The Ideal City
To celebrate his becoming Pope, the 15th-century Pius II commissioned Florentine architect Bernardo Gambarelli to reimagine his birthplace—then named Corsignano—as the ideal Renaissance town, using then-revolutionary humanist urban planning concepts. The result was Pienza (renamed in the Pope’s honor), a town so perfectly ordered and livable, its layout was quickly imitated all over Italy and then eventually throughout Europe. Wander around Pienza today and it still seems pretty idyllic (it's designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site), with the streets in the historic center boasting adorable names (think “Love Street” and “Kiss Street”) and the views postcard-perfect down every lane and out to the Val d’Orcia countryside. And then there’s the smell of cheese: Pienza is famous for sheep’s milk–based pecorino, and its scent wafts out of every other doorway; it’s strong at first, but once you’ve tasted the cheese, and seen how it’s made, you’ll come to love it. Make sure to check out the trapezoidal main piazza, which is bordered by the Duomo and three historic palazzi. Palazzo Vescovile is home to two museums focusing on textiles and religious artifacts, and the Palazzo Piccolomini boasts a stunning internal courtyard and Italian Renaissance garden.
By Sandra Ramani, AFAR Contributor
The gorgeous Tuscan hill town of Pienza is probably most famous for something most people might not associate with Italy: cheese. Pienza produces some of the finest-quality pecorino cheese in the world, made from rich sheep's milk. Pienza's resident take their pecorino cheese very seriously, even holding a cheese rolling competition in the town square on the first Sunday in September. In the popular "Cacio al Fuso," the victory goes to the man or woman who can roll a disk of pecorino cheese so that it stops the closest to a spindle drilled into the ground. Definitely something to see if you're in the area!
By Joan Wharton, AFAR Local Expert