Pistoia, a seductive city with a deeply historic roots, is a place that will amaze lovers of art and traditions. Poets and writers have heralded the charm of what they’ve renamed the "city of enchanted stone" and the "city of wide streets and beautiful churches". In the center you can wander down a path full of churches, cloisters, palaces, museums and monuments that revolve around one of the most fascinating Cathedral Piazzas in Italy. And even in the outskirts of the city, there are strikingly beautiful villages, churches and fortified castles.
Pistoia, which was named the Italian Capital of Culture in 2017, is a city of Roman origin, whose urban composition is founded on the boundaries marked by the three ancient city walls.
The piazza del Duomo is now defined by its main buildings that, over the centuries, has characterised the political and religious life of the city: the Palazzo Comunale, the Palazzo Pretorio, the San Zeno Cathedral, the Palazzo dei Vescovi, the Baptistery and the spectacular bell tower.
The intriguing Piazza della Sala belongs to the oldest part of the town, the part that includes various sacred buildings (although some are deconsecrated) which offer evidence to the centrality of religion in Pistoia’s history. The historic centre is designed in the shape of a ring which follows the layout of the first circle of walls. Whilst walking through these streets, you’ll come across precious and surprising works: alongside the Piazza del Duomo, it is also worth mentioning the Ceppo Hospital, decorated with the majestic "Robbiano frieze", the parish church of Sant'Andrea with the splendid pedestal by Giovanni Pisano, or the Church of Tau, extensively decorated with beautiful medieval frescoes.
If you visit Pistoia, you’ll find your gaze drawn to the magnificent white and black marbles that decorate the exterior of the church of San Giovanni Fuorcivitas. Just beyond the church is the church of San Filippo Neri and the Fabroniana Library.
Next is the Civic Museum of Pistoia, where you’ll find a flood of historic art inside the Town Hall, alongside an in-depth study of twentieth-century and contemporary art at Palazzo Fabroni.
But to truly discover Pistoia, you need to head out of the city centre and explore the hills that surround it, losing yourself among the Montagna Pistoiese Ecomuseum trails. The village of Orsigna is unmissable and, once here, it’s worth stopping at Molino di Giamba, to truly experince the city’s hidden and rural soul.
If you’re lucky enough to be in Pistoia for at least two days, you’ll have the chance to discover the treasures that the mountain holds. The famous ski resorts, including Abetone and Doganaccia, are visited every year by ski and snowboard enthusiasts; but the Pistoia Apennines are full of adventure in the summer too. The mountains are ideal for trekking; some of the most interesting routes include Monte Gomito, Monte Cimone and the Libro Aperto, as well as the paths that lead to the gorgeous Nero and Scaffaiolo lakes.
Heading in the direction of Lucca, you’ll find yourself enchanted by the remains of the fortresses of Serravalle Pistoiese,Torre del Barbarossa and Rocca Nuova, which characterize the entire village and valley.
Finally, Marliana is recognized for being covered almost exclusively by chestnut groves. It’s no coincidence that the great riches of this land are products of the forest, such as chestnuts and mushrooms, rows and olive groves.
For music lovers, an ideal time to visit the city is in July, when the Pistoia Blues festival is staged in Piazza del Duomo. Over the years, some of the greatest international artists have taken to the Pistoia stage, such as Jimmy Page, Rory Gallagher, Brian Auger and BB King.
For those who prefer folklore, there’s also the option to attend the Joust of the Bear, which reinvents the glories of a medieval costume tournament.
In addition to the precious fruits that grow in the Apennine woods, such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries, Pistoia is also home to many other specialties. The zuppa del carcerato (prisoner's soup), which is made with stale bread and meat broth, is one of the area’s most traditional recipes: the name derives from the story that the dish was once cooked for the city’s prisoners. Meals end with the local "hedgehog" sugared almonds from Pistoia, lumpy in shape and obtained following historic processing methods.