Italy’s Pistoia is a small town free from clamour and crowds but rich in Medieval architecture. Just half an hour from Florence and Pisa. It’s a little gem that’s often overlooked, and the Italian Capital of Culture for 2017.

Pistoia is off the main tourist trail in Tuscany, and this in a way is a blessing. It’s a laid back place with more locals than tourists, which makes sightseeing a much more peaceful affair. A day is enough to see the main sights, but you might want to linger in this town longer, to visit the lively market or explore its churches.

Piazza Duomo Pistoia

Piazza Duomo Pistoia

What to see in Pistoia Italy

Piazza Duomo

The splendid Piazza Duomo is at the centre of the town. Around it are an array of stone squares and elegant buildings that recall Pistoia’s past. It was a proud independent Comune famous for metalworking and trade, but lost its independence in the 14th century when the city came under Florentine rule.

Pistoia Italian Capital of Culture 2017

Pistoia Cathedral

A good starting point for a visit is the Cathedral of San Zeno e San Jacopo that houses some notable works of art. This includes a delightfully ornate Gothic Baptistry designed by Andrea Pisano. Notice the small external pulpit for outdoor sermons next to the portal.

In the same square the elegant Palazzo Comunale is home to the Museo Civico with a collection of paintings from 1300 to 1800. Directly opposite is the Palazzo Pretorio (Palace of Justice) which still accommodates the district court. Before leaving the square, don’t miss the frescoed inner courtyard.

Pulpit of Church of Sant'Andrea, Pistoia

Pulpit of Church of Sant’Andrea, Pistoia

The best of Pistoia’s Churches

For more beauty of the religious kind, head to the Romanesque Church of Sant’Andrea. It has an interesting 12th century facade and, inside, a masterful marble pulpit by Giovanni Pisano. (If you’ve visited Pisa, you’ll have seen another of his pulpits in the Cathedral).

The Church of San Giovanni Fuoricivitas has a densely striped facade and a Romanesque pulpit by Fra’ Guglielmo, the oldest employee of Nicola Pisano.

Another church that attracts a fair share of attention is the Church of San Francesco where you’ll find some 14th century frescoes inspired by Giotto.

Underground Pistoia

One unusual way to get to know Pistoia is by doing a subterranean tour Pistoia Sotterranea starts from the Ospedale del Ceppo, a handsome building that’s a lookalike of the Ospedale Innocenti of Florence in piazza SS. Annunziata.

A place to relax

A walk in the area around Via degli Orafi, one of the oldest and more picturesque streets, reveals lots of nice shops and hidden corners.

Piazza della Sala, Pistoia

Piazza della Sala, Pistoia

If you’re tired of sightseeing the best place to people watch is Piazza della Sala, a small and delightful square with a stone well whose lion famously represents Florentine rule. This is a traditional market square that transforms itself in the evening into a cool hang-out full of bars and restaurants.

What to do in Pistoia:

There are daily fruit and vegetable markets (except Sun) on Piazza della Sala, and a thriving Wednesday and Saturday morning market on Piazza del Duomo.

The modern art enthusiast shouldn’t miss Museo Marino Marini, dedicated to one of Italy’s most famous artists of the last century. He was born in Pistoia and some of his best works can be seen here, including the Pomone and the Cavalieri.

Music lovers should check the Pistoia Blues Festival, and important music festival in Italy with national and international artists.

Festival: Giostra dell’Orso (The Joust of the Bear)

Every year on the 25th of July, Pistoia celebrates its patron saint James with a jousting tournament in Medieval costumes: the Giostra dell’Orso. As part of this, twelve horsemen, representing the different districts of Pistoia compete to win the “palio” or banner. The winner is the first to knock down a bear shaped target using a lance, and is awarded the “Sperone d’Oro” (Golden Spur) for their efforts.