History of Pistoia, Italy

See Pistoia guide for highlights and historic monuments

During ancient history Pistoia was known by many names, such as "Pistorium", "Pistoriae", and "Pistoria". The first mention of "Pistorium" is by Pliny the Elder [23-79 AD] (Nat. Hist., 3.52), while the geographer Ptolemy [100-175 AD[] (3.1.43) called it Pistoria. A mention of Pistoia is also found in Titus Maccius Plautus [254-184 BC] ("Captivi", 160)

Ancient Pistoria

The sources about ancient “Pistoriae” or “Pistoria” are still quite scarce. The only historical event of some significance attributable to its territory was reported by the military defeat of Catiline [108-62 BC] in 62 BC, in a certain area near Pistoia.

Pistoriae was a major road junction, connected to Florence and Lucca, and, through the Apennines, with areas that in archaic times belonged to the Etruscans. In Roman times the city was probably a "conciliabulum" [a centre of meeting of Roman citizens], built on the plain at the mouth of the river Ombrone. However, the Etruscan presence in the area of Pistoia was supported by A. Solari [3].

The town was probably founded in the 2nd century BC for strategic and commercial reasons [4]. The foundation of Pistoia dates back, therefore, to the time when the Romans structured the communications of Etruria and in particular the Via Cassia, which divided Tuscany.

The first document of the ancient Via Cassia in the territory is given by the “Tabula Peutingeriana”, according to which from Adretium, Arezzo, Florentia and Florence we could go to "Pistoriae" [Pistoia], Luca (Lucca ) and Luni.

In the stretch between Florence and Pistoia was a "mansio", a way station, called "ad Solaria" and nine miles distant from Florence and a "mansio Hellana":

"There were four way stations (ad Solaria, Hellana, Pistoria and ad Martis), of which the first three, more or less corresponding to the current Sesto Fiorentino, Agliana and Pistoia, were located at the intersection of highway roads with paths towards the passes of the Apennines" [5].

From the dark Ages in Pistoia

In 570 Pistoia was occupied by the Lombards, who broke down the city walls. Then the Lombards declared it was the royal city and strengthened its defense system. Pistoia was now the seat of a Lombard “Gastaldato” [governed by the Gastaldi on behalf of the Lombard king] with the right to mint its own money. Numerous historical studies demonstrate the importance of and intensity of the Lombard presence in these lands.

With regard to the territory of Pistoia in particular, the Lombard kingdom (568-774) has been studied and analyzed in depth by N. Rauty [6], who studied Pistoia from the early days of the invasion, and then continued the analysis of the situation of the Church, also describing the society of Pistoia in the 8th century.

Later, the city belonged to the Franks, and here at Pistoia Desiderius (died 786) and his son Adelchi (died 788) had great possessions, as shown by a "Praeceptum" in which was mentioned the existence of a "curte nostra Pestoriense" [= our court in Pistoia] [7].

Entering the Middle Ages

The formation of the Commune of Pistoia in the late 11th and early 12th century (1105 is the oldest evidence of the existence of consuls) and during the 12th century the statutes of the city were written, which were among the first in Tuscany, and they give the idea of a good legal culture by the local notary class of Pistoia, which began to be called "Pistorium" in the second half of the 12th century:

"Ptolemy recalls Pistoia as "Pistoria", and the manuscripts of Pliny show 'Pistorium'. It seems worth noting that during the Early Middle Ages and until the middle of the thirteenth century, it was called 'Pistoria’, then changed to ‘Pistorium’” [8].

"Pistoia suffered terrible events at the time of the Lombards, and after the death of the Countess Matilde, it got its own political autonomy, despite the attempts of the Counts Guidi of Lodigliana and of Counta Alberti. The oldest document indicating the formation of the free government is an act of 1105 in favor of the Cathedral Chapter" [9].

The free city of Pistoia was characterized by the merchant class, which was a driver of the entire economy of Pistoia in the 12th to 14th century, leading to the formation of great personal wealth.

In the course of the 11th-12th centuries Pistoia distinguished itself by its strong economic growth. In this period of great political, economic and military prosperity, Pistoia acquired the Romanesque appearance that still constitutes the main feature of the city's artistic heritage, and also a new city wall.

During the 13th century Pistoia began to enlarge its domain with the formation of its territory, thanks to the Counts Guidi, who were powerful feudal lords in the province of Pistoia. Civic life was disrupted, however, by the struggles between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, and by the wars against the powers of Florence and Lucca. There were many battles with these cities and in the early 14th century this alliance caused the heavy siege of 1306.

From the 14th century in Pistoia

During the 14th century Pistoia was under the control of Uguccione Faggiola [1250-1319], Vinceguerra Panciatichi , Robert of Anjou [1277-1343] and Castruccio Castracani [1281-1328], Lord of Lucca. Around the middle of the century, just when it seemed it was going to regain its independence, Pistoia came under Florentine rule after being severely damaged by the disastrous plague of 1348 and 1400.

In 1401 Pistoia lost its independence and became an integral part of the domains of Florence, which imposed its podesta, and also the diocese was subordinated to that of Florence.

During the first half of the 16th century the city was involved in the struggles between factions  of the magnate families of the Cancellieri and Panciatichi for the most prestigious positions in city government. In 1643 Pistoia was besieged by the troops of the Pope and in this same century it also witnessed the ascendancy to the papacy of Clement IX [1600-1669], Cardinal Giulio Rospigliosi, who was a native of the city.

Recent centuries

In the 18th century Tuscany became a domain of the Lorraine, and the city, especially under Duke Peter Leopold, enjoyed a prosperous period with modernization of the trans-Apennine system of roads, which allowed it to play a central role in trade.

At the end of the 18th century Pistoia was occupied by French troops, and during the Napoleonic rule Pistoia was included in the department of Arno. With the Congress of Vienna and afterwards the restoration to Tuscany, the Lorraine maintained their rule until the Unification of Italy in 1861.

Origins of the name Pistoia

The etymology of the name "Pistorium" remains uncertain. In this regard, G. Cappelletti wrote: "Many sought the etymology of Pistoia, but no one apparently knew how to find it, because they drew it from vague and improbable conjectures. Some derived its name from a gild of bakers, called "pistores", others from a Greek word (...) We also know little about its origin...

...some scholars declared it to be of Etruscan origin, founded by the other survivors of the army of Catiline. One dubious conjecture states that the land belonged to the Ligurian people of Pistoia before they were expelled by the Romans led by the consuls  M. Lepidus and T.  Flaminio Nepos, who led their armies into the territory of Pistoia between the Apuans and Friniates" [1].

Even modern criticism is very doubtful about the meaning of the name, however N. Rauty writes: "Among all the proposed etymologies about the name" Pistoria ", some of them very unlikely and contrived, the only one that may have some basis in truth is that which arises in connection with the name "pistores "(= bakers). The same word "Pistoria" was also used in late Latinity with the meaning of "oven to make bread" [2].

So in essence, according to this etymology, Pistoia means "locus ubi pistores panem confleiunt" (trans: place where bakers made bread).

See also the travel guide for Pistoia


1. See G. Cappelletti, “Le chiese d'Italia”, Venezia, 1862, Vol 17, p. 73

2. See N. Rauty-G. Vannini, “L'antico palazzo dei vescovi a Pistoia”,Olschki,  1981, p. note 69

3. A. Solari, Pistoriae, p. 22

4. Rauty, 1981, p. 69

5. See Lucia Fiaschi, “L'Oratorio della Compagnia della Vergine Assunta di Serravalle Pistoiese: restauro di un antico luogo di culto”, 1999,  p. 14

6. “Storia di Pistoia, I, Dall’alto Medioevo all’età precomunale 406 – 1105”, Firenze, 1988, p. 67 ff.

7. See C. Meyer, “Sprache und Sprachdenkmaler deo Longobarden”, 1877,  p. 254

8. See“Bullettino storico pistoiese”, Società pistoiese di storia patria,  1916, p . 130

9. See A. Chiti," Pistoia ", 1910, p. 1