The Church of San Giovanni Fuorcivitas takes its name from the fact that it’s located outside the original historic centre of Pistoia, which in the Middle Ages corresponded to the first set of defense walls. The site was probably originally home to a church built by the Lombards, who, having converted to Catholicism, wanted to demonstrate their faith by dedicating a new place of worship to the apostle.
Construction on the new church began in the 12th century in the Romanesque style. The church is richly decorated with dual-toned marbles. The northern side is characterized by blind arches and two orders of small loggias: at the centre, with its arch and architrave sculpted by the master Gruamonte depicting scenes from the Last Supper. This façade is covered in long, horizontal lines made from white marble and green serpentine from Prato, influenced by the Pisan school and the most characteristic part of the church’s exterior decorations. The cloister is also worth seeing, built from stone and terracotta and decorated with majolica.
During the 1300s, decorations were added to San Giovanni by the best artists of the period: Fra' Guglielmo da Pisa sculpted the reliefs on the pulpit depicting Episodes from the Life of Christ and the Virgin Mary, embellished with colourful glazes and finishing touches; Giovanni Pisano probably made the marble holy water font at the centre of the nave; Taddeo Gaddi painted the polyptych of the Madonna Enthroned with Saints James, John the Evangelist, Peter and John the Baptist; and Luca della Robbia is responsible for masterpieces like the white, glazed terracotta group of sculptures depicting the Visitation.