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Published: April 13th 2018
I'm in Pienza!
Every step a learning experience
Today a bus took us to Pienze
, a hill town about 50 km south of Siena. It was designed by a master architect in the then modern Renaissance
style at the behest of Pope Pius II
whose home town it is.
The Tuscan countryside on the way was green and lush and rolling. The hill-towns stand in silhouette on the hill tops, and red brick farm buildings gracefully dot the deep green fields. Wheat was the main crop growing, and with the mild winter and early spring, harvest was just beginning. The terrain reminded me of the “whale back” region along Highway 22 southwest of Calgary.
Pienze is a walled town with one main gate that after a short stroll leads to two churches. Our local guide/lecturer took us first to the old one that pre-dated the Franciscan
order which it later adopted. It is quite austere with a few fragments of remaining frescoes. The priest’s lectern was interesting, made of wrought iron designed like a grapevine. The most unusual feature was the permanent nativity scene made of terra cotta. The nativity setting is a rocky hill-side with, besides Mary, Joseph, Jesus and the Three Kings, many characters such as shepherds, beggars,
Huge censer of unexpected beauty
Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta 1459, Pienza
peasants, angels, merchants – all perched on the various levels of the hill. The whole nativity is about the size of a large stuffed chair – maybe 3’ x 4’.
We then moved on to the Cathedral, past the substantial square, high-walled home of the Pope (when away from Rome), which in itself was a lesson in power. The cathedral was light inside and contained about six paintings or icons that bridge from the Gothic
age to the Renaissance. That is, the Pope insisted on “conservative” Gothic paintings: the backgrounds are gold, and the bodies of Mary, baby Jesus, and local saints have little perspective; however, in the same paintings, the floor and the feet do have perspective – one pair of feet was startlingly real, in a pair of black sandals I felt I could have put on!
The final part of the tour was a stroll on the stone balustrade along the edge of the Cathedral hill. The views of the Val d’Orcia (Valley of the invisible Orcia River) were just like the perspectives of a painter. No wonder so many painters came from this area. From the Renaissance times, this landscape was the background for
portraits - blue sky, puffy white clouds, bright green fields and dark green trees.
After a bit of wandering through the stone streets and arched alleys, we had a three minute ride to a restaurant where we had a “light” lunch – buttery barley risotto and piping hot spinach quiche, as usual with plenty of red wine plus bottled water. We had forty minutes remaining, so some of us walked back to town and wandered some more. Most of the stores were closed for “ora de pranzo” - lunch hour.
We drove about 20 minutes to a farm that makes pecorino cheese, i.e., from sheep’s milk. One of the owners clearly explained (I understood about 80% of the Italian) how the cheese is made. They process the milk on Mondays and Thursday. Then, for a few days the fresh cheese has to be washed and turned every two hours. They make wheels about the size of a medium large flower pot. Aging starts from the moment the processed milk hits the pots: the milk poured in the first few minutes becomes fresh cheese (it has more water) and the last milk poured from the vat becomes aged cheese.
Imagine aroma and take deep breath!
Following the factory tour, we had a tasting of various cheeses with pears and wine, which we were told was the very best of combinations. Delicious.
The ride back to Siena was a visual feast – soft late afternoon light and green rolling hills dotted by wild red poppies. Ecstatically beautiful!
This evening’s dinner was at La Finestra near Il Campo: herb ravioli in a nut cream sauce and “pici” (rough spaghetti) in an oil tomato mushroom sauce; veal in an oil, parmesan and tomato sauce with buttered green beans; almond cookie, paneforte (fruit cake) and biscotti with Vin Santo (sweet wine). Beautifully warm evening for a stroll on Il Campo and to the hotel. View map of the cities and towns visited.
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