For much of their history, the Pistoiesi have been considered a fearsome lot. Even the well-reasoned Michelangelo complained that the Pistoiesi were "proud, envious [and] enemies of heaven," people who find "the simplest charity a labor." Dante made a 13th-century nobleman named Vanni Fucci from Pistoia into one of his most thuggish, Hell-doomed reprobates who does the unthinkable and makes an obscene gesture to God in Heaven. The bad reputation may have originated as early as 200 b.c., when Pistoium was a rough-and-tumble garrison town that supplied legionnaires defending the frontiers. The Roman conspirator Catiline was slaughtered outside town in 62 b.c., and by the Middle Ages Pistoiesi were stabbing each other with highly effective results using daggers the city’s metal smiths were adept at crafting; soon assassins all across Europe were clamoring for the Pistoia weapons, and later for the small guns the city produced (whether Pistoia lent its name to “pistol” is up for debate). The Pistoiese were reportedly the instigators of the schism between Black and White Guelphs that turned 13th-century Florence into a war zone. As the story goes, two Pistoiese children of Neri (Black) and Bianchi (White) factions were playing with wooden swords and one was hurt, so the father of the injured boy cut off the hand of the other youth with the admonishment, "Iron, not words, is the remedy for sword wounds" (the local interpretation of “spare the rod and you’ll spoil the boy”).

This tumultuous past aside, Pistoia has retained its pretty churches, some nice art, and well-preserved dark medieval alleyways and stony piazzas.