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anna_moon Pistoia - A travel report by Polly
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Pistoia,  Italy - flag Italy
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anna_moon's travel reports

The noisiest silent city

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Pistoia travelogue picture
Traveling with one’s family can be an interesting experience when different people have different ideas of what ought to be seen. My mother thought we absolutely has to visit the major sites (Florence, Rome, Assisi). My father wanted to see some of the sleepy little towns that remain (mostly) untouched by tourism. Pistoia was his choice, as it’s one of the least visited cities in Tuscany. The guidebook described it as a gloomy city, a city of bad luck. In Roman times, the town was known as Pistoria. The word ‘pistol’ comes from the town, first from the blades that were made there, and later from the guns. In medieval days the city was torn between the warring Bianchi and Neri factions. Today the streets in the center of town are grey and empty and quiet, even in the sweltering summer heat.

Favourite spots:
Pistoia travelogue picture
The Piazza dell Duomo is a good place to start, with Pistoia’s most impressive sites clustered nearby. San Zeno is an interesting church from the outside, with it’s striped arches and several saints perched on top. One of these saints was dressed in red robes while we were there – probably Saint James, in reference to the festival taking place. Inside the church is the Capella di San Jacopo (admission is something like three euros, and you have to track down one of the caretakers to get inside). The altarpiece within is an impressive silverwork with scenes of the Old Testament and the life of Christ (including two figures done by Brunelleschi) We commented on some of the scenes in English, and the elderly lady who let us in smiled, and pointed out a few more in Italian – Christianity being some odd sort of cultural bridge.

What's really great:
Pistoia travelogue picture
Pistoia’s main festivals, the Giostra dell’Orso falls on July 25th, the Feast of Saint James. The most popular attraction is a jousting tournament, in which men on horseback try to knock down the arms of a small target that looks loosely like a bear. We were not there for the actual festival, but we did get to see one of the practices. The bleachers on the quiet square filled with people, and noise, and color. The only jousting I’d seen before was at local Renaissance fairs – this looked far more dangerous, as the horses careened around the oval track.

Sights:
Pistoia travelogue picture
Also worth seeing is the Ospedale del Ceppo, a hospital and orphanage adorned with a frieze of della Robbia’s, and San Giovanni Fuorcivitas, an incredibly striped church next to a sweets shop in a building that used to be a part of the churches grounds. Wednesdays and Saturday are market days, and we got some delicious apricots to take with us in the car.

Accommodations:
We stayed in the Piccolo Ritz by the city walls. Though it was within walking distance to the town center, it was also right beside the main thoroughfare for bus traffic and noisy motor scooters, which kept on all through the night. The fact that it was also extremely hot (the fans didn’t help) made it the most physically miserable night of my life, sleeping outside in Parma included. In cooler weather when the shutters can be closed against the noise, it would be bearable.

Restaurants:
I cannot remember the name of the restaurant where we had dinner, but it was located on a street behind the Piazza dell Duomo. It’s back doors led out to seating in the shadow of the baptistery. The restaurant was in an old building, but had a modern feel. The food was exquisite, and presented beautifully in manageable servings (a rarity in Italy).

Other recommendations:
The tourist office right by the Duomo was very helpful in finding new accommodations (and a new city to visit – see Vinci on the right), and also sold pretty postcards.

Published on Tuesday January 20th, 2004


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