Giovanni Boccaccio made a reference to Corsignano in one of his most delightful tales. This was the original name of the town that was later renamed Pienza, after its most famous son, Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who became Pope Pius II. It was this pope, in fact, who inspired the radical reconstruction of the town in the second half of the 15th Century, following the precepts of the urban and aesthetic ideals of the Renaissance. Corsignano was transformed from a simple village into the splendid town of Pienza in an incredibly short time - even by modern standards.
One of the most famous architects of the period, Bernardo da Settignano (also known as Rossellino), was entrusted with the task. The main street, which runs from one end of the town to the other, seems longer than it actually is, thanks to a clever use of perspective. In actual facts the road, and thus the town, measures a mere hundred metres from one end to the other. About half way along this road, which has duly been named after Rossellino, there is Piazza Pio XI. This is the architectural centre of Pienza, containing the town’s most important buildings such as the Cathedral, the Palazzo Piccolomini, the Palazzo Borgia, the Palazzo Ammannati and the Palazzo Cmunale.
The Cathedral’s position and its large, south facing windows, were chosen personally by the Pope, who wanted it to be as luminous as possible. The three (naves of equal) height, inspired by the “Hallenkirchen” style, were also built to the specifications of Pius II who had come across examples during his travels in Germany.
The Cathedral contains works by Vecchietta, Sano di Pietro, Matteo di Giovanni and Giovanni di Paolo as well as a 16th Century wooden choir.
Palazzo Piccolomini stands on the right-hand side of the Piazza. It is distinguished by its elegant double lancet windows, which recalls Palazzo Rucellai in Florence. If you go Through the big gate on the left, you will come to a lovely hanging garden with a sweeping, unforgettable view over the Val d’Orcia.