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The Origins of Pienza

Built of the top of a hill dominating the Orcia Valley (elevation 491 metres), Pienza is the most important example of an "Ideal Renaissance Town ". Originally the small town was just an hamlet called Corsignano (also mentioned by Boccaccio in one of his Decameron Novels). Here, the noble family Piccolomini lived, where they had some properties, after being exiled from Siena in 1385, for political reasons. So in Corsignano in 1405, was born the man who was to become the most important member of this old family and one of the most famous figures of the XV century in Italy: Enea Silvio Piccolomini. He was a man of great intelligence as well as a great humanist even prior to becoming the Pope in 1458, when he took the name of Pius Il. Enea Silvio Piccolomini had a vision of creating the Perfect Town, the fruits of which are seen in Pienza today. He undertook in 1459 a voyage to Mantova, the seat of the Diet where the most important Princes of that time were meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to organise the last great Crusade against the Turks. During the journey the Pope wanted to stop in the hamlet of birth, Corsignano, where he hoped to find the spirit and happiness of his youth, but he remained deep struck by the degradation and abandoned state of the town at that time. So he decided, probably advised by the grand humanists that were part of his following, among whom was Leon Battista Alberti, to intervene and ordered the construction of a palace for his stay and a church worthy of receiving his religious devotion. From this initial project, he entrusted the papal architect Bernardo Gambarelli da Settignano, called Il Rossellino, was created one of the greatest achievements of the Renaissance time. Besides the Palace and the Church, the hamlet took on the life of a real city in which the fundamental elements of equilibrium and harmony were created in mushrooming proportions, sharpening the spirit and soul of men. The construction of the city lasted only four years, from 1459 to 1462. On the 29th August, 1462 Pius 11 re-baptized the ancient harmlet of Corsignano with the name of Pienza elevating it to the level of a city. The Pope followed with great diligence and attention the work of the construction of Pienza but soon after its conclusion, in 1464, he died prematurely at Ancona. The city from then rernained fixed and crystallised in its beautiful fourteenth century form that the great humanist Pope had realised. In the December 1996 the city became part of the World Heritage of UNESCO. The international community recognising the importance of Pienza 's original example of town planning. In 2004 also the Val d'Orcia, of which Pienza is part of came under the UNESCO World Heritage, with its admirable example of harmony and rapport between man and nature.

The Cathedral
The work, as per the wishes of the Pope, was bound to be of pre-eminent importance with its visual impact. Rising along the base of the trapezium, this unique construction is in fact, isolated from the others. The facade in travertine is in the purest Tuscan-Roman Renaissance style, here the reality of elegance, harmony and proportion unite the theory of the great humanistic thinkers. At the centre of the tympanum the Piccolomini coat-of-arms is within a fine crown of foliage and fruit probably executed, from a design by Rossellino, by Sienese workers. The octagonal bell-tower represents strong similarity with those of the Austrian and German Churches. The interior has three naves of equal height, and is characterised by the intense light that penetrates the great gothic stained glass. The eclectic style of this sacred building was greatly inspired by the Hallenkirchen style of northern Europe that Enea Silvio, not yet Pope, admired during his travels. Among the notable internal works are the altarpieces, all dating from
between 1462 and 1463, and carried out by the major Sienese painters of the time: (from right) Giovanni di Paolo, Matteo di Giovanni, Lorenzo di Pietro, called Vecchietta, Sano di Pietro and again Matteo di Giovanni. In the crypt are conserved sculptured fragments coming from the Romanesque church of S. Maria, demolished to make way for the new Cathedral and a baptismal font from Rossellino's workshop.

Piccolomini Palace
This is the second most importan building that fronts the square, Pius II wanted it as a residence for himself and his family. The facade is characterised by typical architectural elements of the Renaissance and similar to the decorations on the Rucellai Palace in Florence, but with a different concept of proportions to avoid excessive development of the height. The southern side has a magnificent loggia of three levels with a splendid view from the hanging garden, of the Val d'Orcia and of Mont Amiata. The internal courtyard has perfect proportions, and is divided by columns in travertine with Corinthian capitals; it is the harmonious heart of the entire building. On the first floor, transformed into a museum (to visit it ask the custodian), is found the sumptuously decorated and furnished apartments, that have seen generations of Piccolomini ownership leave their mark. Particularly interesting: the armoury,
the library, the studio and the bedroom of Pius Il. Off centre in respect of the facade, on the square, is found the beautiful Well with an architrave in travertine, and ancient style of decorations carried out by Fiorentine workmen.

Borgia Palace
Given by Pius II to Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, so as he couid transform it into his own Pienza dweliing, it shows details of its earlier existence in respect to the other buildings. The Cardinal (future Pope Alexander VI) added a floor as well as substituting the gothic windows with cross-shaped windows and adding an elegant doorway in travertine. It had previously been the ancient palace of the Pretorio of Corsignano. The Palace is the seat of the Diocesan Museum. The museum is one of the most important in the Province of Siena for its rich and numerous pieces displayed and conserved, in the 11 rooms, testimony to the pictorial Sienese artfrom XII to XVIII century. Among them the paintings by Pietro Lorenzetti, Bartolo di Fredi, Lorenzo Di Pietro called Vecchietta, Luca Signorelli, the miniature choir books by Sano di Pietro and Pellegrino di Mariano, Flemish tapestries, silver and above all the extraordinary Cope of Pius Il (XIV century), made in England, particularly impressive for its technical details and iconography. The Diocesan Museum also hosts temporary exhibitions art and other events.

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