Pienza photo by Assianir – Wikimedia commons

Top 10 Outstanding Facts about Pienza


Perched on top of a beautiful hill in scenic Val d’ Orcia, Pienza is a small town with incredible history.

Pienza is situated in the Val d’ Orcia, in the southern part of Tuscany. It is just 15 kilometres from Montepulciano, 20kilometers from Montalcino and about 50 kilometres away from Siena.

When you see the images of Tuscany on postcards, travel posters or even documentaries on TV they are almost always shot in Val d’ Orcia, an area in the southern part of the region between Siena and Grosseto.

This valley crossed by the Orcia river is a huge reserved area that is famous for its breathtaking landscapes, charming small towns and lots of good food and wine. Pienza is undoubtedly one of Tuscany’s hidden gems. Here are the top 10 outstanding facts about Pienza.

1. The town was originally known as Corsignano

Pienza photo by Mika Auramo – Wikimedia commons

Pienza’s history started in the same manner as the area’s other villages, a pretty hilltop town by the name Corsignano. It was in Corsignano that Piccolomini the future Pope Pius II was born.

When he returned after several years, he decided to entrust the architect Bernado Rosellino with the project of completely rebuilding and renovating the city according to the new principles of renaissance architecture. He later renamed it Pienza (City of Pius).

2. Pienza is surrounded by the wonderful hills of Val d’ Orcia

A look at the velvety hills of the Val d’Orcia from Montepulciano. photo by PROPOLI87 – Wikimedia commons

The area of Tuscany is magical and harmony reigns, it’s the realm of cypress trees, country roads and hillside landscapes. Pienza is located on the crest of the hill overlooking other wonderful hills of the Val d’ Orcia.

3. The town was named after its creator

Pope Pius II Chalcography in Italian Iconography of famous men and women: from the time of the Risorgimento of the sciences and the arts to the present day, Milan, Antonio Locatelli, 1837. photo by Antonio Locatelli – Wikimedia commons

Pienza started its history like many other villages in the area, a pretty hilltop town by the name of Corsignano. In 1405 however, it happened to give birth to Aeneas Silvio Piccolomini (Who later became Pope Pius II). Once he became Pope, Piccolomini had the village rebuilt into a new city and named it Pienza (“City of Pius”).

4. It is the birthplace of Pope Pius II

Corsignano was the birthplace of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini born in 1405, a Renaissance humanist born into an exiled Sienese family, who later became pope Pius II. Once he became Pope in August 1458, 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. Pius was a highly admired Poet in his era, even though his most famous work is his autobiography called Commentaries. Pius remained a pope until he died in 1464, six years after his inauguration.

5. Pienza took three years to be fully constructed

Leon Battista Alberti 1 photo sourced from Wikimedia commons

As one can imagine, redesigning and building a city from scratch requires a massive effort. However, more than 20,000 people worked on the project and the town took just three years to be concluded. Specifically, the project kicked off in 1459 and by 1462 everything was ready.

The Rebuilding of Corsignano was carried out by Bernado Rosellino, an architect who worked with Leon Battista Alberti.

6. Pienza is considered the “touchstone of Renaissance urbanism “

The pope was very fond of his hometown and wanted to use its power and influence to transform it into a Utopian village, built according to the humanist principles he followed.

He assigned the redesign project to architect Bernado ‘IL Roselino’ and the great Humanist Leon Battista Alberti. In three years they were able to see the construction of the stunning Piazza Centrale, Pienza Cathedra, The Papal Reside and the Municipal Palazzo.

His design and these amazing creations are still standing today and make Pienza a real Gem.

Palazzo Borgia is another Jewel found on this square.

7. The town never reached its full potential

Despite becoming a role model for other Italian cities soon and eventually, for many European ones, Pienza never reached its full potential. Various reasons contributed to its inability to reach its epitome.

First of all, the death of Pope Pius II in 1464 also meant the end of the project. There were plenty more things to build in Pienza, however, the Pope’s death halted the project. 

Moreover, in the coming century, Pienza was occupied several times. In 1502 the Borgias occupied it, in 1530, the same happened by Charles V and by 1559 it was the time for the Medici family to take it over. That said Pienza remained ever since a small provincial town in Tuscany.

8. Pienza is a declared UNESCO World Heritage site

Pienza – Val d’Orcia UNESCO World Heritage Site (1996) photo by Raffaele pagani – Wikimedia commons

In 1996, UNESCO declared the town a world heritage site and in 2004 the entire valley, the Val d’ Orcia, was included on the list of UNESCO’s World cultural landscapes.

It is considered a UNESCO World Heritage site of great universal value not only because it represents the earliest example of humanistic urban planning of the time, but also because its dimension as an “Ideal Renaissance city” has served as an example for other cities in Italy and abroad.

9. The town is famous for hosting the cheese festival

Photo by Tony Pham on Unsplash

Every first Sunday in September, Pienza celebrates one of its main products, Pecorino cheese. Pienza is considered the “capital” of Pecorino cheese because of its high quality because the cheese is made from an especially flavoursome and aromatic milk thanks to sheep pastures in the Val d’ Orcia.

Walking along Corso Rosellino and its narrow tributaries, the aroma straight out of one of the town’s many artisan cheese shops will surely catch your attention. Pecorino from the area is justly famous.

Cheese is the protagonist in the quirky game that takes place every year in the main square. II “Gioco del Cacio al Fuso” in Pienza is a sort of bowl played with cheese, where different contrade roll their way to local glory.

10. Pienza has appeared in several famous movies

Despite its compact size, Pienza appears in several famous movies. Among the movies it appears in are; Romeo and Juliet (1968) by Franco Zeffireli, Nostalghia (1983) by Andrei Tarkovsky and The English patient (1996) by Anthony Minghella.