Pienza, Siena

Explore Pienza: A Guide to Pope Pius II’s Ideal City and Its Pecorino Cheese

Pienza is a charming Tuscan town that boasts stunning landscapes of the Val d’Orcia. It’s a favorite among travelers looking for an authentic Italian experience and a peaceful destination away from crowded cities like Florence. You’ll love exploring its narrow streets, sipping coffee at cozy cafes, browsing charming boutiques, admiring Renaissance architecture, and indulging in delicious local cuisine.

It was once a quiet place until Pope Pius II decided to transform it into a stunning Renaissance masterpiece in 1459. The town’s magnificent structures, including the church, papal palace, and town hall, were built in just three years and remain unchanged to this day. Recognizing its revolutionary urban design, UNESCO added Pienza’s historic center to its World Heritage list in 1996. Although it can get crowded on weekends, midweek visits offer a more peaceful experience.

Pienza, the “Ideal City” of Pope Pius II

Historically, Pienza is known as an “Ideal City”. In fact, Enea Silvio Piccolomini – Pope Pius II -, born in Corsignano, Tuscany, hired architect Bernardo Rossellino to transform his small town into an “Ideal City” – in Italian “Città Ideale” – using humanist urban planning concepts. The construction began in 1459 and took four years to complete. Unfortunately, the Pope’s untimely death halted further urban reorganization, leaving the town unchanged for centuries.

What to see: Pienza’s Duomo and Piazza Pio II

Among the must-see things to visit in Pienza, there are its Duomo – the cathedral – and Piazza Pio II, which is the most important square.

Pienza’s cathedral was constructed on the site of the Romanesque Church of Santa Maria, which has left few traces. The impressive Renaissance church, featuring a beautiful travertine facade, was commissioned by Pius II as said before. He was so pleased with the building that he issued a papal bull in 1462 prohibiting any alterations to it. The interior is a fascinating blend of Gothic and Renaissance styles and boasts a magnificent marble tabernacle by Rossellino that houses a relic of St. Andrew the Apostle, the patron saint of Pienza.

Piazza Pio II is the main square and it is of course dedicated to Pope Pius II. Arranged according to the urban design of Bernardo Rossellino, Pienza’s major monuments are gems of the Renaissance constructed in a mere three years between 1459 and 1462. Standing in the square, if you look around you’ll take in an overview of them all. Rossellino applied the principles of Renaissance town planning devised by his mentor, Leon Battista Alberti.

Other things to see are Palazzo Piccolomini and Palazzo Borgia.

Pienza and its Pecorino stagionato cheese

Pienza is a reference city for pecorino cheese and is well-known for it. It is in the “PAT”, the “Traditional Agri-food Product”. The city’s pecorino cheese was even featured in the NY Times a few years ago. “He was slicing off pieces of a pecorino stagionato — pecorino di Pienza aged at least six months. It was salty and earthy, delicately crumbly — and served by a passionate, fast-talking man who revered the process of making this cheese as much as its history. I may have been eating the perfect food“, NY Times writer Danielle Pergament said.

Cover Photo: Rossano Valeri / Pixabay