Thursday, April 21, 2011



The Papal Coat of Arms says more about Pienza than I could write about in several paragraphs, but let me give you a thumbnail sketch of the history surrounding this beautiful village. Small town boy makes good and spends a sizeable fortune to polish up his humble origins. The boy from Corsignano, Enea Silvio Piccolomini became Pope Pio II and used the wealth of the Papacy to help create the perfect Renaissance city, renamed Pienza. So perfect, in fact, that Franco Zeffirelli filmed his 1968 movie Romeo and Juliet here. The Palazzo Piccolomini, the Pope’s private home owned by his descendents until the last one died, was featured as the home of the Capulets. Most of the street scenes were also filmed in Pienza, while Gubbio in Umbria is where the fight scenes were filmed. I had wanted to see this town ever since I saw this beautifully filmed screenplay.


On the day we visited, October 3, 2005, we heard a little rumbling in the distance. As we parked the rental car we realized it had been drums. We followed the local crowd down the narrow streets to see what was taking place. We knew that there was a parade of some sort, because in a short period of time we saw the town band in full red velvet uniform, Renaissance uniform.


First came the standard bearers, then the heralding trumpets decorated with small flags, that started playing the closer we got to the Duomo, and then the drummers, setting the pace for all with their drums, the heartbeat of the festival. The band instruments were as lovely as the uniforms. In all the years that we had visited Italy, we had never before seen a celebration like this, because we have always traveled in Spring and Fall and the great majority of events such as this generally happen in Summer. This was a real spectacle and it was wonderful to see.

Picking up the rear were the flag twirlers, who we would soon discover were the main event. Never before had the “flag girls” in high school made any sense to me; the drum major, yes, the cheer leaders, yes, but I always wondered who thought up the idea of girls in short skirts tossing flags into the air and catching them backhanded. Evidently, pasta and pizza were not the only things Italians brought to America!


The crowd gathered around the Piazza where the Duomo and Palazzo Piccolomini are located next to one another and waited for what seemed like a long time before everyone found their place and the festivities started. We finally discovered that they were celebrating Pope Pio II. Whether it was the day of his birth or the day he became pope didn’t really matter.

What mattered was that these people, inhabitants of Pienza, were celebrating his life almost 550 years after he made the investment in their town, his town. Sense of place is very important to the Italian psyche. When Italians ask  “di dove sei?” where are you from, they are not asking where you live, but where you were born. In that context it’s very easy to understand why Piccolomini decided to spend time and money on the place of his birth, not for glory, not to reinvent his past, but because it was his home.

This photo of a typical looking building was taken on our way out of town. As delightful as it was to be there on a holiday, to experience the festive mood, the numbers of people were too large to deal with and few photos could be taken because of all the crowding. Going back on a regular day to see what the pace of life is like would be ideal. I’ve linked two websites that have nice photos of the town and a bit of history to go with them. Before I go back, I really must rent Zeffirelli’s movie.

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