Pienza – Tuscany, Italy
Testimony to a Renaissance Pope’s Vision and Ambition
The Renaissance Pope Pius II dreamed of creating the perfect urban gem. In 1458 he commissioned the famed architect Bernardo Rossellini to raze his humble hometown, Corsignano, and re-create it as Pienza (renamed after himself, Pio) as a papal annex and summertime retreat—the ideal High Renaissance city.
Money ran out and the pope died, but not before the collaboration resulted in “the Pearl of the Renaissance” you see today, the only town center in Italy to survive the centuries almost perfectly intact—so much so that when director Franco Zeffirelli chose to film his 1968 Romeo and Juliet here (eschewing the more predictable choice of Verona), every stone was already in place.
The core of town is the embodiment of Pius’s dream, the grand Piazza Pio II, flanked by noble palazzi and an imposing cathedral set on a cliff’s edge. Walk around behind the cathedral for picture-perfect views of the Val d’Orcia, dominated by Monte Amiata, a dormant volcano.
These same vistas can be enjoyed during breakfast by guests of II Chiostro di Pienza, a 15th-century Franciscan convent-turned-hotel. The old monks’ cells are larger now, but the calm cloister remains untouched.