Commanding a magnificent view from the ridge of the hill situated between the Orcia and Asso valleys, it is the physical embodiment of the ideal city described and depicted over for years by the architects and town planners of the Renaissance. Both Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who became Pope, assuming the name of Pius II (whence the named Pienza) and who decided to embellish his native town known up to that moment as Corsignano, and Bernardo Rossellino, a genius of an architect and pupil to Leon Battista Alberti who was given the task in 1459 of transforming the little village into a noble little town, deserve to share the merits of creating this jewel.
Rossellino based his plans on Alberti’s ideas and completely restructured the layout of the town providing it with a totally new main square: the magnificent Piazza Pio II, surrounded by lovely architectural masterpieces: the communal Palace dated 1463, opposite the Cathedral, is built in travertine (except for the two storied battlement tower, in brick), with a loggia and twin mullioned windows on the upper floor.
Left of the cathedral is the Bishop’s Palace, erstwhile Palazzo Borgia, as one can infer from the crest of the Borgia family on the corner of the building, which used to be Gothic but was restored by Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia (later Pope Alexander VI).
The Cathedral was built between 1459 and 1462, upon designs by Rossellino; the final Renaissance façade of travertine, that reminds one irresistibly of Alberti’s lines, delights the eye with its three harmonious arches supported by columns and surmounted by a tympanum bearing the Piccolomini crest at its center. There are niches above the side doors, whereas a round opening surmounts the central doorway. The elegant interior is tripartite, the hight of the nave being identical to that of the isles, the ceiling is cross vaulted and five chapels radiate off the apse, where one can admire Vecchietta’s assumption, the 1462 wooden choir stalls and other works of considerable interest.
The Cathedral Museum, next door, contains paintings, tapestries, miniatures and golden artifacts of the 14th and 16th centuries.
To the right of the cathedral is Palazzo Piccolomini, a marvelous creation by Rossellino (who also designed the 1462 well to one side of the façade) constructed between 1459 and 1462. Based on Alberti’s designs for the Rucellai Palace in Florence, it is a compact building of smooth, rusticated blocks with two orders of twin mullioned windows lighting its upper stories; the inner courtyard is composedly harmonious with its portico running around the perfect square of the court; the courtyard leads out into the lovely garden terrace overlooking the valley, through a doorway in the southern wall. From the garden one can admire the superb lodges on the three superimposed levels disposed across the southern flank of the Palace. On the first floor there is a collection of memorabilia and works of art of varied nature.