Pescia is a charming little Tuscan town in the Province of Pistoia, located right between Florence and Lucca, of antique Lombard origins. The first settlements rise on the river's banks, from where comes the name of the town, which comes from the Latin adaptation of a Lombard word – pehhia – which means “river”. During the Middle Ages, Pescia has been occupied by Lucca and only when Florence took the power over the whole Tuscany, in the Modern times, the town has been elevated to a city of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. At that time Pescia had its economy based, among other things, on silk production which became so important that in the 19th century it was known as “the little Manchester in Tuscany”. After Napoleon, the silk production has been substutued with sugar beet and from 1925, the Pesciantins discovered a new calling on flowers cultivation and extra virgin olive oil production.
What to see in Pescia?
Just arrived by train, you must walk around 1 mile to reach the town which rises on the two banks of Pescia river. You will get simply amazed with the beautiful Renaissance buildings and the lovely park on the river side. The amazing Ponte del Duomo (Duomo's bridge) connects the two settlements of the town, the river bank on the right used to be the centre of the commercial and public life while the one on the left side has developed the religious and monastic part of Pescia. If you cross the bridge you will reach the Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta (Pescia's cathedral), the Gothic church of St. Francis, the Ospedale (antique hospital, once ruled by the monks) and the many alleys and furrows between the old buildings. Before the river you will be able to see Palazzo del Vicario (13th - 14th centuries), the Town Hall up to present days; Palazzo Palagio or del Podestà (12th - 13th centuries), the residence of the governor's family in the past. The Cathedral is really old, probably dating back from the 5th - 6th centuries. There is a certain mention about that in 872, but the oldest remainings date back from the 13th century.
The Gothic church of St. Francis, built in the 13th century too, houses some interesting art pieces: the Cardini Chapel, once attributed to Brunelleschi but now assigned to Andrea Cavalcanti; a Renaissance fresco by Neri di Bicci; the fresco cycle “Stories of the Virgin” by Bicci di Lorenzo (15th century); a “Madonna with child” by Angelo Puccinelli (14th century) and at last the masterpiece present in the church which is a panel by the “lucchese” artist Bonaventura Berlinghieri from 1235 – “St. Francis and the Episodes of his life” – which could be the first known depiction of this saint's iconography.
The town of Pescia is divided in four districts (or “rioni”). Just as like many medieval Tuscan towns, the rioni dispute the Palio dei Rioni, every year in the month of September. Palio dei Rioni or Palio di Pescia is one of medieval festivals that take place in Tuscany in summer time – or fall in this case – and consists of an archery competition. The challange takes place in the main square of Pescia, Piazza Mazzini, every year the first Sunday of September. The four Rioni are: Ferraia, San Francesco, Santa Maria and San Michele. Just like all Medieval Festivals in Tuscany, the Palio of Pescia creates many collateral events which take place in the town close to the date and in the same day.
There are many concerts, jugglers and other kinds of street performances, games organized for children, food and drink stands and much more. The Palio, just like the one of Siena, is a painted drap, to be assigned to the winner Rione. It's usually presented on the Friday which precedes the competition, and this is obviously a reason for a party in the square, Piazza Grande.
The lovely town is surrounded by stunning mountains, part of the Tuscan Apennines chain. The higher part of the town offers stunning views over the typical “terracotta” roofs and behind the town, the lush green mountains.
Photos and text by Adriana Lucchesi, March 2011.
VILLAS CLOSE TO PESCIA: