Pistoia is a historic city in Tuscany that’s sometimes called Little Florence because of its concentration of medieval architecture, art, and museums, although it sees far fewer tourists. The beautiful main square, Piazza del Duomo, has several interesting monuments and seven museums that can be visited in the area, including the Cathedral Museum itself. If there’s not enough to see on ground level, visitors can also climb the bell tower for great views or visit Underground Pistoia under the Ceppo Hospital.
Pistoia is designated the 2017 Italian Capital of Culture, making it one of my recommended places to go in 2017 as there will be lots of cultural events, including music, art, and special guided tours.
Top Sights in Pistoia
- San Zeno Cathedral originated in 923 but was rebuilt and extended in the 12th Century after it burned down. It’s been remodeled over the centuries and its original Romanesque features share space with Baroque and Renaissance decor. One of the main works to see inside is the silver Altar of Saint James, weighing nearly a ton. Over the entrance is a della Robbia of the Madonna and Child between two angels.
- The adjacent bell tower has 200 steps and is normally open to visitors on the weekends or on other days, except Mondays, by reservation which can be made at the Baptistery.
- The Gothic Baptistery of San Giovanni in Corte is an octagonal monument built in the mid-14th century in green and white marble. Inside is an ornate Baptismal font. It’s closed on Mondays.
- Also around the square are the 12th century Bishop’s Palace that houses the Museo de San Zeno (cathedral museum) and Archaeology Museum, the Palazzo del Comune, town hall, housing the Civic Museum, and the tourist office.
- Next to Piazza del Duomo is Piazza della Sala, the medieval marketplace where a morning market is still held. In the square are medieval-style market stalls with heavy shutters and stone benches and an ancient well.
- Ceppo Hospital, Ospedale del Ceppo, was founded in 1277 and is one of the oldest continuously operating hospitals in the world (although of course it’s now modernized!). At the hospital there’s a collection of surgical instruments dating back to between the 17th and 19th century, the small 18th century anatomical theater, and a 16th century terracotta frieze by_Giovanni della Robbia_. Take the Pistoia Underground Tour to explore the history of Pistoia along a pathway that follows the old riverbed and see crafts that were practiced there from the milling of grain to metal working that produced one of Pistoia’s specialties – knives, especially those used in the hospital and anatomical theater. The tour is wheelchair accessible and has braille signs for the blind.
- Cappella del Tau, inside the Palazzo del Tau, was built in 1360 and houses the 1372 fresco cycle by Niccolò di Tommaso. Also in the Palazzo is a gallery of works by 20th century sculptor and painter, Marino Marini.
Where to Stay and Eat in Pistoia
- Locanda San Marco, Pistoia is a bed and breakfast with 9 guest rooms in a restored mansion near the historic center.
- B&B Palazzo Sozzifanti, Pistoia is a small bed and breakfast near the Cathedral with a garden and bicycles for guest use.
Pistoia has several good restaurants in the historic center. Our favorite is La BotteGaia, on Piazza della Sala, closed Mondays.
Getting to Pistoia
Pistoia, about 20 miles northwest of Florence, is on the rail line between Florence and Lucca so it can easily be visited as a day trip or used as a base for day trips to Florence, Lucca, and Montecatini Terme. Currently all trains are regional trains so you can just buy a ticket at any station but be sure to validate your train ticket before you get on the train. From the station is about a 10 – 15 minute walk to Piazza del Duomo. If you’re arriving by car, there’s an exit from the A11 autostrada.