Making capital: Pistoia

Standout museums in Italy’s 2017 capital of culture

Molly McIlwrath
December 1, 2016 - 10:31

All eyes will soon be on Pistoia, as it was selected Italy’s culture capital for 2017 and recently listed among Lonely Planet’s top ten cities in the world to visit next year. With growing numbers of large groups trekking through the streets of Florence, more travelers and Tuscany residents are seeking places where they can escape the tourist hordes, yet still be immersed in art and culture—places where, ideally, you’d be much less likely to get thwacked by a selfie stick as you marvel at a monument or artwork.

Museo Marino Marini  Museo Marino Marini

The logo for Pistoia’s year as culture capital is telling: its colorful lines intersect and point in all directions, representing roads leading outwards, emblematic of Pistoia’s promise to be a welcoming destination and to engage with the world around it.

The entire history of Pistoia, from its Etruscan origins through the medieval and early modern periods to modern and contemporary art, is all easily accessible through its civic museums. But three of the more modern of the 11 in the network—20th century art museums Museo Marino Marini, Palazzo Fabroni and the Fernando Melani House and Studio—stand out.

Visitors and residents are certainly taking note of these museums’ varied initiatives, and Pistoia’s reputation as a 20th century art destination only continues to grow. Paolo Becci of the local tourist office can attest to this, remarking that most visitors’ first questions are about the Museo Marino Marini. In their curiosity about its large collection of bronze horses, Pomona goddess nudes, paintings and sketches by its namesake artist, visitors also learn of the museum’s impressive programming and outreach efforts, particularly for families, children and the elderly. Key examples are the museum’s recent involvement in a prison project—artwork was taken off-site to engage inmates and their visiting children—and its dedication to offering activities for Alzheimer’s patients, as one of only 13 museums in Tuscany to provide such services.

Museo Marino Marini Museo Marino Marini

Ambra Tuci, who directs the museum’s Educational Department, is eager to emphasize that this is “a museum for everyday life and for everyone.”  The museum’s commitment to accessibility recently gave rise to a special itinerary for the visually impaired, Tuci notes, “complete with tactile panels and sculptures.”

Daniel Spoerri
Daniel Spoerri installation at Palazzo Fabroni | Ph. Nicolò Begliomini 

Another attractive venue for 2017 will be Palazzo Fabroni, a space that lends itself well to quiet contemplation—temporary exhibitions frequently complement its permanent collection and focus on contemporary issues relevant to the city. While Palazzo Fabroni typically looks toward the future, its related museum offers a walk back in time—a step into the studio and home of modern conceptual artist, Fernando Melani (1907-1985). The “Casa Studio” Fernando Melani is often overlooked and under-promoted, but this quirky house-museum and studio is exactly as Melani left it—witness the hanging art and newspapers stacked carefully along the staircase at the entrance. Although known primarily for its educational visits with schools and universities, as well as occasional special events, the museum is open to the public for private visits at no cost (reservations are required: email Laura Giachini at or call 0573 371296).


Pistoia’s full civic museum circuit is well worth rounding, and numerous other initiatives are in the pipeline for 2017. Mayor Samuelle Bertinelli will reveal the official program for Pistoia’s tenure as culture capital on December 2—it’s sure to be a banner year, so stay tuned.


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