The town was a Roman colony in the 6th century BC, and in 62 BC Catiline and his fellow conspirators were slain nearby. In 1254 Ghibelline Pistoia was taken over by Guelph Florence, but supposedly resulted in the division of the Guelphs into "Black" and "White" factions. Pistoia remained a Florentine holding except for a brief period in the 14th century, when Castruccio Castracani captured it for Lucca, and was officially annexed to Florence in 1530.
Pistoia always had a bad reputation; Dante mentioned Pistoia as the home town of Vanni Fucci, who is encountered in Inferno tangled up in a knot of snakes while cursing God, and Michelangelo called the Pistoiese the "enemies of heaven".
Although it is not as visited as other towns in Tuscany, and the industrial environs discourage, Pistoia presents a well-preserved and charming medieval city inside the old walls. The large Piazza del Duomo is lined with attractive original buildings, and is the setting (in July) of the Bear Joust (Giostra dell'Orso), when the best horsemen of the districts of the town tilt with lances at a target held up by a dummy shaped like a bear.
The original Cathedral of San Zeno burned down in 1108, but was rebuilt during the following century, and received incremental improvements until the 17th century. Its outstanding feature is the Altar of St James, an exemplar of the silversmith's craft begun in 1287 but not finished until the 15th century. Its various sections contain 628 figures, the total weighing nearly a ton.
The city center include another dozen or so churches and other medieval buildings.