Prato: the Tuscany of the Past and Future

“There is always something to see, to discover, to explore. Prato imagines, and then creates.

Prato: the Tuscany of the Past and Future 

The center of a territory rich with history and precious works of art, it is surprising, fascinating and those visiting it for the first time will fall in love with it.

Let yourself be inspired by a unique and all-encompassing city that has managed to establish a perfect harmony between its ancient roots and innovation, between its artistic and contemporary past, progressing and transmitting dynamism and constructive energy to those who experience it. There is always something to see, to discover, to explore. Prato imagines, and then creates.

Prato has the only example of Swabian architecture in central-northern Italy, the Emperor’s Castle, built by the Sicilian architect Riccardo da Lentini between 1237 and 1248. The exteriors have remained perfectly intact, and during the summer the castle’s spaces are used for events, concerts and outdoor cinema. Visitors can stroll through the beautiful Piazza del Duomo, in the presence of the Cathedral of Santo Stefano, a splendid example of Romanesque-Gothic architecture where prominent use has been made of the paler alberese limestone and green marble typical of the 15th century. The Sacred Belt of the Virgin Mary is also preserved here. A few steps away is Piazza del Comune, the city’s political center, which houses the Palazzo Comunale and the Palazzo Pretorio, today the Civic Museum, the oldest cultural institution in the city in terms of history and collections. Prato keeps its promises and takes you into the future with the new Luigi Pecci Center for Contemporary Art, built in 1988 by architect Italo Gamberini and renovated in 2016 on a project by architect Maurice Nio. All of this, and we assure you it’s just a little taste, is something you absolutely must not miss out on.  

September is the month of festivals. In fact, on September 8 is the Corteggio Storico – the Historical Pageant re-evoking the tribute paid to the Holy Belt of the Virgin by the Municipalities of Tuscany and the Prato Civic Magistrates since the Middle Ages.
The relic, a woolen belt believed to have belonged to the Virgin Mary, was brought to Prato from the Holy Land in 1141 by the Prato merchant Michele Dagomari, who donated it to the city: the Holy Belt became the religious and civil symbol of the city of Prato and has since been preserved in the Cathedral of Santo Stefano, first in temporary chapels and finally in the chapel built between 1386 and 1390 and adorned with a cycle of frescoes by Agnolo Gaddi (1392/1395). Guarded in a reliquary which locks with 3 keys (two owned by the Municipality and one by the Diocese, so that the casket may only be opened jointly), for centuries the venerated belt was considered the most precious treasure in the city, becoming the cornerstone of its artistic events and development, as well as a fundamental element of its identity. Today’s Corteggio Storico, organized and curated by the Municipality of Prato, with all its tradition of ancient and modern meanings has attracted the attention of an ever-growing public, which comes for the parade and the various attractions – musical performances, ancient displays of flags and sidearms – but above all, the rite of the Exposition.

The wool and silk road

From Prato to Bologna, hiking along the Trans-Apennine connecting route

For those who love to explore history and nature at a leisurely pace, there is the trans-Apennine hiking route that runs for over 135 km between Prato and Bologna. The Via della Lana e della Seta – the Wool and Silk Road – starts from Piazza Duomo in Prato and arrives in Piazza Maggiore in Bologna along seven legs that explore the ancient factories, mills and fulling-mills that produced those fabrics, respectively wool and silk, and which made Prato and Bologna’s textile districts famous throughout the world.

In Prato, you’ll come across the hydraulic systems of the Cavalciotto and “Gorone” of Santa Lucia along the Bisenzio River. Further along is the Calvana massif where, on the meadows of the Retaia, “Calvana” cattle graze. A little further on still is the Poggio Corolla where horses can be found in the wild; the Badia di San Salvatore in Vaiano is an architectural jewel that preserves ancient fulling-mill tubs and Lombard tombs. Then there is the Badia di Montepiano, built at the end of the year one thousand near the hermitage of Beato Pietro and the Memorial Park on the Gothic Line. This is a very evocative route in autumn, with chestnut woods, multicolored foliage and authentic flavors.

Museum of Palazzo Pretorio and its evocative views of the city 

Another must-see destination for those visiting Prato and Tuscany is the 1780 square-meter Museum of Palazzo Pretorio, with its collection displayed in a clear and harmonious itinerary together with the sculptural and pictorial furnishings of the building. It is characterized by countless evocative views of the city and covers a period of time going from the fourteenth to the twentieth century. It has a permanent exhibition of about 3000 pieces including paintings, sculptures, ceramics, textiles, furniture and other artifacts that embody the soul of the city and represent local creativity and culture. On display in the Museum are works by Donatello, Filippo and Filippino Lippi, the polyptychs by Bernardo Daddi and Giovanni da Milano, altarpieces by Santi di Tito and Alessandro Allori and the gallery of plaster casts by Lorenzo Bartolini: for the most part, this collection was created during the 1800s, thanks to acquisitions and legacies, but it has recently received important donations such as the Tintori, Riblet and Lipchitz collections.