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Piazza del Duomo – the heart of town

  • Piazza del Duomo – the heart of town

    At the heart of Pistoia is the Piazza del Duomo, one of the most beautiful town centres in Tuscany. The star sites are clustered around the main square, making for a dizzying sense of artistic overload. Take it slowly and don’t feel the need to see everything on one visit. Admire the jauntily striped cathedral, the sky-high bell-tower and the wedding-cake baptistery. Welcome to the Cattedrale di San Zeno (Pistoia Cathedral, also known as the Duomo), the Campanile (bell-tower) and the Battistero di San Giovanni (Baptistry of St John). The same square is surveyed by the Palazzo del Comune, the Town Hall, which is home to the Museo Civico (Civic Museum). Nearby stands the Palazzo dei Vescovi, the Bishops’ Palace, which houses the Museo dell’Antico Palazzo dei Vescovi, the Ancient History Museum. The square is framed by a series of handsome Renaissance palaces, including the Palazzo del Podestà, still the city’s law courts, a mansion graced by a finely decorated inner courtyard.

    The area around the Piazza del Duomo has been pedestrianised, making it a pleasurable place for pottering. A profusion of bars, inns and elegant shops in this area adds to Pistoia’s appeal. The square itself is lovely, even when full of bustling market stalls on Saturday and Wednesday.

    The square also acts as a showcase for city festivities. Pistoia Blues, the renowned international music festival that encompasses far more than the Blues, takes over the square in July. Music legends ranging from BB King, Miles Davis and Sting have played here. More traditionally, the Giostra dell’Orso (Joust of the Bear) takes place here every summer, with the square transformed into a horse-racing track. Much like the Palio in Siena, this medieval tournament captures the hearts of the citizens and involves a chivalric parade and a horse race of sorts. In Pistoia, a series of knights on horseback, representing their city neighbourhoods (rioni), charge at a bear-shaped target against rival knights. As in Siena, the winning neighbourhood is bathed in glory for the whole year.

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