Pistoia travel guide

Pistoia is the capital of the province of the same name in the Tuscany region. The city is located west of Florence. Despite having a beautiful historic center, Pistoia is not a very famous tourist destination. The population is below one hundred thousand. The most famous attractions are the Cathedral and the Ospedale del Ceppo.

Pistoia travel guide

Tourist information

Piazza Duomo - Pistoia
Piazza Duomo

The tourist office is in the town hall: Piazza del Duomo, 1 (phone: +39 0573 21622).

Train station: The town is on the train line between Florence and the coastal town of Viareggio. The railroad station is located on the outskirts of the center. There is also a direct train connection to Bologna. From other places it is usually easiest to change trains in Florence. The bus company Autolinea Lazzi provides a connection to Viareggio and Florence.

What to see in Pistoia

The main attraction of Pistoia is the Cathedral (Duomo). Other interesting churches are the Baptistry designed by Andrea Pisano, the Sant’Andrea Church with its green and white facade, the Madonna dell’Umiltà Church and the San Giovanni Fuorcivitas Church, so called because it stood outside the center. The Palazzo Comunale dates back to the 12th century.

Churches

San Zeno Cathedral: The city’s main church is located in the Piazza del Duomo and is graced by multiple paintings by famous Tuscan artists.

Pistoia’s Baptistery is dedicated to San Giovanni in Conte and is located near the Cathedral. It no longer has a religious function and is used only for cultural events.

Madonna dell’Umiltà Basilica: Vasari is one of the architects who collaborated on this late 16th-century church.

The San Giovanni Fuorcivitas Church is located in the city center. When it was built, it was still outside the city walls, hence Fuorcivitas.

The San Paolo Church is characterized by some interesting frescoes and by a large statue on the façade. It is one of the city’s oldest churches.

The San Bartolomeo in Pantano Abbey is even older. In the 8th century, when the church was built, this was still a swampy place. The highlight is the glittering architrave over the central gate, probably made by Gruamonte.

The Spirito Santo Church is located on the square of the same name. The church was originally called Sant’Ignazio di Loyola Church and its main attractions are an altar designed by Bernini and a painting by Andrea Pozzo.

The Pieve di Sant’Andrea stands right opposite the historic Palazzo Fabroni. This church already existed in the 7th century. Its style is reminiscent of that of several churches in Pisa.

The Sant’Antonio Abate Church is also called the Chiesa del Tau. The attached monastery now serves as the seat of the Centro di Documentazione Marino Marini.

The Santa Maria delle Grazie Church was built in response to the miraculous healing of a young girl in a nearby hospital. The girl’s bed can still be seen in the church.

The San Domenico Church and its convent are located in Piazza Garibaldi. The church, built in the 13th century, includes several burial chapels of members of the Rospiglioso family.

San Pier Maggiore Church: Highlight of the church built in the 8th century on Piazzetta San Pietro is its beautiful, though never completed, façade.

The Santi Prospero and Filippo Church is in the city center. The main attraction of this church is the Biblioteca Fabroniana.

The Santissima Annunziata Church is one of the city’s oldest churches, although its current appearance is the result of a Baroque conversion in the 17th century.

The Sacro Cuore Immacolato di Maria Church was built in 1959, at the same time as the new suburb Villaggio Belvedere on the northern side of Pistoia. The architect was Giovanni Michelucci and the construction was completed in 1961. (Address: Viale dei Tigli 40 – 51100 Pistoia. Tel. 0573 904639).

Historic buildings

Frieze Ospedale del Ceppo Pistoia
The frieze adorning the facade.

The Ospedale del Ceppo is one of the oldest hospitals in Tuscany.  The magnificent terracotta frieze that adorns the façade was created by Giovanni della Robbia and Santi Buglioni between 1526 and 1528.

The Palazzo degli Anziani is also known as the Palazzo del Comune. It is Pistoia’s town hall and the seat of the Museo Civico and a little museum dedicated to local architect Michelucci.

The Palazzo Pretorio is the third important building in Piazza del Duomo. It is also known as Palazzo del Podestà. It is traditionally the seat of the city’s judicial administrators.

Fortezza Santa Barbara: Old, dilapidated castle. Can only be visited in the morning, free of charge.

Manzoni Theater Pistoia: The current appearance of the building, erected in the 17th century, is the result of a restoration in 1863.

The Palazzo Rospigliosi is a 16th-century palace and the seat of two museums, the Museo Diocesano and the Museo Rospigliosi.

The Palazzo Fabroni faces the Pieve di Sant’Andrea. The oldest part of the building, which today serves as the seat of the Centre for Contemporary Visual Arts, dates back to the 14th century.

The Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo is a historic building in the city centre. However, where the people’s representative for whom the palace is named used to sit, there are now retail spaces and private residences.

The Palazzo dei Vescovi (“Palace of Bishops”) is a historic building in Piazza del Duomo, which today serves, among other things, as the seat of the Museo Capitolare della Cattedrale di San Zeno.

Museums

Museo Civico: The city’s most important museum is housed in the Palazzo Comunale. Its collection includes works of art from the 13th to the 18th century.

Museo Capitolare della Cattedrale di San Zeno: Its collection consists of sacred objects, documents, manuscripts and relics from Pistoia Cathedral. Its seat is the Palazzo dei Vescovi.

Casa-Studio Melani: The former home of visual artist Francesco Melani (1907-1985) has been converted into a museum. The house was at the same time his studio and this is where he worked on some of his most famous sculptures.  (Address: Corso Gramsci, 159)

A brief history of Pistoia

Pistoia was built by the Romans around the 2nd century BC. After some barbarian invasions, the area came into the hands of the Lombards in the 6th century. From the 11th century onwards the town became more prosperous, but also increasingly in competition with neighboring Florence. This battle was eventually lost and only under the House of Lorraine did a positive trend begin again.

Early history

The foundation of what was later to become Pistoia was built on a terrace along the creek Ombrone.

The first Roman settlement was constructed in the 2nd century BC, to accommodate the troops fighting in the wars against the Ligurians. The name of the town is derived from pistores, those who baked the bread for the troops.

Previously, the area was probably populated by the Etruscans.

After the Via Cassia was constructed, the area became more important and the Roman system of subdivision called centratio, in which the land was divided into square areas of about 75 by 75 meters, began.

In 406, the city was destroyed, although it is not known for sure whether this was by fire or by an incursion of the Ostrogoths.

Simultaneously with the rise of Christianity, Pistoia was rebuilt and by the end of the 5th century a bishop was based there.

Lombards

Towards the end of the 6th century Pistoia was conquered by the Lombards and became an important pawn in the fight against the Byzantines. In the next century a wall was built around the city. The city came under the authority of a Lombard gastaldo, became a bishop’s seat and minted its own currency, called tremisse. Both agricultural methods and jurisprudence continued to show traces of the Lombard influence.

In the 11th century, the Franks took over the city. Imperial power weakened and feudal lords gained supremacy. The central administration of the city was replaced by that of powerful families, especially the counties of Guidi and Cadolingi.

Florentines

In 1105 the city began to become autonomous and in 1117 Pistoia became a free municipality with its own Statute.

In the 12th century new city walls were erected. There were internal struggles between the nobility and the citizens. The former wanted a city government under the Podestà, the others wanted the consuls in power.

Florence, meanwhile, was becoming increasingly powerful. The struggle between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines (papal supporters against followers of the emperor) had repercussions within Pistoia. In the 13th century, the city fell to the more powerful Florentines. At the beginning of the 14th century the population endured an 11 month siege. The city walls withstood the attacks, but not the hunger.

People kept trying to get out from under Florentine rule, but they never fully succeeded. A short period of autonomy came to an end again because of internal struggles between the powerful families.

In 1348, a major plague epidemic struck the city.

In 1401, the Palazzo Comunale was occupied by the Florentine troops. From then on Pistoia was entirely subordinate to its stronger neighbor.

17th Century to Italian Unification

In 1630, there was a new plague epidemic.

In 1643, the troops of Pope Urban VIII attacked the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, but were defeated by the Pistoiese.

In 1667, Cardinal Giulio Rospigliosi, a native of Pistoia, was proclaimed Pope Clement IX.

After the House of Lorraine, under the enlightened Pietro Leopoldo, seized power in Tuscany, Pistoia began to recover somewhat.

After a short period under the French, the Habsburgs from Lorraine took power again. In 1848 Leopold II made Pistoia the capital of what was to become a province.

However, this lasted only until 1851. As punishment for some resistance to the Austrians, the city was demoted from Prefecture to Sub-prefecture.

Events

  • Pistoia Blues: Italy’s most famous blues festival is usually held in early July in the Piazza del Duomo.
  • “Joust of the Bear”: Twelve horsemen, three from each district of the city, try to pierce two bear-shaped targets with a lance. The Giostra del Orso is held every year.

Main day trips province of Pistoia

The town of Abetone Cutigliano is the most important ski resort in the area.

How to get to Pistoia by car

Pistoia is located along the highway (A11) between Pisa and Florence. The SS64 leads through the mountains to Bologna.

Pistoia

Suburbs (Frazioni) of Pistoia

Arcigliano, Badia a Pacciana, Baggio, Barile, Bargi, Bonelle, Bottegone, Bussotto, Campiglio, Capostrada, Canapale, Candeglia, Castagno, Castel de’ Gai, Chiazzano, Cignano, Cireglio, Collina, Corbezzi, Corsini Bianchi, Corsini Neri, Fabbrica, Forralpitta, Gello, Germinaia, Iano, Le Grazie, Le Piastre, Le Pozza, Lupicciano, Masiano, Nespolo, Orsigna, Piazza, Piteccio, Pracchia, Piuvica, Ponte alla Pergola, Pontelungo, Pontenuovo, Pontepetri, Ponzano, Pupigliana, Ramini, San Felice, San Mommè, San Biagio, San Rocco, Sant’Alessio in Bigiano, Santo Moro, Santomato, Sarripoli, Saturnana, Spazzavento, Spedaletto, Sperone, Stazzana, Torbecchia, Valdibrana, Villa di Baggio.

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