More than a day in Pistoia

Robert Nordvall
May 7, 2009

First-time visitors to Italy typically visit the most famous cities and have a ‘must see' list. My most vivid memory of this phenomenon is a day in Rome when a tourist group passed by me, the guide saying, ‘On your right the Trevi Fountain, Three Coins in the Fountain, and on your left...' After a three-second look at the fountain, group members could check it off their list.


For less famous Italian cities there is no long must-see list; there is instead the great pleasure of unanticipated discoveries-places that are often overlooked in the typical guidebook. In ‘A Day in Pistoia' (TF n. 15), I encouraged readers to spend some time visiting that town's big-ticket sights. Now I hope to convince you that a second day there is well worth your time.


Once you have arrived at the train station (see ‘Getting there'), the best place to start is the main tourist office (APT  0573/21622) in the Cathedral Square, a few steps from the octagonal Baptistery. If you visit on a Wednesday or Saturday morning, you will see the semi-weekly travelling market fully arrayed. Get a city map, but more importantly-as always in Italy-check to determine when the places you want to see are open.


Let's go modern! A short cab ride from downtown Pistoia is Fattoria di Celle (via di Santomato 7a), a world-class outdoor sculpture facility that hosts the Gori Collection, featuring works by premier artists such as Richard Serra, Magdalena Abalcanowicz and Max Neuhaus. It is open May to September (but closed in August). You must make an appointment to visit, but this is easily done (in English) by calling 0573/479907 or by sending an email to


If modern outdoor sculpture pleases you but Fattoria di Celle doesn't fit your plans, there is a new, small but exquisite sculpture garden at the recently constructed Dialysis Centre of the Pistoia Hospital on via Degli Armeni 4. The facility both has exterior and interior art works by what one author calls ‘The Magnificent Seven'-Sol Lewitt, Claudio Parmiggiani, Hidetoshi Nagasawa, Daniel Buren, Robert Morris, Dani Karavan, and Gianni Ruffi.


Both Florence and Pistoia have museums dedicated to the works of Pistoia's most famous twentieth-century artist, Marino Marini. Pistoia's is located in Piazza Garibaldi. Just outside Pistoia, at Arcigliano, is the studio and museum of recently deceased sculptor Jorio Vivarelli (via Felceti, 11).


The Palazzo Fabroni on via Sant'-Andrea has been transformed into a small modern art museum; be sure and check the main tourist office to find out about the current exhibit. An exciting new architectural treasure is the San Giorgio library, one block to the left of the train station (via S. Pertini), which is a reconstruction by Pica Ciamarra Associates of a former large industrial building. 


Adjacent to the Church of San Francesco, along Corso Gramsci, is a modern memorial to the slain Italian politician Aldo Moro and his guards, who were killed when he was kidnapped.


For a sampling of work by modern artisans practicing in Pistoia, see


If artistic gems of the past are your preference, there are many to see. One little-known treasure in Pistoia is unfortunately rarely open, but ask at the tourist office anyway: the Church of the Madonna del Carmine. The baroque interior was recently lovingly restored. The Pistoia's tourist office is in the old bishop's palace, where you can find an archaeological itinerary, including the ruins of the old Roman Villa upon which the palace was built, and the museum of the cathedral.


Pistoia's only pope was Clement IX (Giulio Rospigliosi) who served from 1667 to 1669. He was chosen as an elderly compromise candidate when neither of the two major factions in the College of Cardinals was able to elect its man. He fulfilled his role admirably by dying within three years, at which time a major candidate was able to amass a majority among the cardinals. Rospigliosi's family's home, near Cathedral Square (via Ripa del Sale, 3), is a museum depicting a noble house from the sixteenth century, which also contains objects of art from the collection belonging to the Diocese of Pistoia.


Also not far from the Square (Piazza Dello Spirito Santo) is Pope Clement IX's family's church, Santo Spirito. The high altar is by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, a famous exponent of the Roman baroque style. A painting by Giuseppe Nasini, The Assumption of Mary, was recently restored and re-hung in the church. The church also houses one of Pistoia's most famous organs, built by the Flemish organ maker Willem Hermans. Pistoia itself was a major organ-building centre from the 1700s to the early 1900s, with famous instruments surviving today in the churches of San Francesco, Sant' Andrea, and San Bartolomeo in Pantano.


Attached to the Marini Museum in Piazza Garibaldi is the Chapel of Sant' Antonio Abate del Tau. It contains a marvellous, well-restored fresco cycle with stories from Genesis covering the ceiling, while the walls have illustrations from the Old Testament, New Testament, and, of course, the life of Saint Anthony Abbot.


If you have more time, the Church and Convent of San Domenico is across from the Marini Museum and the Church of San Paolo is one block to the east. Not far from Santo Spirito (at the corner of via Curtatone e Montanara and via Abbi Pazienza) is the Church of San Filippo, with frescos by Florentine artist Giovan Domenico Ferretti. 

There are plenty of attractive bars and restaurants for a pleasant interlude. Near the Santo Sprito and San Filippo churches, for example, on via Curtatone e Montanara, 38 is the Pasticceria Armando. A few doors down at number 12 an excellent light meal can be had at Magno Gaudio. If you would like a more formal restaurant (with outdoor seating) duck up Vicolo degli Armonici (adjacent to Magno Gaudio), where you will find the Trattoria della Abbondanza (via di Abbondanza, 14). If you desire an elegant, Italian modern décor with a lovely overview of the city, go a few blocks to Aoristò, over the Globo Theatre, at via De'Buti, 11.


Full guides to the city are available at the tourist office and the nearby Baptistery, which has no entrance fee. Pistoia residents may direct you to other restaurants, wine bars, churches and museums. But one thing is certain: you are sure to have a fruitful and satisfying second day in Pistoia.


GETTTING THERE: Trains from Santa Maria Novella depart for Pistoia every 30 minutes. By car, take the Firenze Mare (A11) highway and exit at Pistoia.



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