Imagine you have all the money in the world. Imagine you have all the space you want. Imagine you have the power to build anything you want, anywhere you want. No expenses, no permits, no regulations, except for your own sense of beauty and harmony. Well, this happened to a certain Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who lived in the 15th century and who is remembered in history as “Pius II, the humanist pope.” Pienza is a unique example of Renaissance civil urbanism, one of the best-planned towns in the world from the point of view of life-style and governance. It rises high on a ridge, in a strategic position, in the middle of the tranquil, undulating valley of the Val d’Orcia (the valley of the Orcia River), one of the most beautiful landscapes you will ever see. This valley, dotted by the tall cypress trees typical of Tuscany, appears to be almost untouched by time. Pienza and its buildings have also remained untouched, and today they still embody the perfect example of the Renaissance concept of the ideal way of life. Pienza is recognized today as the perfect symbol of Renaissance urbanism, since its perfect harmony exemplifies the principles of classical times and of humanistic philosophy. In 1996 UNESCO declared Pienza a World Heritage Site.
Pope Pius II was born in 1405 of a noble but impoverished family in the tiny village of Corsignano, in the province of Siena, in Tuscany. Many years later, after a scholarly, adventurous, amorous, diplomatic and most interesting life, replete with many long walking pilgrimages all over Europe, Enea Silvio became pope. Pope Pius II. He then decided to reward his native village. Humble Corsignano was razed to the ground, to make room for the ideal city that Pius II envisaged. And he called it after himself, PIENZA: the city of Pius.
Before his last great crusading burst of energy, Pius II had decided to make his native place special. He had employed an architect who understood his desire to build an ideal city. Pienza. This man was Bernardo Gambardella, nicknamed Rossellino (he probably had red hair). Rossellino was greatly influenced by the great architect Leon Battista Alberti. Rossellino was given the task to create a piazza, which is interestingly in the shape of a trapeze, and to build a Cathedral, a Papal Palace and a Town Hall, as well as all the other buildings, including houses for regular people, needed to form a whole harmonious and livable town.
The project was finished in just three years. The Cathedral is situated in Piazza Pius II, of course. The Pope especially requested that the stained glass windows be especially large, so that the house of the Lord would be literally a domus vitrea, a house of glass that would symbolize the light of the Humanist age. Four buildings enclose the piazza: the Palazzo Piccolomini, that is, the papal palace, meant to be a retreat from Rome; the Cathedral, which dominates the piazza with its tripartite shape, enhanced by pilasters and columns, uncommon in those days. The bell tower has a Gothic flavor reminiscent of the time Pius II had lived in Germany. The Bishop’s Palace was designed to house prelates who came to visit the Pope. It now houses a Museum. Across the Cathedral stands the Palazzo Comunale. All the buildings were built with travertine, the noble stone the ancient Romans loved to use.
What was then a little sleepy town has greatly developed: numerous hotels, restaurants, cafes, shops and boutiques have sprung up for the numerous tourists. But the town retains the same feeling of perfect harmony that Pius II had desired. The old abbey has become a magnificent hotel. The landscape, the people, the historical background, and finally the excellent wines (the fabulous Brunello di Montalcino and the historical Montepulciano) attract crowds of tourists. In fact, apart from the magnificent architecture, Pienza is a good city to visit because of its tasty cuisine in the Tuscan style. The Pecorino cheese of Pienza is especially famous, and the town honors it in the Saga del Cacio, The Feast of the Cheese, during which children compete in a “torneo” rolling balls of cheese. The numerous restaurants offer the best of Tuscan cuisine, accompanied by the best of Tuscan wines. And in every street, at every corner, the stones remind you of the old pope.
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Tony Moglia's grandparents immigrated from Italy in the early 1900's. He's a dual citizen who has traveled extensively throughout Italy for 40 years. He's happily married to a vibrant dancer who together have two children and three grandchildren. Tony has dreamed of Villas of Italy since his first trip to Italy, and now he shares his dream with you.