The small hill town of Pienza, which lies about 50 km (30 miles) to the south of Siena, was the birthplace of Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who, fifty or so years, later became Pope Pius II (r. 1458-64).
Enea Silvio Piccolomini was born in Pienza in 1405 when it was a village by the name of Corsignano. In 1458 Cardinal Piccolomini was elected Pius II and the new pope soon set about rebuilding the village of his birth as an ideal Renaissance town. He entrusted the project to Bernardo Rossellino (1409-64), who began work in 1459.
At the heart of Rossellino’s design is the Piazza Pio II, around which lie the city’s chief buildings. The cathedral, which was completed in 1462, has a simple but grand façade and was one of the earliest to be designed in the Renaissance style. The interior of the cathedral takes the form of a hallenkirche, a style of church in which the aisles are the same height as the nave. Pius II had spent many years in Germany and insisted on this type of design.
The Palazzo Piccolomini harks back to the more famous Palazzo Rucellai in Florence, built by Rossellino to designs by Leon Battista Alberti. Perhaps, the best part of the design is at the rear, where a three-storey loggia overlooks a ‘hanging garden’.
When Pope Pius II died in 1464 so did the redevelopment of Pienza.