Pienza is one of the few popular towns in southern Tuscany that’s not a hill town. It’s actually fairly flat although it is built on a hill, overlooking Tuscany’s beautiful Orcia Valley, with several great view spots. Known for its pecorino cheese (made from sheep’s milk), it sits between the two wine towns of Montepulciano and Montalcino, as you can see on this Val d’Orica map.
The Ideal Renaissance City
Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who later became Pope Pius II, was born here. In the 15th century, the medieval town of Pienza (then called Corsignano) was transformed by Pope Pius II, into what was considered to be an ideal Renaissance town. Its urban planning and architecture have earned the historic center of Pienza UNESCO World Heritage status.
Corso Rosselino, named after the architect hired by the Pope to recreate the city, is the main street that connects the two town gates. Piazza Pio II, a trapezoidal shaped piazza, became the new center of town and still is today. The most important buildings were built around the square starting with the Duomo, or Cathedral, in 1459. Several palaces, the town hall, and the Presbytery were added as the old houses were torn down and their inhabitants relocated to a row of newly constructed houses. Altogether 40 buildings were constructed or renovated in Renaissance style to create the 15th century city of Pienza, which the Pope planned to use as his summer residence.
What to See in Pienza
A mix of Renaissance and Gothic styles, the present-day Duomo holds art works by major Renaissance artists of Siena. You can go underneath the cathedral (go outside to enter the crypt and Church of San Giovanni on the side of the cathedral) where you’ll see remnants of the original medieval church, the Baptismal font, 16th century illuminated codes from Liturgical books, tapestries, and a labyrinth of tunnels.
Piccolomini Palace, to the right of the Duomo, was built as the Pontifical Palace. The Piccolomini family used the residence until 1962 and it still has some of the original furnishings that you can see as you walk through the rooms. Behind the palace is a garden and loggia with fantastic views of the valley. It’s closed on Mondays as well as several weeks during winter. See Piccolomini Palace for visiting information.
Other important buildings on the main square are the Episcopal Palace, or Borgia Palace, and the Ammannati Palace as well as the town hall.
Walking along the main street, you’ll see places to taste wine, restaurants, and shops, many selling Pecorino cheese. Be sure to stop in one of the shops to try the cheeses. Many of the houses on the small side streets have beautiful flowers in front of them, giving the town a pleasant atmosphere. Walk to the side of town to admire the views, too. While there aren’t a lot of attractions to visit, Pienza is a great town for strolling. Note that if you arrive by car, you are not allowed to enter the historic center.
Where to Stay in Pienza
Because most of the tourists visit Pienza as a day trip, the town makes a quiet and relaxing place to stay and several bigger towns and places in the Val d’Orcia can easily be visited from Pienza if you have a car. There are several good restaurants in town where you can try pici, the typical pasta of the area and dishes using pecorino cheese.
- Relais Chiostro di Pienza is a 4-star hotel in a renovated 15th century convent on the main street of the historic center.
- Hotel Corsignano is conveniently located a short walk from the historic center and has views and a terrace with hot tub.
- See and compare hotels in Pienza, Tuscany.