Situated between Florence and Pisa is the Tuscan province of Pistoia which although rather less visited then many other Tuscan regions has many attractions for tourists. Pistoia is divided into three main regions which are separated by geographical criteria – these are the Ombrone plain where the province’s capital of the same name is situated, the Valdinevole in the region’s south west corner and the Pistoiese mountains of the region’s north where its ski resorts are situated. The region has a wealth of well-preserved Mediaeval villages and several towns whose history extends back to times well before Roman colonisation. Famous for its flower markets, the city is characterised by narrow streets, churches and palaces dating from Mediaeval times although its history as a significantly sized settlement dates from the 6th century BC at the time of Roman colonisation. The Etruscans, who preceded the Romans, also settled here.
The main square – the Piazza del Duomo – marks the site where annually the Giostra dell’Orsa takes place. Horsemen (‘knights’) of the region compete against each other in jousts with the dummy of a bear. The piazza is also the site of several historical buildings including:
The original cathedral here dated from the 5th century but was destroyed by fire in the 12th century. The rebuilding of the present cathedral, which presents a distinct decorative black and white Romanesque facade, was begun during the 1200s. The Altar of St James inside the cathedral dating from the 13th century contains 628 silver-worked figures.
The exact history of this building’s construction is not known but dates from around the 13th century. Its original purpose was that of a magistrates’ office while today it serves as the community’s town hall.
A Gothic style fortified building dating from the 11th century.
A marble decorated octagonal Gothic style structure dating from the 1300s.
The 14th century city walls are still in existence and Pistoia is also home to the imposing Medici Fortress of Santa Barbara which was rebuilt from an earlier destroyed castle on the orders of Cosimo dei Medici, the first Grand Duke of Tuscany.
Dating from the 16th century with a grand 59 metre high cupola, is situated just outside the central piazza.
As is true of so many of Tuscany’s provinces, Pistoia has a wealth of attractions which will appeal to visitors of all ages and with a wide variety of interests from ancient culture to modern family attractions as well as famous regional wines and foods. Listed here are a few of the more popular destinations and sights of the region:
This institution which has its visitor’s and administrative centre in San Marcello is actually a series of partly open air museums each with a particular theme. The purpose of the museums is to celebrate and exhibit the interaction of humans and nature in history and takes the visitor on a journey through the Pistoia mountain region. The themed ‘trails’ are titled Ice, Iron, Sacred Art and Popular Religion, Everyday Life, Nature and Stone.
Mediaeval Pescia is located in the south west corner of the Pistoia province, spanning both sides of the river. Pescia has a much rebuilt cathedral which originally dated from around the 5th century although today its earliest remaining parts are of the 13th century. The town has several ancient palaces, churches and cloisters including the Church of the Oratory of San Antonio which is home to a 13th century wooden carving known as the ‘Ugly Saints’.
The community of Monsummano Terme is divided into two parts; Monsummano Alta (high) with its Mediaeval castle and Monsummano Bassa (low) dating from the 17th century. Both parts have many historical points of interest with important cultural significance as well as a famous bi-annual chocolate festival but, although all these things make the town well worth a visit, they are not what it is most famous for. Monsummano Terme is home to two cave complexes – Grotta Giusti and Grotta Parlanti – which are natural spas releasing steam and hot water attributed with many health benefits including treatments for rheumatism, skin diseases and breathing problems. Grotta Parlanti, with a constant environmental temperature of 32° C, has been in use since the 18th century. Grotta Giusti with its complex of caverns filled with stalagmites and stalactites, was discovered in 1849 and has been visited by royalty and nobility including Garibaldi in 1867. There is now a spa complex where visitors can benefit from a range of health and beauty treatments in the unique environment of the beautiful caves.