Explore underneath an ancient hospital, and see the underbelly of Pistoia with the Pistoia Sotterranea tour.
The Ospedale del Ceppo (literally the “Hospital of the log”) is one of the landmarks of Pistoia and when you see the magnificent facade it’s easy to understand why. Fans of Della Robbia‘s glazed terracotta, will enjoy the colourful frieze runs across the building.
Ospedale del Ceppo history:
The hospital was active until a few years ago, but it has a long history. According to legend, the Virgin Mary directed a married couple from Pistoia, to build a hospital on the spot where they would find a tree stump that flowered in winter. And so it was that in 1277, a hospice dedicated to the care of the sick and the poor was founded. It became an important institution of the town and a true blessing during the Black Death. A hollowed-out tree stump was used to collect donations.
The Ospedale del Ceppo had various duties, all depicted on the frieze by the Della Robbia workshop. There were the “Seven works of Mercy”: clothing the naked, taking in pilgrims, caring for the sick, comforting prisoners, burying the dead, feeding the hungry and giving water to the thirsty. Despite their serious subject matter, the scenes have a liveliness to them and are rich in detail.
The hospital was one of the largest in Tuscany in the 16th century. At that time it had a medical school and we can still see the small anatomical theatre where the students examined bodies with their professors.
Pistoia Sotterranea Tours:
The first part of the tour takes you to a 17th century anatomical theatre complete with frescoes. It’s one room with a marble table in the middle and stalls where the students would sit and listen to their lessons. It’s an atmospheric place and you can easily imagine the corpse laid out on the table waiting to be dissected.
But the real adventure begins once the guide leads you underground, to discover the history that lies under the city.
The tour leads you along the bed of the stream that once ran beneath the complex. The hospital was built directly over this stream that served as a sewer for the hospital. The moving water washed away the effluent and refuse at a time when the concept of germs was still unknown. It powered an olive press and served as a laundry. The press and the Medieval washbasins can be seen along the walk under the city. The guided tour takes roughly an hour.
Contact information to find out about Pistoia Sotterranea:
Entrance: Piazza Giovanni XXIII°, 13 -Accademia Medica “Pacini”
Opening Hours: everyday from 10am to 6pm (ticket booth closes one hour before museum)
Guided Tours at 10,30-11,30-12,30-2pm-3pm-4pm-5pm
price: 9 EUROS