The centre of Pienza in south-east Tuscany is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site - and set in the Val d'Orcia which is also listed by UNESCO as a World Cultural Landscape.
More importantly for visitors perhaps - Pienza is a very scenic medieval village which also has lovely views across the countryside!
Your visit to Pienza can start at the gateway called the Porta al Prato with the gothic style Church of Saint Francis - this church was not affected by the extensive 15th century changes to the town and therefore it has kept its original 14th century character.
The interior of the Church of Saint Francis contains some important works of art, such as a wooden crucifix by the school of Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255 ca.-1318) and a table by Luca Signorelli (1445-1523).
Next to the Palazzo Piccolomini in Piazza Maggiore stands Pienza Cathedral, designed by Pius II who wished his Cathedral to be inspired by the so-called Hallenkirchen* model of German churches.
* Although divided into three naves, the cathedral gives the impression of an unique hall, as is usual with the Hallenkirchen style.
The cathedral façade is very elegant and clad in travertine, typical of the school of Leon Battista Alberti, with three Roman arches surmounted by a rose window which is framed in the clearly defined upper triangle. Note that the same marble facing was used for the adjacent tower.
Continuing along the route you come next to the great mansions of Cardinal Giacomo Ammannati Piccolomini (1422-1479), friend of Pope Pius II, and of Solomon Piccolomini. These two palaces both present a fusion of styles, combining the medieval and the 15th century.
The most impressive palace, and the most costly to construct, is the Palazzo Piccolomini designed by Leon Battista Alberti. This palace has a great amount of detail both in the decorative motifs and in the mullioned windows.
No less impressive is the palace interior where the large courtyard stands surrounded by a loggia, through which you can enter the magnificent roof garden, adorned by a series of three overlapping loggias.
Also in Piazza Maggiore and near the Cathedral you can see the Rectory. This is made more interesting by the presence on its upper floors of the Cathedral Museum, which houses exceptional works by the Sienese school of art such as the paintings by Lorenzo di Pietro (called the “Vecchietta”, 1412-1480) and Bartolo di Fredi (1330 ca.-1409 ca.).
Pienza town hall
Just opposite the Cathedral stands Pienza Town Hall, a building of extraordinary artistic value which was designed by Bernardo Rossellino and then realized by Pietro Paolo Purrina and Paolo Puccio. The town hall has a portico with a decorative façade to the side of which stands the tower.
Continuing the tour...
After admiring Pienza Town Hall follow Via Rossellino to reach the Gonzaga and Jouffroy Palaces, in a pure 15th century style, and also some houses that were built for the poor at the express wish of Pope Pius II.
A great deal of the building work in the town centre is attributable to Pope Pius II in the 15th century (See history of Pienza.)
Finally, continuing along Castle Street, you reach the town walls. These were built and consolidated in the 15th century. Enjoy the scenery from the top of the walls before visiting the ancient romanesque style Corsignano church (7th century, reworked in the 12th century).
Pienza cuisine and restaurants
Outside the Pienza city walls, the Val d'Orcia offer visitors delightful countryside to explore, which has the added advantage that it is also dotted with typical places where you can enjoy the local wines, often considered among the best in the world.
Traditional restaurant dishes here are based around cheese and truffles. We recommend, among the hors d’oeuvres, the famous bruschetta; among the first courses, the Panzanella (soup in chicken broth, eggs and cheese); and among the main courses the Pappardelle with hare.
Pienza is a few kilometres west of Montepulciano and east of Montalcino in southern Tuscany within the rolling landscapes of the Crete Senesi area, one of the most attractive regions in this part of Italy.
Selected places to visit near Pienza, Italy
Montepulciano (at 9 kilometres)
The charming Tuscan town of Montepulciano also has lovely views across the region from its elevated position.
See Montepulciano guide.
Chianciano (at 13 kilometres)
Highlights in the small Tuscany town of Chianciano include the Museum of Sacred Art and the Collegiale Church.
See Chianciano guide.
Montalcino (at 16 kilometres)
The medieval hill town of Montalcino, in the Crete Senesi region of central Tuscany, is overlooked by its 14th century castle.
See Montalcino guide.
Crete Senesi (at 16 kilometres)
The Crete Senesi region south of Siena is a very lovely part of Tuscany with traditional villages and scenic countryside.
See Crete Senesi guide.
See the Tuscany guide for more travel ideas...