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Pistoia: city of art at the foot of the Apennines
A trip through treasures and colours of the marble monuments, the polychrome glazed terracotta and the magnificent museums of Pistoia, the city of enchanted stone
Particularly rich in exquisite Romanesque and Renaissance monuments (churches most of all), Pistoia boasts one of the most evocative squares in Italy: piazza del Duomo. Lying at the center of the city, it has always been a monumental fulcrum of both civil and ecclesiastical power and is composed of various precious buildings, such as the Cathedral of San Zeno, the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Corte and the Bell Tower.
 
But the "city of enchanted stone" boasts even more than this. Here's a hint of what you shouldn't miss in Pistoia if you love art and architecture. 
San Giovanni in Corte Baptistery
San Giovanni in Corte Baptistery

You find duotone patterns, which become more elaborate over the centuries, on the façades of the most important Romanesque churches in Pistoia, which are either fashioned from precious white Carrara marble or from travertine from Monsummano Terme, plus green serpentine from Prato. On the front of the churches of Sant'Andrea, San Bartolomeo and San Pier Maggiore, the geometric decorations in two-toned marble emphasizes the architectural structures and shapes. You will also appreciate the exaggerated geometry of the side-façade of the church of San Giovanni Fuorcivitas, where the striking color becomes the real protagonist.

The burst of white and green marble blazes spectacularly from the outside of the Cathedral, as well as on the ancient stairs of the palazzo dei Vescovi. The white-and-green scheme is also incorporated into the bricks of Palazzo Vescovile, and the bell tower alternates marble, local limestone and also cotto bricks at the uppermost part. San Giovanni in Corte Baptistery is beautifully enriched with bas-reliefs, drips and spires in a Gothic style, completing the exquisite image of Piazza Duomo.

The polychrome glazed terracotta
Ospedale del Ceppo
Ospedale del Ceppo- Credit:  Alessandro Farese

A brightly-colored sixteenth-century glazed terracotta frieze decorates the loggia of the historic Ospedale del Ceppo, which is one of the symbols of the city. The seven bas-relief panels that make up the frieze illustrate the Sette Opere di Misericordia (the Seven Works of Mercy) with highly characterized gestures and faces. The first six works were done by the Florentine artist Santi Buglioni, a descendant of Benedetto Buglioni, who created the lunette above the portal of the nearby oratory (the Coronation of the Virgin in blue and white terracotta). The last one, found on the right of the façade, was added in the late sixteenth century by Filippo Paladini and was probably commissioned to replace a lost panel. Fragments of the original are held in the Ferri Chirurgici Room inside the Ospedale.

"La Visitazione", a masterpiece by Luca della Robbia in San Leone Church of Pistoia- Credit:  Diocesi Pistoia

We can walk the streets of the centre of Pistoia on the trail of Luca della Robbia, one of the most illustrious artists in fifteenth-century Florence, and his nephew Andrea della Robbia. In the historic Church of San Giovanni Fuorcivitas, for example, you will encounter a beautiful group of white figures depicting the Visitation: a piece of extraordinary formal refinement, with the Madonna and Saint Elizabeth locked in a tender embrace. This is one of Luca della Robbia’s oldest free-standing glazed terracotta tondi. It was Andrea della Robbia, however, who in 1505 authored a lunette under the loggia of the Duomo, on the central portal, which shows the Madonna and Child amongst Angels, framed by the coffers and festoons on the intrados.

The museums
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The museum network in Pistoia features exhibitions of great interest, all of which, occupying a relatively confined area of the city, can be comfortably visited in a single day. Pistoia’s most important artworks are to be found in the Palazzo Comunale and Palazzo dei Vescovi in Piazza del Duomo. The Museo Civico, which covers the first floor, mezzanine floor and second floor of Palazzo Comunale, is home to the most important works of Pistoiese art, from the fourteenth to the twentieth centuries. The underground floors of the ancient Palazzo dei Vescovi – which was the seat of the bishopric from the eleventh to the eighteenth centuries – contain many remarkable archaeological artefacts, which were dug up locally.

Pistoia
Pistoia- Credit:  Alessandro Farese

The Cathedral Museum contains an interesting collection of precious gold artworks, such as a reliquary of San Jacopo by Lorenzo Ghiberti, along with other rare sacred ornaments and liturgical decoration A visit to this museum, with its secret hidden spaces and mysterious atmosphere, is really like taking a step back in time. To the right of Palazzo Comunale is the sixteenth-century Palazzo Rospigliosi della Ripa, which is home to the Clemente Rospigliosi Museum, the Nuovo Museo Diocesano and the Museo del Ricamo. The Rospigliosi Museum is particularly fascinating, not only on account of its beautiful seventeenth-century paintings belonging to the Rospigliosi family, but also for its precious original furniture. The neighbouring rooms contain the Nuovo Museo Diocesano, which is home to liturgical objects, goldwork, devotional sculptures and sacred items originating from parishes all over the territory. The Museo del Ricamo, which celebrates the local craft tradition of needlework, is found on the ground floor of the same building. Embroidery is a local skill which for centuries has been passed down from father to son and which has played a fundamental part in the local economy.

Just a few minutes’ walk from Piazza del Duomo, in Corso Silvano Fedi, you can visit the Museo della Fondazione Marino Marini. This museum is dedicated to the life and works of Marino Marini, a famous sculptor and artist from Pistoia.

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