The tiny, perfectly preserved village of PIENZA, 11km west of Montepulciano, is as complete a Renaissance creation as any in Italy, established as a Utopian “New Town”, in an act of considerable vanity, by Pope Pius II. A scion of the leading family of what was formerly Cortignano, he set about transforming his birthplace in 1459, under the architect Bernardo Rossellino. The cost was astronomical, but the cathedral, papal and bishop’s palaces, and the core of a town (renamed in Pius’s honour), were completed in just three years. Pius lived just two more years, and of his successors only his nephew paid Pienza any regard: intended to spread across the hill, the planned city remained village-sized. Today, despite the large number of visitors, it still has an air of emptiness and folly: a natural stage-set, where Zeffirelli filmed Romeo and Juliet.

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