Pistoia (north-west of Florence) is a lovely place for wallowing in rural beauty, enjoying the wealth of watercourses like Ombrone Pistoiese that dimple the land, and provide the opportunity to admire precious ichthyic species in crystalline waters.
The name derives from the Latin "Pistôrĭum", meaning Etruscan city... Pistoia has proven Roman origins, but it probably had Etruscan settlements, too.
The city was built during the II century BC as important "oppidum" (fortress) of via Cassia, that linked Rome, Lucca and Florence: it was intended for supplying the Roman troops against the Ligurians.
Pistoia was episcopal seat and underwent several ivasions: Goths, Byzantines, Longobards and Franks but, in 1105 the city became independent, governed by the "consuls" (the oldest democratic Bench in Italy) and, in 1158, the 'podestà' finally stemmed the bishop's power.
In 1144, two pilgrims, brought in town the precious St Jacopo's relic, making Pistoia unavoidable leg of via Francigena for all believers going to Santiago de Compostela. The "shell of the pilgrim", one of the symbols of St Jacopo, is also probably represented in the city's coat of arms: the white and red chessboard with 36 pieces, supported on both sides by two bears (later added in order to represent the predominance of Pistoia over the mountain).
Pistoia is situated at the confluence of three big commercial itineraries and this position fed its great commercial vocation: specially from 1100, when it grew a new active flourishing mercantile class. The inhabitants of this enchanting place became internationally popular for their incredible abilities in banking and financial mathematics.
The city is sunny, with a temperate climate, just ideal to enjoy the great outdoors any time of the year: in summer is lovely to rest and enjoy the cool breeze under the shadow of centenary chestnut and beech trees; spring and autumn, for the stunning marvels offered by the nature itself.
Pistoia holds marvellous monumental buildings dated back to different ages, as well as splendid, sophisticated, Romanesque and Gothic churches. Make a beeline for Piazza del Duomo, centre of the civil and ecclesiastic power. There you will see:
the Cathedral, dedicated to St Zeno, with a Romanesque façade and the famous St Jacopo's silver altar. The building's been modified many times throughout the centuries, specially with the addition of baroque changes inside. The Cathedral's come back to the ancient splendour thanks to restoration works made during the 60's.
The Bell-Tower, also characterized by Romanesque style, with three loggias and a belfry remade many times, because of the numerous earthquakes that lashed Pistoia in late Middle Ages.
The Baptistery, ex Palazzo dei Vecovi, Palazzo Pretorio, Palazzo di Giano, the Church of St Maria Cavaliera and the imposing medieval tower of Catilina, do all worth a visit!
Nearby Piazza del Duomo, you will find Piazzetta della Sala where, from very ancient times, every day there is a picturesque fruit and vegetable market and the ancient marble well, called "del Leoncino", in the middle of the piazza.
In Pistoia you will enjoy fabulous traditional events, like the "Giostra dell’orso" (Joust of bears), in July: an ancient equestrian competition, whose origins dated back to the "palio". This challenge used to be disputed even in 1200, in honour of St Jacopo, Pistoia's Patron Saint.
If you are keen on blues music concerts, you should not miss an international event: the "Pistoia blues". From 1980 it takes place annually in the old town centre, the second week of July. Many famous artists have honoured the city of their presence, including: BB King, Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, after 10 years, John Lee Hooker, Lou Reed and Canned Heat, Carlos Santana, Ray Charles, Patti Smith, Pino Daniele, Sugar, Albert Collins and many others.
The cuisine in Pistoia is very tasty. You must try some typical delicious dishes, as follows: fett'unta, crostini di milza, i crostini di frattaglie di pollo, crostoni di cavolo nero, zuppa alla pistoiese, i maccheroni all'anatra, zimino di lampredotto, trippa, rigaglia, fagioli di sorana al fiasco, funghi trifolati…and many others!
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