Monday, September 22, 2014

Pienza, Val d'Orcia

Haruko and I set out for Pienza early one morning, which involved catching several buses: first, a direct bus from Florence to Siena, then a bus across town from Piazza Gramsci to the train station, where we caught another bus to Pienza.  It was a lovely sunny day in Tuscany, and we enjoyed the view from our bus windows.

The countryside of Pienza (grazie a Haruko)
Once we arrived in Pienza, we settled in at the B&B we'd reserved, and then set out to see the village, famous for the beautiful landscape and for pecorino cheese.

Piles of pecorino
Pienza is known as the "touchstone of Renaissance urbanism." In 1996, UNESCO declared the town a World Heritage Site, and in 2004 the entire valley, the Val d'Orcia, was included on the list of UNESCO's World Cultural Landscapes.

Outside the B&B
The village itself is very picturesque, with plants all along the streets: very charming and appealing to the many tourists who find their way here. Since traveling by bus to Pienza can be challenging, its best to visit this area by car. I had tried to get to Pienza twice before, but was stymied by the inconvenient bus schedule. On Sundays, there are no buses at all!

The greenery adds so much to the ambiance of the village.
Piazza Pio II
According to Wikipedia, "Pienza was rebuilt from a village called Corsignano, which was the birthplace (1405) of  Enea Silvio Piccolomini, a Renaissance humanist born into an exiled Sienese family, who later became Pope Pius II. Once he became Pope, Piccolomini had the entire village rebuilt as an ideal Renaissance town. Intended as a retreat from Rome, it represents the first application of humanist urban planning concepts, creating an impetus for planning that was adopted in other Italian towns and cities and eventually spread to other European centers."

Another scenic street.
In the evening, we walked along the passeggiata alla mura, a walkway on top of the city wall, and watched the sunset. There was also a full moon that night, but it was hard to get a good photo of it by the time it was in view.

One of the reasons we came to Pienza was to see the Val d'Orcia, which extends south of Siena to Monte Amiata. It has gentle, carefully cultivated hills, dotted here and there with trees, and picturesque towns and villages. It is a landscape which has become familiar through works of art that show the landscape, from Renaissance paintings to modern photographs. HOWEVER, I was surprised to learn that this landscape was not natural, but man made.

The Val D'Orcia landscape before sunset
The UNESCO site explains that the  landscape of Val d’Orcia was "redrawn and developed when it was integrated in the territory of the city-state in the 14th and 15th centuries to reflect an idealized model of good governance and to create an aesthetically pleasing picture. The landscape’s distinctive aesthetics, flat chalk plains out of which rise almost conical hills with fortified settlements on top, inspired many artists. Their images have come to exemplify the beauty of well-managed Renaissance agricultural landscapes". 

To be honest, I was disappointed to learn that the landscape was not natural, as I had assumed that the rolling hills punctuated by cypress trees were magical because of their natural beauty. Now I know that the trees were planted just so, for artistic effect. But I have to admit, the fact that the land was worked to create this effect in the 1500s is a miracle in itself.

Tramonto a Pienza (sunset in Pienza)

Now that we've seen what Val d'Orcia is like in September, we'd like to return some spring, when the landscape is totally green.

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