A town that dates back to the 15th century still carries global resonance today for city dwellers. Off the beaten track in Italy, a city inspired by Renaissance humanism is finding new fans with its urban planning. A Renaissance jewel in the heart of Italian Tuscany, the town of Pienza was the first “ideal city” ever built, and five centuries on, its human-scale urban planning is still attracting new fans.

Commissioned by pope Pius II, the town is intended to harmonise with nature to maximise the happiness of its inhabitants. The pontiff – a local aristocrat – travelled widely in Europe and looked for inspiration at the gothic cathedrals of northern Europe. Twenty thousands builders worked on the new town, completing it from scratch in just three years.

“Pienza was born from the dream of a great humanist. Everything you see in the centre of Pienza, this palace, the cardinals’ palaces opposite, the cathedral, the public palace, the bishop’s palace, were built in three years,” said Vittorio Carnesecchi, curator of Palazzo Paccolomini.
The concept of an “utopian city” has reappeared over the ages, more recently in the work of Oscar Niemeyer, who built the Brazilian capital Brasilia between 1957 and 1960. Pius II ensured his creation would never be tampered with – any changes made would result in excommunication. In 15th century Pienza, the emphasis was on public spaces where inhabitants could socialise.
“He and his architects, like Rossellino, created a union between humans and nature. People end up here because this is where walls, monuments and people can engage in dialogue,” said professor Manlio Sodi from Salesian Catholic University in Rome. Every year hundreds of thousands of tourists visit the city, and fall for its charm. And it is likely to stay that way. There is a building ban around Pienza, as well as the surrounding landscapes of the Val d’Orcia, all of which are registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site.