the town a World Heritage Site, and in 2004, the entire valley landed on the list of UNESCO's World Cultural Landscapes.

The Val d'Orcia, through which flows the River Orcia, is the quintessential Tuscan landscape.  Once dry and barren it has been transformed over the centuries into one of the most productive and beautiful regions in the world, dotted with small villages, parish churches, villas and castles, separated by a patchwork of vineyards, orchards, pastures and fields.  Roads and fields are lined with imposing oak, beneficent umbrella pine, tall and priestly cyprus, and varieties of other trees, shrubs and bushes that flare into color almost throughout the year.  Much of the valley is part of a large park system known as the Artistic Natural and Cultural Park of Val d'Orcia, consisting of five distinct areas (Pienza, Castiglione d'Orcia, Montalcino, Radicofani and San Quirico d'Orcia).

Pienza was built on a village called Corsignano that had been settled since known as Corsignano, which happened to be the birthplace (1405) of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, a Renaissance Humanist born into an exiled Sienese family, who later became Pope Pius II.  As Pope, he had the entire village rebuilt as an ideal Renaissance town - which has led historians to dub Pienza the "utopian" town.  It represents the first application of so-called 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 work was done by Florentine architect Bernardo Gambarelli (known as Rossellino) under the guidance of Leon Battista Alberti  starting in about 1459 (the year that Columbus "discovered" American). Pope Pius II consecrated the Duomo, which sits across from the Piazza Comunale on Pienza's main piazza, the Piazza Pio, on August 29, 1462.  The Palazzo Piccolomini, the Pope's family home, and the Palazzo Borgia also front the piazza.  The travertine well on the Piazza carries the Piccolomini family crest. 

Though most of the buildings are decidedly Renaissant, the bell tower of the Duomo has a Germanic flavor as a result of Pope Pius' exposure to German architecture before he ascended to the Papacy. There is a brick bell tower on the Piazza Comunale, but it is shorter than its religious counterpart, and as such, the arrangement symbolizes the superior power of the church.

The Palazzo Borgia is now home to the Diocesan Museum, and the Duomo incorporates the Museo della Catedrale.  The Diocesan 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 col Bambino) 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.

Not much remains of old Corsignano, but the Chiesa di San Francesco, with a gabled facade and gothic portal, is among the buildings that survived.  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 Sienna school.

Other buildings worth noting in Pienza include the Ammannati, the Gonzaga and the Palazzo di Cardinale Atrebatense, all built in the 15th century.

As small a town as Pienza is, it offers a complete Renaissance experience on a small scale.  The drive to and from Pienza, through the Val d'Orcia, and a few hours in Pienza itself, including a couple of hours eating delicious Tuscan cuisine at one of the town's  restaurant's is a fine idea.  Don't think about it too long though.  Just do it!

by Vian Andrews, March 22nd, 2006

Region of Tuscany



Montepulciano - 14 km
56 km;
- 59 km;
- 80 km;
- 117 km
- 187 km;
187 km;
Pisa - 221 km


Piccolo Hotel La Valle


Gonfalon, Pienza

Pienza fountain

Pienza Landscape,
Jesse Andrews