A painting by an unknown artist of the eighteenth century, hanging in the Municipal Museum, shows how the square, at that time, was only a wide grassy area; its field was used as aplace for meeting and for walks as well as for horse races run on the patron saint's day. In fact the present layout of the piazza only dates to the early nineteenth century.
The man responsible for the project, Tolomei, headed the City Council at the time and was author of one of the first guides to the city. His idea was to transform the area into a vast amphitheater enclosed by rows of seating, with a Pantheon dedicated to the most illustrious citizens of Pistoia built on the western side.
The Pantheon theme was fully in keeping with the tastes of the period - it can seen in some of Niccolò Puccini's projects as well - and it fulfilled those Romantic longings that inspired the most enlightened members of the community.
Designed by the architect Cosimo Rossi Melocchi, the Pantheon was meant to commemorate, through staues and inscriptions, figures like Clemente IX or Cardinal Forteguerri. It was to contain a vast atrium of clearly classsical derivation. With respect to Melocchi's original project, the building was graetly changed so that it assumed the appearence it has today.
The Pantheon is located at the end of a tree-lined area and raised on an elevated parterre level. Until the early 1900s its rooms housed only a concerte cafè, thus preserving unaltered the character of meeting place that had always distinguished the piazza.
Because of its important public role, the square underwent new transformations during the first half of this century, such as the addition of the Monumento ai caduti by sculptor Silvio Canevari. This work refers to classical statuary in its commemoration of the townspeople who died for their country during the First World War.
In those same years the headquarters of the Fascist youth organization was built on a piece of land that had once belonged to the Franciscan convert. This project was the result of a difficult collaboration between the architects G Michelucci and R. Fagnoni who was involved with restoring the Curch of San Francesco in the same period.
Over the course of time the square, which is still used as a public park, has changed names several times so that Pistoians continue to refer to it in different ways. In the thirteenth century it was known as the Pratum Comunis; during French rule it was called the Foro Bonaparte; at the end of the nineteenth century it was renamed in honor of Giuseppe Mazzini and in 1926, the year of Franciscan celebrations, it was dedicated once again to Saint Francis as it had been repeatedly in the past.
Comune di Pistoia