Pistoia, a medieval jewel
Pistoia in half a day
It's a beautiful day at the end of April, it's sunny and it's not too hot, ideal for sightseeing in Tuscany!
How it started
Some friends from Genoa ask for my advice. "Where should we go today?" I reply: "Tell me what intrigues you!".
At the beginning they propose an undeniably original match, Pistoia and Arezzo. I gently inform them that Arezzo is certainly an interesting town, but it is a bit difficult to reconcile the two destinations because of the distances. So what I propose to do is to keep the idea of stoia and then add Vinci to this day where I'm a tourist in Tuscany.
Pistoia is quite close by and it has an impressive medieval center and it is therefore understandable that it is one of the destinations that our foreign guests wish to visit. Although for many of us Tuscan it is only the capital of plant nursery, where the Breda (then AnsaldoBreda, now Hitachi) produces trains and buses as well as home to a famous zoo. Our problem in Tuscany is that there are so many beautiful places to visit that we are spolit for choices! So, let's go to Pistoia!
San Francesco church in Pistoia Ph: diocesipistoia.it
Getting to Pistoia is very easy, there is a Pistoia exit on the A11 Firenze-Mare motorway. According to Google, from La Scuola di Furio to the motorway exit there are 33.8 km for a journey that lasts 31 minutes. We have a navigator programmed to take us downtown. I'm kicking myself because at home and at the holiday home I have millions of maps and books in all languages that could help me to orientate and instead I left everything at home! I do not bring anything and we go blind! The navigator is set to take us downtown, but we know that we have to keep our eyes open because there are certainly ZTL zones, with restrictions or bans of access and we do not want to take fines! We decide to park in Via Pellegrino Antonini. On the ground there are blue stripes, so it is paid parking but it is Sunday and it is possible that we are not requested to pay. To be sure, I still enter 20 cents in the parking meter. With that sum we would have the right to stay there until the next morning, so today we do not pay. We discover that we are immediately behind Piazza San Francesco with the imposing church and the convent of San Francesco. Once there, one of my friends exclaims: "WOW! I guess this is the cathedral of Pistoia!". I know that it is not so because, despite the two churches have in common the facade characterized by the marble band coating, I saw some pictures of the cathedral and I think it is much more in the city center and in an older square and surrounded by narrow streets. I do not have time to tell him my thoughts that a gentleman, who was going to attend the Mass, very kindly explains that this is the church of San Francesco and provides us with valuable information to reach the Piazza del Duomo, the real one.
Pistoia Sant'Andrea Church foto: By Geobia via commons.wikimedia.org rielaborata
To reach the center of Pistoia we walked though via Sant'Andrea, where the homonymous church of Sant'Andrea is located. Just in front of it there is Palazzo Fabroni, which hosts permanent and temporary art exhibitions. We arived in Pistoia only a few minutes earlier and we already have the impression of a super-pretty small town, well kept and full of churches. We are in front of Sant'Andrea and in our group we have 2 persons whose name is Andrea so entering is a must! Inside there is a guided tour and we do not want to overhear too much. However, we note a beautiful pulpit by Giovanni Pisano. We continue the pleasant walk and, among the roofs, we see a beautiful tiled dome (built by Giorgio Vasari) and we head there. But not even this stunning church is the Cathedral! This is "only" the Basilica of Our Lady of Humility!
The stunning dome of Basilica of Our Lady of Humility
From what I know from my friends in Pistoia, there is a square called Piazza della Sala which is very lively. It is full of little places where you can have an aperitif, eat a platter of cold cuts and cheeses, drink a beer. Today is Sunday and, as evidence of the last night nightlife, on the ground there are small remains of broken glass, something that always makes me nervous when walking with Napo. La Sala, as the Pistoiesi call it, has a very intimate and pleasant appearance, there is even a well, called Leoncino. I discover that the lion is a Florentine Marzocco that indicates the subjection of Pistoia to Florence (History is everywhere!).
Piazza della Sala in Pistoia Ph: it.wikipedia.org
From La Sala we take Via di Stracceria to get (hurray!) to Piazza del Duomo. In the meantime we find ourselves passing by one of the restaurants that my friends from Pistoia recommended, the "Locanda del Capitano del Popolo" otherwise called "da Checco" where we book for lunch. Almost on the opposite side of the street, really narrow, there is a nice bijoux shop, "Il Vezzo". A friend of mine enters to get a necklace repaired and we (all three ladies) all end up with a purchase...
The Tourist Information Office in Pistoia is on the ground floor of this stunning building, the Antico Palazzo dei Vescovi. On the left, you see the Cathedral. Ph: Monica Limoncini
Well about time we find ourselves on the large Piazza del Duomo! Among the ihistoric buildings that overlook it there are also the Bell Tower, the Baptistery, the ancient Palazzo dei Vescovi, the Palazzo Pretorio and Palazzo Bracciolini delle Api. There's even a Tourist Information Office, where we can get some maps.
The Bell Tower of the Cathedral in Pistoia
Free guided tours of the weekend are organized to climb the 200 steps of the Campanile (Bell Tower). We missed the departure at 11.00 AM and we can not wait for the one starting at 4.00PM! Tickets (the tour is frre, but you still need to pay for the entrance) can be purchased inside the Baptistery. The Baptistery of San Giovanni in Corte is set in a ravine, it borders very closely with the back of the shops in Via di Stracceria. At the entrance to the Baptistery there is a remarkable modern sculpture, the "Resurrezione" by Adriano Veldorale.
Resurrezione by Adriano Veldorale inside the Baptistery of San giovanni in Corte in Pistoia Ph: Stefano Marianelli
It is now lunch time! So we go back to "Locanda del Capitano del Popolo" or "da Checco" for a yummy lunch. After that, tired but happy we decide it is now time to visit the Cathedral in Pistoia, San Zeno.
The building of the Cathedral of Pistoia, dedicated to San Zeno
There is a portico at the entrance. We are so lazy that we visit the impressive inside, with a stunning ceiling with decorated wooden beams abut we rush to the outside to sit under the portico!
The inside of the Cathedral in Pistoia
We leave the Piazza del Duomo and take Via Della Torre, as suggested by my friend Livia. She told me that many TV and film productions film here scenes set in the Middle Ages. I don't find it hard to believe it! The set is already ready!
Via Della Torre in Pistoia Ph: Massimo Luca Carradori https://www.facebook.com/massimolucacarradori
We turn left and take Viale Filippo Pacini to get to Piazza Giovanni XXIII and Ospedale del Ceppo. Founded in 1277, it was the city's point of reference during the wave of plague that hit Pistoia in 1348, so much that many Pistoiesi left their belongings in inheritance to this institution. The loggia dates back to 1514 and it is decorated by the seven tables. Each tile (six is by Santi Buglioni, the last of Filippo Paladini) describes the "works of mercy" carried out by the Hospital:
- To feel the hungry
- To give water to the thirsty.
- To clothe the naked.
- To shelter the homeless.
- To visit the sick.
- To visit the imprisoned, or ransom the captive.
- To bury the dead.
Above all this frieze is a splendid testimony of the way to educate the population that could not read, in a world in which the church spoke in Latin, on the 7 virtues of mercy. The tondi are instead the work of Giovanni della Robbia and depict the Annunciation of the Lord, the Glory of the Virgin, the Visitation and the Medici coat of arms (always present the Medici in Florence!).
Me in front of Vecchio Ospedale del Ceppo in Pistoia
It seems incredible that the building, now home to public offices, until 2013 functioned as a city hospital. The Ospedale del Ceppo was built so close to the stream Brana that its foundation was laid on it! It also houses the entrance to Visit Pistoia Underground. A visit that was warmly recommended. But the weather outside is so beautiful that we don't want to bury ourselves in the precious buttresses of the subsoil of Pistoia. We want to go back slowly to the parking lot to get our cars and head to Vinci!