What to see in Prato, the second most populous city in Tuscany
An important production center and provincial capital, Prato is the second largest city in terms of population in all of Tuscany. Located less than 20 kilometers from Florence, Prato has an interesting historic center still well protected by its historic walls.
If you decide to reach Prato by train, I advise you not to go down to the central station but to that of Porta al Serraglio which is closer to main monuments of Prato. But let’s get straight to the list of 10 things to see in Prato:
- Duomo di Prato
- Museo dell’Opera del Duomo
- Palazzo Pretorio
- Museo Civico
- Chiesa di San Francesco
- Basilica di Santa Maria delle Carceri
- Castello dell’Imperatore
- Museo del Tessuto
- Chiesa di San Domenico
- Centro per l’arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci
Duomo di Prato
With its white and green marbles, the delightful Duomo di Prato (Cathedral of Santo Stefano) is a real gem. Looking at it from the outside, the element that more than any other captures attention is the pulpit created by Michelozzo and decorated by Donatello around the 1430. Inside we find numerous frescoes among which the Storie di Santo Stefano and San Giovanni Battista cycle, created by Filippo Lippi in the Cappella Maggiore, stands out.
Inside the Cathedral of Prato there is also the venerated Sacra Cintola della Madonna (the belt of Mary). According to tradition, this important relic was stolen in 1312 by a man from Pistoia, Giovanni di ser Landetto, who intended to take it to his city. The theft was only partially successful as the thief, losing himself in the fog, involuntarily returned to Prato where he was soon captured; I think you can imagine his final destiny… This is an interesting story because it tells a lot about the rivalries between Prato and Pistoia, which is one of the most historic and heartfelt in all of Tuscany.
Museo dell’opera del Duomo
Remaining in Piazza del Duomo, there is to see the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo where are kept many works (sculptures, paintings, and sacred furnishings) coming from the Cathedral and other churches of the diocese of Prato. The most prestigious work is certainly the decoration created by Donatello for the external pulpit of the Duomo, which was removed from its original location to ensure a better preservation.
The next stop on the tour in Prato is the Piazza del Comune which is no more than 5 minutes walk from the Duomo. Here the Palazzo Comunale (Town Hall) and the beautiful Palazzo Pretorio face each other. In the middle of the square instead, you can admire the Fontana del Bacchino, or rather, a copy of the fountain because the original, made in 1653 by Ferdinando Tacca, is located inside the Palazzo Comunale.
The Palazzo Pretorio di Prato is a imposing structure born between the thirteenth and fourteenth century from the fusion of three distinct buildings; even an inexperienced eye can easily distinguish them, in fact you can immediately notice how some parts of the building are in white stones, while a very large part was entirely made of bricks.
Museo Civico di Prato
The Palazzo Pretorio houses the Museo Civico di Prato (or Museo di Palazzo Pretorio), an important art collection that brings together various works ranging from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century. Closed for many years due to the restoration of the Palace, the Museum was reopened towards the end of 2013. Inside you can admire the works of artists such as Paolo Uccello, Filippo and Filippino Lippi, Bernardo Daddi, Giovanni da Milano, Andrea della Robbia and many others.
Chiesa di San Francesco
From square to square, the tour in the historic center of Prato continues towards the Church of San Francesco. Located in the square of the same name a stone’s throw from Palazzo Pretorio, the Church of San Francesco has a beautiful and elegant façade with alternating white and green stripes. Inside you can visit the tomb of Francesco Datini, also known as “the merchant of Prato”, and a valuable fifteenth-century ciborium attributed to Maso di Bartolomeo. The Renaissance cloister and the adjacent Cappella Migliorati are also worth a visit; here you can admire some beautiful frescoes.
Basilica di Santa Maria delle Carceri
Considered a true masterpiece of Renaissance architecture, the Basilica of Santa Maria delle Carceri was built where previously the public prisons of Prato stood. Following a miraculous event, an apparition of the Madonna, in 1486 it was decided to replace the old prison with this new church. The project was entrusted to Giuliano da Sangallo, one of the most important architects of the Renaissance, who created a building with a Greek cross plan, in which symmetry reigns supreme.
Right next to the Basilica of Santa Maria delle Carceri, what is probably the most famous monument in Prato stands majestic and austere: the Castello dell’Imperatore (Emperor’s Castle). Built on the wishes of Emperor Frederick II, the castle has a square plan and is equipped with 8 defensive towers. Used, especially during the summer, as a venue for events and concerts, the fortress of Federico II offers a beautiful view of the historic center of Prato from its upper walkway.
Museo del Tessuto
The city of Prato has a great tradition in textile production that has its roots since the Middle Ages. The Museo del Tessuto is an interesting institution that recovers this long history through a journey that takes visitors through eras, techniques and of course… fabrics!
Chiesa di San Domenico
To complete the visit to the historic center of Prato, I suggest you also visit the Church of San Domenico and its convent where the Museo di Pittura Murale is housed. The church was built at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries but its external cladding was never completed.
Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci
Who loves contemporary art, in Prato can admire the work of the Scottish artist Henry Moore, “Square shape with cut“, located in Piazza San Marco and most of alla visit the Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci which is located outside the historic center, in viale della Repubblica, not far from the Prato Est exit of the A11 highway. Opened in 1988, this futuristic complex houses more than 3,000 square meters of exhibition space, an archive, a library, an auditorium and much more. The Pecci collection has about a thousand works including sculptures, paintings and even videos.