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The Cathedral of San Zeno, Pistoia

Blues festival at Pistoia, 2006

Piazza del Duomo, Pistoia

Ospedale del Ceppo, Pistoia

Welcome to Pistoia
from Jesse's Journeys in Italy

Population:  83,396 (2005)
Official website:
Wikipedia: Pistoia

This Tuscan city gives its name to the English word "pistol" because it claims to have invented the small gun.  And if it did not invent it - since the early 16th century, until recent times Pistoia has played a large role in its design, development and manufacture.

Pistoia is a peaceable city now, consisting as so many cities in the central and northern regions of Italy, of an ancient historical center ringed with walls, and a modern city without.

The Romans established a colony (which they called Pistorium) here during the 3rd century BC, but it had been settled long before, first by Gallic and Ligurian tribes, and later by  ill-fated Etruscans.  It's history after the decline and fall of Rome, follows the general history of northern Tuscany, which, among other things, means that it had been a "free comune" (declaring itself as such in 1177 AD, one of the earliest in Italy), and then a city under a segnorial dictatorship.  It was eventually annexed by Florence (1530 AD) and was well within the Grand Duchy of  Tuscany at the time of Italian unification.

Pistoia sits on the north westerly edges of the wide valley opening toward Florence, but just behind and to its north the hills rise toward the Appenines.  The surrounding area is typical Tuscan farming country, but there are large, well-treed, verdant area that create a pleasant coolness in the hot summer months.  A mere 4 kilometers away is one of the best zoological gardens in Italy surrounded by this large wooded area.

Inside the centro historico - the historical center - there are a number of interesting buildings, piazzas,  monuments, churches and museums.  The walls, with four gates that were only recently destroyed, were constructed during the 14th century.  The Medici's added the Fortress of Santa Barbara in the 16th.

The principal piazzas are the Piazza del Duomo and the Piazza della Sala.  Facing the former is the Duomo itself, dedicated to San Zeno, built during the 12th and 13th centuries in the Romanesque style, and its lovely campanile - or bell tower.  Inside the cathedral are wonderful terracotta works by Della Robia and silver work by Jacopo.  The bell tower dates from the 13th century, the adjacent baptistry, with stratified white and green marble, a Gothic building, to the 14th.

In July, the Piazza del Duomo, on which these face, is the principal venue for Pistoia's main festival, the Giosta dell'Orso - the joust of the bear, during which competitors on horseback tilt lances at a large stuffed bear effigy.

The high arcades of the Ospidale del Ceppo (13th century) provide welcome shade on sunny days, and a dry shelter on wet.  The Palazzo del Comune was built on the cusp of the 13th and 14th centuries, the Palazzo Pretorio in the 14th. The Palazzo dei Vescovi (Bishop's palace) has an interesting Gothic loggia; the nearby Tower of Catalina, standing 30 meters high, dates from the late Middle Ages.

Other buildings of note include the Church of the Madonna dell'Ultima (1509) with an very high cupola, the Church of San Giovanni Fuoricivitas (12th - 14th century), the Baroque style Church of Santissima Annunziata, with its "cloister of the dead", and the Church of San Pietro Maggiore.

The city's museums include the Capitulary Museum, Civic Museum (paintings of the Tuscan School of 13th-16th centuries), the Diocesan Museum, and the Turati Foundation.  Another is dedicated to the famous modern graphic designer and sculptor, Marino Marini, who is a native son of Pistoia. Inside, of course, are displays of his work.  Interestingly, Pistoia is a member (along with Prato and Florence) of the - in English - Metropolitan System for Contemporary Art, which circulates modern art among the three cities and sponsors a variety of exhibitions, shows and festivals.

You may encounter a well (actually a reproduction of a medieval well) inside of which is a moon - a pop art sculpture done by the modern Florentine artist, Gianni Ruffi, recalling an ancient myth.  It is an amusement, but an amusing one and it joins the very old with the modern in just the right way!

Pistoia's economy today is based on tourism, light industry (furniture, food, footwear, textiles, mechanical products, plastics) and food processing.  It's bustling fruit and vegetable market also contributes to the common good, apart from being a great and interesting diversion.

The hotels, B&Bs, Locandi and agriturismos in and near Pistoia are a great choice for people who are looking for a good place to base an exploration of northern Tuscany.  Florence, Montecatini Terme, Lucca and Pisa are all a short distance away.


by Vian Andrews, September 28, 2006

Region of Tuscany

4356′N 1055′E


By car:
Montecatini Terme - 20 km:
Florence - 40 Km;
Lucca - 44 km;
Pisa - 78 Km;
Siena - 106 Km;
Volterra - 114 km;
Arezzo - 118 km;
Perugia: 193 km;
Rome - 315 km


Agriturismo Le Ferrette


Coat of Arms for Pistoia


Join in the Pistoia Blues Festival
More info
The Giardino Zoologic di Pistoia - the Zoological gardens of Pistoia are just 4 km outside the town. It features 600 animals including about 65 species of mammals, 40 species of birds and 30 of reptiles.
The principal festival of Pistoia is the Giostra dell'Orso held every July.
Enjoy the gallery of the Marino Marini Foundation