Discovering Prato

  • The history of Prato began in the heart of the city: Piazza del Duomo, the ancient “Borgo al Cornio”, inside the 14th-century walls.

    Piazza del Duomo

    Here you can appreciate the Palazzo Vescovile, the ancient Hotel Stella d’Italia, and Palazzo Vestri. These works were made by Giuseppe Valentini, a neoclassical architect who was born in Prato and worked between XVIII and XIX century. Furthermore, there is Palazzo Dragoni, site of the “Accademia degli Infecondi”, a theatrical and literal organization in the beginning of XVIII century. At the centre of the square there is the fountain of Pescatorello, also known in Prato as “Fontana del Papero” due to the swans carved in the edge of the tanks and the various sea animals who surround a young fisherman. The fountain was made by florentine Ulisse Cambi on the XIX century. Decentralized in the square there is also the statue of Giuseppe Mazzoni, a Prato politician, made by Alessandro Lazzerini, an artist from Carrara.

    In this spot, as the hours pass by, the shapes and colors change in brilliant lights and shades, where the cathedral of Santo Stefano raises. This church is famous for the most important frescos of Filippo Lippi and the Pulpit of Donatello. Here, the most precious relic of Prato: the Sacra Cintola, the belt of Virgin Mary, is shown during the festivities.

    Affreschi Filippo Lippi

    Next to the entrance of the church, the museum of “Opera del Duomo” immediately shows its peculiarity that is typical of the city. The deep and tight dialogue between artistic languages of ancient ages. Here are present the most ancient city works, archaeological evidences showing the original life of early settlements. “Lucy”, the skeleton of Prato’s first ever known woman, lived around late IX century A.D., and other works that made art history, revolutionizing in the deep, the same concept of spatial perception: the original pulpit of Donatello and the planks of Filippo Lippi. A few steps from all of this, contemporary art: sculptures, photos, spray paintings and artists of our times who honor the masters of the past. therefore, in the beautiful Romanesque courtyard, the sculpture by Robert Morris, “Quattro per Donatello”, can be seen through the grass.

    Another beautiful square is Piazza San Domenico with a church of the same name coming from late XIII century or early XIV. The church has a refined gothic structure. From the near 1480 courtyard, we enter inside the museum of Pittura Murale. Here are frescos and paintings as well as works from Filippo Lippi, together with sinopia of a fresco paintings from Paolo Uccello, who conceived the Duomo of Prato, and graffito from XIV to XVII century. The exposition also offers the rare opportunity to watch the enchanting glass wall, coming from Inghirami chapel of the cathedral, which represents the “Annunciazione”. The wall was made by the Florentine glass master Fra Paolo di Mariotto da Gambassi, who lived at the beginning of XVI century.

    Another beautiful place of the historical centre is Palazzo degli Alberti, here you can visit a gallery of Tuscan baroque paintings. In the gallery there are paintings made by important artists like Caravaggio, Bellini and Filippo Lippi, and sculptures from the famous Prato’s artist Lorenzo Bartolini. Another important palace of the city is Palazzo Datini, built in the late XIV century and decorated by some important Florentine artists of that period. The palace started out as a house of one of the most rich merchant of the XIV century: Francesco di Marco Datini. He was an extraordinary Prato’s entrepreneur who invented the Exchange Letters, which was the root of modern financial transactions. Now the palace is a head office of a museum and of the Archivio di Stato di Prato, the most important medieval commercial archives of Europe.

    There is also Palazzo Banci-Buonamici, now head office of the Province of Prato, that is another interesting example of the perfect cohabitation between ancient and contemporary art present in Prato. Here, in the extraordinary setting of its beautiful halls and hallways decorated in a baroque style of late XVII century, are hosted works of contemporary artists, coming from the collection of Contemporary Art Centre Luigi Pecci.

    Between the most important squares, Piazza San Francesco, is located the Church of San Francesco, built between XII and XIV century. Almost entirely in bricks, this is the first public building of Prato using with this technique, while the facade represents the typical decoration at “fasce bicrome” of “alberese” and serpentine stone. Inside the church there is the headstone of Francesco Datini and the important cycle of 15th-century frescos by Niccolò di Pietro Gerini of Migliorati Chapel.

    In Piazza del Comune, beyond the town hall, behind the 17th-century Fontana del Bacchino, made by Florentine sculptor Ferdinando Tacca, stands out from the beautiful Palazzo Pretorio. The Museo Civico is present inside this palace. Re-opened after sixteen years of restorations in the occasion of the exhibition “The art of gypsum”, thanks to the donation of the works of the artist Jacques Lipchitz on behalf of his widow Yulla.

    Castello Prato

    The Castello dell’Imperatore, in its majestic bulk, is the only example of Swabian architecture in northern-central Italy. The castle took its name from Emperor Fredrik II of Swabia (Bavaria), who established here his strategic residence since 1240. Next to the castle is located a precious architectural jewel, the renaissance church of Santa Maria delle Carceri. Under church’s sacristy it’s still possible to find the basement rooms of the ancient prisons.
    To the castle was connected the medieval Cassero, a overhead way wanted by Florentines in 1351 so to have the control of the city. At those times Florence dominated the city of Prato.

    Prato is especially known for its textile art, indeed it is also called “the Manchester of Tuscany”. This excellence is extraordinarily documented by Museo del Tessuto. The museum is based in the restored rooms of the ex “cimatoria” Campolmi, and is one of the most important museum in Europe regarding the history and development of the weaving since antiquity to nowadays.

    Piazza Mercatale

    From the square of religious power, Piazza del Duomo, and through that of laic power, Piazza del Comune, we arrive to the square of commercial power, Piazza Mercatale. This square is one of the greatest medieval squares in Europe, and is the principal meeting and recreation place. The square takes its name from the weekly market which was held here until the seventies. From the square we can access to the scenic Ponte Mercatale on Bisenzio river.


    There are also almost unknown jewels, one of these is surely from the 14th-century Oratorio di San Bartolomeo. The oratory is not in centre but near the ancient and important via Cava. Built by powerful family of Guazzalotti, owners of the mines of “serpentino nel Monteferrato” (the famous green marble of Prato). The building shows inside an exceptional pictorial cycle.

    The treasures of Prato continue with the museum of Scienze Planetarie and with the dynamic Contemporary Art Centre Luigi Pecci, an extraordinary place of cultural and artistic exchanges at international level since 1988. Actually the museum is under a deep upgrading phase that will permit to host a permanent rich collection of works of contemporary art. From the most remote antiquity to Middle Ages and Avant-garde, Prato embraces a wide and rich history. Emblems of antiquity and progress perfectly live together. So one of the most known images of Prato in the world, together with the pulpit and the cathedral, is the work by Henry Moore “Square Form with cut”. This work is located in one of the principal square of the city, Piazza San Marco, with the background of Calvana’s mounts. Here the old walls opened into the door to Florence. This is the first important work of contemporary art that boosted in Prato in 1974.

    The national state Convitto “Francesco Cicognini” is one of the principal cultural place of the city. This was the formation school of famous personality like Gabriele d’Annunzio, Curzio Malaparte, and the artist Alessandro Lazzerini. This is the most ancient educational institute of Prato, in fact it was founded in 1692 by a group of Jesuits, after a legacy of Francesco Cicognini.

    One of the biggest palaces of the historical centre is Palazzo Vaj, where you can breathe an high inter-cultural vitality. Nowadays is the venue of the prestigious Monash University and of “Palazzo delle Professioni”.

    The comunal library, known as “Biblioteca Lazzeriniana” in honour of Alessandro Lazzerini, is the most famous library of the city. The high roman priest, descendant of a family of Prato, donated the library to the city in 1836. Now this library is one of the most cultural place of the city. Instead, the oldest library of the City is the 18th-century Roncioniana, which is located in Piazza San Francesco.

    Prato is famous also for its important theatrical and scenic places. Especially the Metastasio, the Politeama and the Fabbricone have made the history of the theater of research in the last decades of XX century.


    Prato is known also for its wine and food excellences, like cantucci, almond biscuits typical of Mattei, or like bruttiboni biscuits quaffed with a good vinsanto. Another extraordinary food is the Bozza Pratese, an ancient and renowned bread, which is made with the most natural rural tradition. You could taste it at the historical bakery “Loggetti”, near Porta Mercatale. The historical bars of the city are the Caffè delle Logge which is located in Piazza del Comune, and the Bar Magnolfi which is located in Piazza San Francesco. In the historical centre you could also taste the sweets of Pasticceria Nuovo Mondo. Some typical dishes of the city are celery alla pratese, farinata with black cabbage, ribollita, minestra di pane, pappa al pomodoro, ecc. If you want to taste this dishes you can go to the historical restaurants of Baghino and Soldano, which are located in the centre of the city. Other famous restaurants are located in Piazza Mercatale, like Tonio, well known for its fish dishes, or Trattoria Lapo. The most important winehouses are Le Barique and Razmataz.

    Itinerary cared by

    Diffusione – Didattica – Servizi
    [email protected]

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