If it was anywhere else but Tuscany Pistoia would undoubtedly get many more visitors than it does, but because Florence is to the east and Pisa and Lucca are to the west, and because there is quite a lot of industrial development around the edges of the town, it gets rather overlooked by a lot of visitors to the region.
But persist and you wil find that Pistoia is particularly rich in important Romanesque and Renaissance monuments, and a visit to explore the historic centre is recommended.
It is said that the pistol was invented here in the 16th century, and took its name from the town.
Explore Pistoia: tourism and travel guide
As you can see below, Pistoia has a great deal to discover, from an impressive cathedral to extraordinary artworks. We suggest you start your visit in the Piazza del Duomo in the historic centre of the town and which is close to most of the important monuments and a very impressive medieval square.
You will find the Piazza del Duomo at it's liveliest if you are able to visit on a Wednesday or Saturday morning, the days that the market takes place in Pistoia. Of course you will also have lots of chances to buy the local produce while you are here as well!
Cathedral of San Zeno
The main monument here in the Piazza del Duomo is the Cathedral of San Zeno, dedicated to Bishop Saint Zeno. The cathedral has been built on the site of ancient Roman ruins and tradition tells us that this was the first church constructed in the city.
Built in early medieval times the cathedral was destroyed by fire on several occasions and also later remodeled so its current appearance largely dates from the 14th century. The cathedral facade is in the local version of romanesque architecture which includes lots of columns, arches and inlaid black and white stripes.
The cathedral interior has three naves decorated with 17th-century frescoes and numerous paintings, while under the chancel there are the remains of a Roman villa dating from the imperial age.
Also inside the cathedral you can see the silver altar of San Jacopo, attributed to Andrea di Jacopo d'Ognabene [1286-1317], who was a goldsmith in Pistoia. The altar of San Jacopo was completed by Filippo Brunelleschi [1377-1446], most famous for designing the dome of the cathedral in Florence
The bell tower, built on an ancient tower of Lombard Romanesque style, is divided into three orders of loggias.
Baptistry of San Giovanni
The Baptistery of San Giovanni in the centre of the Piazza del Duomo is in the gothic style and decorated with stripes of white-green marble. Built to an octagonal plan it is surmounted by a decorative upper layer and dome and was designed by the renowned workshop of Andrea Pisano [1290-1348]. Inside the baptistry there is a 13th century baptismal font .
Bishop's Palace in Pistoia
The Bishop's Palace has a porch on the first floor, in the gothic style and restored in 1981. Built as a fortified palace in the year 1000, the present appearance dates from the 12th century when it was converted into a palace - it was then the residence of the local Bishops for many centuries.
It is an important example of a private building of the 11th century and houses a rich collection of sacred vessels and vestments from the cathedral and the sacristy of S. Iacopo, such as the famous reliquary of S. James, built by the Florentine workshop of L. Ghiberti [1388-1455] in 1407.
Among other works here are the wooden sculpture of the Angel holding the head of the Baptist attributed to Giovanni Pisano [1248-1314].
Other Pistoia highlights - churches and palaces
The Praetorian Palace is also of Gothic style. It is famous for its courtyard with the arms of the magistrates, and was built in the 14th century although heavily remodeled in the 19th century. The external appearance, however, is similar to the original.
The former church of Santa Maria Cavaliera was built in Pistoia in 979, but has undergone many alterations so today it is very difficult to find traces of the original.
Nearby is the early medieval tower of Catiline. The tower is 30 meters high and the name derives from a legend according to which the body of the Roman general Catiline was buried here, called the Tomb of Catiline.
The Church of Saint Giovanni Fuorcivitas, with a large amount of decoration in white and green marble, was begun in the 12th century and enlarged in the 14th century. Inside there are beautiful sculptures such as the the pulpit by Fra’ Guglielmo da Pisa, carved in 1270, and the famous Visitation in glazed terracotta by Luca della Robbia [1400-1482] (1445).
Also in this church pay particular attention to the font by Giovanni Pisano and the medieval altarpiece by Taddeo Gaddi [1290-1366], which represents the Madonna Enthroned with St. James, St. John the Evangelist, St. Peter and St. John the Baptist. Also of interest are the crucifix and the Romanesque cloister, both 13th century.
The Church of San Pier Maggiore was built in Lombard times. The facade was completed in 1263, while the interior was modified in 1640 and there is a fine organ of the 19th century.
The so-called 'Ospedale del Ceppo' is now the seat of the Anatomical Museum and also contains a famous frieze representing the “seven works of mercy”, probably the most important work of the school of Della Robbia.
Pistoia Town Museum is housed in the Palazzo Comunale. The entire artistic history of the city is represented here, with paintings on panel and canvas, sculptures and objects of applied art, covering the 13th to the 19th century. Gerino Gerini, Domenico Rossermini, and Bernardino del Signoraccio (aka Fra’ Paolino da Pistoia, 1488-1547) are just some of the artists that made the school of Pistoia famous in the 16th-century.
Close to the Piazza del Duomo you can see an imposing building that has now been donated to the Diocese of Pistoia and is home to the Diocesan Museum and the Museum of Embroidery. Pistoia and its territory have an old and established tradition of the art of embroidery, and the museum is dedicated to the industry and includes a permanent exhibition and items on temporary loan.
Rospigliosi Palace also houses the museum of the same name, with several frescoes, tapestries, furniture, furnishings and many paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries.
Just outside Pistoia and near Arcigliano the Vivarelli Foundation has numerous sculptures and graphic works by this local sculptor. Also very close and well worth visiting is the village of Vinci, where Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452.
Nature and traditions
The landscape around Pistoia is of particular interest to visitors and is a mountainous landscape with extensive forests and woodlands. In the mountains you can also enjoy some of the local Tuscan dishes made with chestnuts, mushrooms and soup dishes, the bread soup called “alla Pistoiese” and the "cioncia", a soup with beans, potatoes, peas, cabbage and grilled meats.
Where is Pistoia?
Pistoia is in Tuscany (north-central Italy) and at the foot of the Apennines, on the left side of the river Ombrone. It is about thirty miles north-west of Florence and the important towns of Lucca and Pisa are to the west of Pistoia. It is east to visit Pistoia as a day trip from any of these cities.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Tuscany guide.