Palazzo Fabroni, Pistoia

Pistoia and the places of discord

Visit the city of the rivaling Panciatichi and the Cancellieri families

Pistoia is defined as the City of Sorrow, or ‘La Città dei Crucci’ in Italian, in a poem entitled, “Pistoia”, written by poet Gabriele D’Annunzio. The poem is part of the poet’s cycle of poems entitled, Cities of Silence. D’Annunzio recalls the proverbial contentiousness of the people of Pistoia, and describes the city using very strong nuances: “I love you, city of sorrow, bitter Pistoia, blood of the Whites and the Blacks, that turns red before your proud people, men of ideology, with ancient joy.” Dante Alighieri also wrote verse on Pistoia, dedicating a Canto in his Inferno to the most famous Pistoiese ever, Vanni Fucci:


... “Tell him that I won’t threaten him,
and ask him what he did to end up down here;
because I see a man of blood and sorrow”


Is Pistoia really a city of turbid thoughts, sharp swords, and of citizens that are in continuous battle with one anther? This aura of negativity that envelopes Pistoia in the eyes of other Tuscans is thanks to the pride of its people, who have vindicated their factiousness throughout the centuries. As the American historian William J Connell writes in his book, entitled City of Sorrow (Nuova Toscana Editrice - Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Pistoia, 2000): “For the entire Middle Ages and the centuries that followed, they honored the tradition according to which their city was founded by the descendents of Lucio Sergio Catilina, a violent and evil rebel (…) whose troops were defeated in January 62 B.C. in a battle near Pistoia.”

The idea that Pistoia was the capital of factiousness in Tuscany was confirmed in medieval times, with the battles between the city’s two rivaling families: the Panciatichi and the Cancellieri, two noble families that had economic and political interests in Pistoia and its countryside. These two families gave rise to a long and bloody feud that spanned from the 13th century to the mid-16th century, which initially began as a battle for the castles and land in the area, and later became a battle for the control of the city. The feud involved the two families and their affiliates for years, and tragically ended in the 1499-1502 civil war, which almost annihilated the city.

What are the places in which these bloody battles took place? One of the most well known places of ‘conflict’ is Palazzo Panciatichi, or Palazzo Balì, built in 1320 by Vinceguerra Panciatichi, and located today on Via Cavour. The nobleman wanted a fortified home for him and his family to live, so he built the palazzo with a battlement. Palazzo Balì is characterized by two rows of rare cross-shaped windows that are more similar to the architectural styles in France and Valle D’Aosta than to the Tuscan style. During the battles in the early 1500s, the palazzo was set afire. After this, the Pianciatichi removed the battlement on their palazzo and substituted it with an elegant gutter. The interior was also renovated to mirror the new Renaissance-style, by Pistoia architect Ventura Vitoni, who was a talented pupil of Giuliano da Sangallo and the great Leon Battista Alberti.

Other places of ‘conflict’ are the districts in the eastern part of the city, which include the Chiesa di San Pietro Maggiore, San Bartolomeo and Palazzo Cancellieri, where the powerful Pistoia family successfully defended itself from outside attack. Of particular artistic and architectural interest is the church of San Bartolomeo in Pantano, built in the Longobard era and enriched with the same sculptures that still adorn the façade today: in addition to the lions at the corners, there are architraves, attributed to Gruamonte, which depict Jesus Christ and the 12 apostles.

The San Paolo church is also noteworthy because the Panciatichi family fortified it during the battle of August 1500. After the battle was over, the troops of the Cancellieri threw their adversaries to their deaths from the church’s bell tower. The church is one of the best-conserved examples of sacred medieval architecture in Pistoia. Built in the 1200s, the main entrance way has an elegant design and a lunette above it. Above the lunette is a statue of St. Paul with angles, made by Pistoia-born Iacopo di Matteo, a collaborator of Giovanni Pisano.