Our last full day in Montepulciano begins under grey skies. Even though it is late October, I had really expected more sunshine in Tuscany. We have been virtually shut out here, with only one completely cloud free day. It has also grown much cooler; I seem to be the only person on the streets these days wearing shorts. How much longer will I be able to hold out in summer gear?
We take a last tour through Montepulciano in the morning. Mary and the girls hit the souvenir shops for a final sentimental trawl through the tourist tat, while I stump off with my camera. The Church of Sant'Agnese is open, so I decide to have a look. Agnese was a fourteenth century Dominican nun, who lived in Montepulciano. Her body is now on display in a glass case under the high altar. One of the signs of her saintliness is that her body remains "incorruptible." I am forced to wonder where the line between “incorrupt” and “well-preserved” or “embalmed” should be drawn. Agnese has a gray face that looks as if it has been touched up with plaster sometime in the past. Her bare toes are blackened and shriveled. If the standard for a saint is that the flesh remains pliable and lifelike, then surely Agnese doesn't make the grade.
After lunch we head to the bus station and motor across the hills to the nearby town of Pienza. When Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini became Pope (Pius II) in 1458, he decided that he would like to use his power to renovate his hometown, Corsignano, redesigning it to create an ideal city. Much of the work fell to the famed architect Bernardo Rossellini, who reworked the town square to conform to a renaissance conception of perfection. The idea was to reshape the space so that would be governed by the perfect proportions found in the square, cube, and sphere.
The project began with the main square, Piazzo Pio II. It is a masterwork of architectural design. When you stand in the square, facing the church, the piazza appears to be a perfect cube. But this is an optical illusion. The square is actually a trapezoid whose angled walls are designed to appear square when the viewer stands in the right position.
Unfortunately, Pope Pius II died before he could realize his dream of reworking all of the buildings in Corsignano. Work stopped after his death, but the grateful townspeople renamed their city Pienza in the Pope's honor.
I am struck by the neat orderliness of this town. It is not very large, but the red and yellow brick dwellings are obviously much loved by their inhabitants. Alleys wind past potted flowers and plants, the tidy streets are swept and free of litter. No graffiti mars the walls. A quiet sense of calm blankets the town. I don't know how it is during the height of the tourist season, but there are only a handful of visitors here today. I suspect that despite its charm, the town is so small that it doesn't attract too much attention.
After wandering through the town for a couple of hours, rain begins to sprinkle down upon us. Our day is nearing a close; we head for the bus stop and catch the big blue bus back to Montepulciano.