Guide to discover Pistoia
Pistoia is one of the main cities of Tuscany and also one of the most beautiful. To understand how important it is from a cultural point of view, just remember the designation “Italian Capital of Culture for 2017“; a recognition of great prestige, due in large part to the vast artistic and architectural heritage that makes Pistoia one of the most interesting cities to visit in the whole region.
Places to visit in Pistoia
As well as the vast majority of the historical centers of other Tuscan cities, the center of Pistoia is very pleasant to visit on foot and offers many points of interes. Let’s discover together which are the most important monuments to see:
- Piazza del Duomo
- Battistero di San Giovanni in Corte
- Palazzo Comunale
- Museo Civico
- Chiesa di San Giovanni Fuoricivitas
- Fortezza di Santa Barbara
- Museo Marino Marini
- Chiesa di San Bartolomeo in Pantano
- Pieve di Sant’Andrea
Piazza del Duomo
Historic center of the political and religious life of the city, the Piazza del Duomo of Pistoia certainly deserves a place among the most beautiful squares of all Tuscany. It is a very large square, rich in historical buildings of great architectural importance. Here we find the beautiful Cathedral of San Zeno with its imposing bell tower, the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Corte, the Palazzo Vescovile, the Palazzo Pretorio and the Palazzo del Comune. Just outside the square, on the opposite side from the Cathedral, you can also admire a tower from the early Middle Ages, called Torre di Catilina because, according to legend, the body of the Roman senator Catilina, who lived in the first century before Christ, was buried here.
Named after San Zeno, the cathedral of Pistoia dates back to the early Middle Ages, although over the centuries it has been rebuilt several times. The external appearance of the Cathedral dates back to the 14th century, while the interior dates back to the thirteenth century; the predominant style is Romanesque.
Looking at the façade, crowning the pediment, two statues can be seen: on the left that of San Zeno, built by Jacopo di Mazzeo in 1336 and on the right that of San Jacopo, patron of Pistoia, carved in 1721 by Andrea Vaccà.
The interior, with three naves, is enriched by numerous sculptural elements, frescoes and paintings. The most important of the works that can be admired here is undoubtedly the amazing altar of San Jacopo which is found in the Chapel of the Crucifix. It is a masterpiece of medieval jewelery to which several masters have worked, including a young Filippo Brunelleschi. Made of silver between 1287 and 1456, the altar houses a relic of San Jacopo. Among the other works preserved in the Cathedral, I will only mention an important crucifix on a panel made in 1721 by Coppo di Marcovaldo.
The extraordinary bell tower of the Duomo is also worthy of note. Built on an ancient Lombard tower, the bell tower is the result of a medieval restructuring; more recent is the belfry that has been rebuilt several times following some earthquakes. If you are fit enough, I suggest you to take the 200 steps that take you to the top at a height of over 60 meters: from here the view is really special!
Battistero di San Giovanni in Corte
From the Romanesque of the Duomo we pass to the Gothic style of the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Corte. Built in the 14th century, the baptistery has an octagonal plan and is surmounted by a dome with a lantern. The exterior is entirely covered with strips of marble alternately white and green, while the interior, decidedly more bare, contains a beautiful fourteenth-century baptismal font.
On the opposite side of the square from the Baptistery, we find the Palazzo degli Anziani or Palazzo Comunale, if you like. Built between the thirteenth and fourth centuries, this magnificent palace has a magnificent stone facade opened by a beautiful porch on the ground floor and a series of mullioned windows on the upper floors. Even today, the building is the seat of the Municipality of Pistoia and the rooms of the Museo Civico are housed inside.
The Museo Civico of Pistoia is the main art collection in the city as well as the oldest museum institution in Pistoia, since it began to form in the late nineteenth century and was inaugurated in 1922. The museum allows you to retrace the whole history art of Pistoia from the twelfth century to the twentieth century. The collection of the Civic Museum consists of over 300 works of art including paintings, sculptures, goldsmiths, glass and ceramics that come largely from the churches and convents of Pistoia.
The museum itinerary is organized on a chronological basis and according to a differentiation for artistic schools. Among the oldest works (XIII-XIV century) we find a San Francesco, stories of his life and miracles after the death attributed to Coppo di Marcovaldo and a Lamentation of Christ by Lippo di Benivieni. The sixteenth century is represented among others by the Sacred Conversation by Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio while in the seventeenth century Ero e Leandro by Giacinto Gimignani and a Judgment of Midas by Jacopo Chimenti. The exhibition ends in the mezzanine where the Centro di documentazione Giovanni Michelucci is located, which allows you to consult more than 2,000 drawings and projects created by this great architect.
Chiesa di San Giovanni Fuoricivitas
After visiting Piazza del Duomo and all the wonderful monuments that overlook it, I recommend going to see the Church of San Giovanni Fuoricitivas. If you want advice, I suggest you go through the picturesque Piazza della Sala where there are several little bars and you can admire the Pozzo del Leoncino, which takes its name from the stone lion above the lintel of the well.
The Romanesque Church of San Giovanni owes the name of Fuoricitivitas to the fact that at the time of its foundation, or in the Lombard period, it was outside the circle of the city walls. Like the Baptistery, this church also has a decoration made of white and green marbles. Inside you can admire many sculptures, a beautiful thirteenth-century pulpit and some paintings like the polyptych Madonna with Child and saints Iacopo, Giovanni Evangelista, Pietro and Giovanni Battista realized by Taddeo Gaddi between 1350 and 1353.
Fortezza di Santa Barbara
The Fortress of Santa Barbara was built starting from 1539 at the behest of Cosimo I de ‘Medici in place of a pre-existing medieval fortification of which some remains can still be seen. With its massive scarp walls and corner ramparts, the Fortress of Santa Barbara is a fine example of Renaissance military architecture. Its construction was attended by some great architects of the time such as Buontalenti and Bellucci.
Museo Marino Marini
If you love contemporary art, I suggest a visit to the museum of the Fondazione Marino Marini, located in via Fedi, a few steps from the Church of San Giovanni Fuoricivitas. The museum exhibits numerous works by the famous Pistoiese artist. Marino Marini was a painter, an engraver but above all a sculptor; in the museum, in fact, we find an interesting gipsothèque that collects more than 100 plaster casts made by Marini during his long career.
Official website of the Fondazione Marino Marini.
Chiesa di San Bartolomeo in Pantano
The Church of San Bartolomeo in Pantano is one of the most beautiful and ancient in Pistoia. The name “pantano” derives from the fact that the church stands in an area that was once marshy. The foundation of the church dates back to the Lombard era, probably around the middle of the 8th century, but the building was profoundly renovated four centuries later.
The appearance of the church therefore dates back to the mid-12th century renovation and shows typical features of the Pistoia Romanesque style. The facade is marked by five arches, decorated with two-colored marbles, which are supported by columns. The same decoration is repeated in the arches of the three access portals and also other parts of the facade show an alternation of black and white with geometric motifs. The sculptures and the architrave of the central portal where the episode of Jesus giving the commandments to the apostles or the Incredulity of Thomas are also dated back to the same period.
The interior, which over the centuries has been remodeled on several occasions, has undergone a substantial restoration in the 1950s aimed at restoring its original characteristics. Among the most interesting things to see, there are the pulpit made by Guido da Como, the crucifix of the high altar and the Christ in majesty between Saints and Angels which is located in the apse.
Pieve di Sant’Andrea
Like the Church of San Bartolomeo, the Pieve di Sant’Andrea also dates back to the eighth century and was remodeled in the twelfth. The facade of the parish also has many elements in common with that of San Bartolomeo especially as regards the decorative elements. A peculiarity of this church is the sensation of verticality that is felt inside; this is due to the fact that when it was rebuilt it was not enlarged but it was lengthened and raised.
Inside there are several works of art and many fine decorations but more than anything else the wonderful Pulpit created by Giovanni Pisano deserves attention, because it’s a real masterpiece. The work dates back to 1301 and has strong analogies with the pulpits made by Nicola Pisano (Giovanni’s father) for the Cathedral of Siena and for the Baptistery of Pisa. The pulpit has a hexagonal shape and is supported by seven columns (one at each corner and one in the middle). Three of these rest directly on the ground, two on stylophor lions, one on a male figure (a telamon) and one, the central one on a group consisting of a winged lion, an eagle and a griffon.
The sculptural decoration of the upper part is very articulated with Allegories found in the plume of the arches, Prophecies on the corbels of the capitals and five reliefs alternating with other figures found in the parapet. Specifically, the stories narrated in the parapet reliefs are: Annunciation, Nativity, Bath of Jesus and Announcement to the shepherds; Dream and adoration of the Magi; Massacre of the Innocents; Crucifixion; Last Judgment.