Old Town of Pienza (World Heritage)

According to franciscogardening, the birthplace of Pope Pius II. is the first independent urban complex at the time of the Italian Renaissance. The extension was designed by Bernardo Rossellino based on plans by Pius. The center is the main square, Piazza Pio II, with the Santa Maria Cathedral, a Gothic hall church with a renaissance facade, the Palazzo Piccolomini, the Palazzo Vescovile and the town hall (Palazzo Civico).

Old town of Pienza: facts

Official title: Historic center of Pienza
Cultural monument: the heart of the birthplace of Pope Pius II with the Piazza Pius II, resembling a laterally sloping square, the cathedral with a marble altar by Bernardo Rossellino (1409-64) as well as the Palazzo Piccolomini, the main work of Bernardo Rossellino, and the Palazzo Borgia
Continent: Europe
Country: Italy, Tuscany
Location: Pienza
Appointment: 1996
Meaning: first urban complex of the Italian Renaissance

Old town of Pienza: history

1405 Birth of Enea Silvio Piccolomini, from 1458 as Pius II Pope of the Roman Catholic Church
1459 Beginning of the new city building in the Renaissance style based on plans by Bernardo Rossellino
1459-62 Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta
1460-62 Palazzo Piccolomini
1462 largely completion of the new city building
1464 Death of Bernardo Rossellino and Pius II.

Utopia of a Pope

With the emphasis of a tourism manager, Pius II wrote: »A hill rises above the Orcia Valley, the ridge of which forms a narrow platform a thousand paces long. There, where you look at the rising sun in winter, is a small, little-known place with healthy air, good wine and the best food. «The place was called Corsignano when Enea Silvio Piccolomini was born here as one of 14 siblings from five died shortly after birth and seven caught the plague. The only male offspring of a family belonging to the Sienese city nobility was a brilliant “high-flyer” who soaked up the education of the early Renaissance like a sponge. The model of this education was provided by antiquity, to which the later Pius II also orientated himself: In antiquity Aeneas bore the honorary title “pius”, “the pious”.

Above the door frame of the papal bedroom in the Piccolomini Palace is a realistic fresco of Pius II: A bald old man with a fringe of hair, a double chin, and an energetic nose. The crescents in the Piccolomini coat of arms are trophies: one for each victorious battle over the Turks. The first political act after the papal election was the convening of a congress of Christian rulers in Mantua in Lombardy to organize a new crusade. The pontiff came with Leon Battista Alberti, the grand master of avant-garde architecture in Florence. While the expedition against the powerful Ottoman Empire remained a pipe dream, the project of the papal ideal city of Pienza developed.

Why did Pius II have his polis built? He was not only attracted by a “city according to human dimensions”, but also playing in the sandpit of humanistic ideals – the world in miniature as will and imagination. From Aristotle to Vitruvius to Alberti, from ancient Rome to Florence to the northern hall church: Pienza is the sum of all quotations and is still all of a piece.

The Alberti student Bernardo Rossellino was appointed as the builder, but it cannot be overlooked that the successor to Peter not only had a say in the construction of the cathedral. In order to gain space for the piazza in front of the cathedral, the choir was placed above the precipice that delimits Pienza from the south. The three-part facade of the church with the round arches supported by two pairs of columns placed on top of each other, however, corresponds to the ancient backdrop. When entering the cathedral – the Pope hoped the visitor would pause, moved – the scene changes: Gothic meant piety to him, but since he was not a mystic but a rationalist, he left the walls white and the tracery windows made by the masters of the Milan cathedral builders colorless. He wanted a “glass house” full of light, that makes the only pictures in the chapel wreath – rather old-fashioned saints Sienese style on a gold background – shine. The Pope liked the total work of art so much that he banned lay funerals, wall paintings, the addition of further chapels and other changes with a bull for all time.

The town hall including the loggia, the bishop’s palace built by the Borgia and the Piccolomini palace, modeled on the Florentine Palazzo Rucellai by Rossellino, make the trapezoidal piazza the navel of Pienza. But since Pius II would not have been a ruler without subjects, he invited his citizens to linger on the sweeping stone benches that move the palazzo and agora. The representative of God even allowed the poor sinners to look into the courtyard surrounded by a portico and a hanging garden with exotic flora and picturesque vedute.

At the pressure of the Pope, other cardinals in addition to the Borgia were involved in urban design and had palaces built, which had to be replaced by the homes of the locals. Instead of the 10,000 ducats estimated by Rossellino, the new city finally cost five times as much. This in no way angered Pius II, and he consoled his court architect with 1,000 ducats and a purple cloak.

Old Town of Pienza