The origins of Pistoia can be traced back to the ancient Etruscan civilization, which chose the Pistoia area as a strategic road junction for its commercial traffic along the Volterra-Bologna route, given its extremely favorable geographical position at the bottom of the Tuscan Appenines.
The first documented evidence of Pistoia as a true human settlement dates back to the 2nd century BC when the Romans created a castrum on a raised alluvial terrace, crossing the Torrente Ombrone, to supply their troops during the wars against the Ligurians.
Purchase then a considerable importance for the construction of the famous consular road Cassia-Clodia until reaching after the conquest of the Ostrogoths of the Byzantines and following the Lombard and Frank domination.
The greatest splendor reached him between the 12th and 13th centuries with the arrival from Santiago de Compostela of the relics of St. James of Zebedee (San Jacopo) which made it a popular destination for pilgrims along the Via Francigena.
San Jacopo is the Patron Saint of the city of Pistoia.
“The pulpit tours”
The medieval origin of the city of Pistoia is outlined by the significant presence of churches and religious buildings that can be admired by walking around the historic center and the surrounding areas. During the periods of the Romanesque and Gothic artistic currents, until the Baroque period, Pistoia’s monumental arts focused on the creation of pulpits.
Our itinerary starts from the Pieve di Sant’Andrea, here you can admire Giovanni Pisano’s masterpiece created between 1297 and completed in 1301.
In fact, five subjects appear on the hexagonal case: The Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, the Slaughter of the Innocents, the Crucifixion and the Judgment.
One of the most noteworthy panels is that of the Massacre of the Innocents, where a whirling movement of the characters is placed on stage with accentuated expressionism of the aspects, deformed by pain, by fear, by consternation. Furthermore there is a virtuosity in contrasting figures with preciously finished details and other rough-hewn ones, with dramatic contrast effects.
Never before has a medieval artist managed to make a drama so alive.
Giovanni was inspired by German models or the most touching scenes of the Trajan’s Column.
Leaving the Pieve and entering the historic center of Pistoia, the next stop on our journey is the church of San Bartolomeo where we can find the pulpit carved in the 13th century by Guido da Bigarelli.
Also in this sculptural work we find the allegorical representations of the dualism between heaven and hell, we can indeed note the Evangelists crushing a demonic head.
Leaving the church of San Bartolomeo along the road leading to Piazza del Duomo we will visit the Cathedral of San Zeno. Here we can admire a pulpit of Renaissance origin.
Finally, from Piazza del Duomo, going towards Piazza della Sala and going down Via Sant’Anastasio, we find the geometries of the side façade of the church of San Giovanni Fuorcivitas.
Inside, right near the entrance we can admire the pulpit from 1270, made by Fra ’Guglielmo da Pisa. The pulpit shows beautiful bas-reliefs depicting the main phases of Christ’s life and scenes following the resurrection.
“One day in Pistoia”
This itinerary will focus on the most important monuments and the most significant places in the city.
The route obviously starts from the splendid Piazza del Duomo.
You can admire the bell tower of the cathedral and below it the Cathedral of San Zeno. Dating back to before 1000, this Romanesque church is a jewel of the architecture of the time. Within it we can find antiquities that intertwine with Renaissance, Baroque and nineteenth-century interventions, thus creating a veritable sanctuary where it is possible to admire the historical and artistic evolution of the city.
Still in Piazza del Duomo, other noteworthy buildings are the Palazzo dei Vescovi, which currently houses a museum, the town hall and the baptistery, a magnificent 13th-century octagonal building built in two-tone marble.
At this point, going down the tomb of Catilina and turning left on Via Pacini, you arrive at Piazza San Giovanni XXIII where the ancients hospital of Ceppo is located. Founded in the 13th century, the Ospedale del Ceppo played a key role in 1349 when the city was hit by a black plague epidemic.
In 1500 the characteristic external loggia was built and enlarged a century later.
It is worth stopping to admire the loggia, on whose façade runs a precious polychrome frieze in glazed terracotta, made by Giovanni della Robbia.
The Ceppo hospital is also the starting point for visits to “Pistoia Sotterranea”, a path that will let you discover 650 m of underground and the ancient anatomical hall.
At this point, once you exit Pistoia Underground, you will find yourself in Piazza San Lorenzo and you can set off towards Piazza della Sala, the nerve center of the Pistoia business life.
You can wander around the stalls selling fruit and vegetables as well as typical Tuscan products, or sip a glass of excellent wine in one of the many bars and wine bars in the charming little square.
Our itinerary ends with a visit to the Marino Marini museum at the Palazzo del Tau. From Piazza della Sala, go down one of the alleys that lead to Via Cavour, continue for 100 m to Via Francesco Crispi and you will find the entrance to the Museum on your right.
Here you can admire important works by the twentieth century artist such as “Le Pomone” and the famous equestrian sculptures.
“The Valdinievole area and the villages”
Leaving Pistoia and driving along the SR435 we head towards Montecatini and the beauty of the many villages of Valdinievole.
The first medieval village we find on our street is Serravalle Pistoiese.
The strategic position which allowed a perfect view over the entire Nievole plain made Serravalle throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance a place disputed between the three Tuscan powers of the time; Florence Pisa and Lucca.
In the early 1300s, Serravalle was besieged and taken by the Lucchesi, then conquered by the Ghibelline leader Castruccio Castracani.
In 1351 it was besieged and conquered by Florence and from then on Serravalle experienced a relatively peaceful period.
Walking around the village we can see very ancient buildings like the Torre del Barbarossa and the Rocca di Castruccio.
After relaxing in the garden under the tower, we can descend on the regional road 435 and continue for a few kilometers to turn towards Montecatini Alto, another medieval village where you can eat something in the delicious restaurants in the central square and then enjoy another breathtaking view over all the valley.
Returning to Via Lucchese continue until you discover the territory of the scattered town of Buggiano.
Borgo a Buggiano, Colle and Castello are the three hamlets to visit, thus following a path linked to the gastronomic tradition linked to olive oil.
Castello di Buggiano famous for its gardens and private gardens, and the thirteenth-century Palazzo Pretorio.
“The Svizzera Pesciatina and the 10 castella”
The mountain area around the town of Pescia is of rare naturalistic and cultural beauty.
We can start our itinerary from the “Castella” of Pietrabuona 4 km from Pescia.
In the Middle Ages the village was bitterly disputed between Florence and Pisa, Pietrabuona was also an important center of the paper industry, in fact there is the famous museum of paper.
The documentation center on paper processing houses all the material related to this theme from the techniques and processing methods that for centuries have marked the culture and history of the territory.
You can visit the ancient Pesciatine paper mills, see vintage machinery still working and all the tools for paper processing. In the highest part of the town stands the Pietrabuona Castle.
The next town we will visit will be Medicina which rises to 537 m in height and enjoys an enviable view of the valleys, in this village we can admire the ruins of ancient forts and the walls of a church dedicated to Saints Martino and Sisto, the which preserves only a few remains of the original structure as it was almost completely rebuilt in the 19th century.
Inside we can admire two wooden statues dating back to the fifteenth century and depicting the Madonna with the Child and a baptismal font from the 14th century lie.
The next stop on our itinerary is Fibbialla, a small town at 424 m above sea level, immersed in the typical vegetation of the Tuscan hills.
Fibbialla has long been disputed in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance between Lucca and Florence, but in the end it came under the rule of the first.
In the village you can visit the 13th century church of San Michele Arcangelo where inside the church there are some paintings of 1600-1700 of considerable value and a fifteenth-century sculptural work depicting the Virgin Annunciation.
Returning to the Val di Torbola road, we head towards Aramo where the ancient houses are perched on the cliff overlooking the valley.
The counts around 80 inhabitants, many of them produce oil and honey.
To see we can find the Church dedicated to San Frediano where inside are kept sacred furnishings mostly from the 15th-17th century.
To visit also the Oratory of the Nativity of Mary where inside on the altar we can admire a fifteenth-century fresco in tempera on a wall depicting the Madonna enthroned.
At this point we can return to the road and head towards San Quirico another “Castella” perched on the hill.
A watchtower with a hexagonal base and the remains of the walls date back to 1200, while going down to the lower part in the lower part of the town is the church and bell tower in Romanesque style of Saints Andrea and Lucia.
Inside we can admire very precious sculptures carved in pietra serena.
In front of the main altar there are two wooden sculptures depicting Sant’Andrea and Santa Lucia dating back to 1410.
Further on in an elevated position is the town of Castelvecchio where we can admire the splendid Pieve dedicated to San Giovanni Battista from 1100.
Built entirely in stone, it has a three-nave plan with three apses, the façade is decorated below with semi-columns and blind arches.
From this Castella you can climb through a trekking path to the top of Monte Battifolle where you can admire a breathtaking view over the surrounding valleys. Returning towards Pescia we stop at Sorana, famous for its typical product, the delicate-tasting white beans, which are grown in the lower part of the town, near the river.
In Sorana there are its characteristic streets and numerous small fountains, up to the church of San Pietro and Paolo.
The last town of our itinerary and capital of Switzerland, Pesciatina is the town of Vellano. It is located at 480 meters above sea level and was already known in the X century for its Pieve.
In 1281 it had the fortress and the walls destroyed by the Guelphs of Lucca and Valdinievolini. It was a fief of a rich family of Pescia and was part of the Castelli della Valdinievole League. Even today in the upper part of the town you can admire the remains of the pyramid-shaped tower and the walls. Some remains of the pre-Romanesque period can be seen in the lower part of the town.