When you are driving along the motorway towards the sea, leaving Florence behind you, after you pass the last road off to Prato, you immediately realise that the province of Pistoia is special. In the sense that it has landscape features that are unusual in Italy and even in the Tuscany of today. Pistoia is to your right, among green surroundings: the dome of the Basilica of Our Lady of Humility, the bell tower of San Zeno, the tower known as Catiline's Tower, the old colours of the walled town and, in the background, the grand mountains of the Apennines. Up till now we have driven through a vague countryside, urbanised, dotted with houses and commercial and industrial structures. When we get to Pistoia we notice that the panorama is changing. The town appears to us like those little models that patron saints hold in their hand in medieval polyptychs, closed in its recognisable urban identity, surrounded by greenery.
Before leaving the motorway and entering Pistoia, the attentive traveller will have understood the essential truth. He will have understood that this is a part of Italy where art and nature balance and reflect each other. The buildings that he already glimpsed from a distance enjoy a harmonious relationship with the green belt that surrounds the town, with the hills and the mountains that mark the horizon.
This is the guiding idea that must accompany the intelligent tourist as he travels through the part of Tuscany that has Pistoia as its provincial capital. The permeation and continuous recurrence of art masterpieces and the beauty of nature are to be found everywhere.
Go to the villa at Celle, visit the vast romantic park laid out in the nineteenth century to a design by Giovanni Gambini and you will realise this. Still today a great many cultured tourists are unaware that just a few miles from the Uffizi and the Bargello there is a town with even more significant traces of our great artistic civilisation.
If I were to recommend an itinerary in the town and territory of Pistoia, I would advise starting "from the head of the Apostle", that is from the relic of Saint James which is kept in the Cathedral, honoured by the huge silver reliquary which is one of the finest masterpieces of Gothic goldsmithery. In the Middle Ages, this was the Italian starting point of the "path of Saint James", which took pilgrims all the way to Compostela. This will be our point of departure for a journey through Pistoia's art treasures.
Text by Antonio Paolucci, taken from "Armonie di Arte e Natura" (Padova, 2006)