The province of Prato
The province of Prato is the smallest in all of Tuscany and is also the youngest since it was established in 1992. The territory of Prato is a thin strip of land that borders the province of Florence to the south and to the east, Pistoia to the west and with Bologna to the north. From an environmental point of view, the province is quite varied as it extends from the valley floor to the Apennine mountains. Although much less known than other areas of Tuscany, this area also has a lot to offer among Medici villas, villages and castles.
Places to visit near Prato
- Medici Villa La Ferdinanda
- Medici Villa of Poggio a Caiano
- Rocca di Cerbaia
Artimino is a small village nestled on a Montalbano hill in the southernmost area of the province of Prato. This area has been inhabited since the Etruscan age and, in all probability, the name “Artimino” should derive from an Etruscan term. In the surroundings of the center there are several archaeological sites, including the Necropoli di Prato Rosello, whose finds have been collected in the Museo archeologico di Artimino. During the Middle Ages, Artimino is remembered as a castle and in fact even today the village is equipped with defensive walls. Not far away is the Pieve di Santa Maria and San Leonardo in Romanesque style which is documented since 998. Starting from the 15th century, the Medici family began to buy various land in this area and towards the end of the 16th century built a grandiose villa in few steps from Artimino.
Medici Villa La Ferdinanda
The Medici Villa La Ferdinanda in Artimino is among the most beautiful and important villas that the Medici have built in all of Tuscany. Also called Villa of the Hundred Chimneys (just see the photo to understand why …), this villa was built in just 4 years between 1596 and 1600 by the architect Bernardo Buontalenti who received the commission from Grand Duke Ferdinando I. Today the villa is used as a location for events and weddings and can only be visited by appointment but it is absolutely worth it!
Carmignano rises between beautiful hills planted with olive trees and vines, where the homonymous red wine is produced. The main points of interest of this village are the Propositura dei Santi Michele e Francesco which dates back to the fourteenth century and inside it houses an important work by Pontormo, the Visitation, and the medieval fortress that was built around the tenth century in the most high of the hamlet to control the surrounding area. Today the fortress is owned by the municipality and is often used as a venue for cultural events and festivals.
Medici Villa of Poggio a Caiano
Historical summer residence of the Medici family, the marvelous Medici Villa of Poggio a Caiano was built between 1470 and 1520 according to the project of Giuliano da San Gallo. This villa represents a magnificent example of Renaissance architecture able to relate classical elements with the tradition of Tuscan rural villas, creating a harmony of spaces and styles. Over the centuries the villa underwent some changes such as when a theater was created on the ground floor or when the double staircase was added in the early nineteenth century leading up to the terrace on the first floor. Inside there are the historic apartments and the Museo della Natura Morta (Museum of Still Life) which collects about 200 paintings, made between the end of the sixteenth century and the mid-eighteenth century, which were part of the grand-ducal collections.
The historic center of Montemurlo is certainly one of the most interesting places to see in the province of Prato. Perched on the top of a hillock, the small medieval village of Montemurlo is able to give travelers great surprises. The main monument is certainly the Castle of Montemurlo which stands in a panoramic position in the center of a beautiful park. Once it belonged to the powerful family of the Guidi counts who had made it an important military outpost, the castle was transformed into a noble residence around the middle of the sixteenth century. In the main square there is the historic Pieve di San Giovanni Decollato which was built between 1085 and 1096; inside you can admire some works made between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Vaiano is a center of Roman origin located in the Val di Bisenzio, just north of Prato. The proximity of the river was decisive for the development of this village and in fact, already in medieval times, Vaiano was an important production center with numerous mills that exploited the power of water. Starting from the nineteenth century, however, Vaiano became an important textile center. The most important monument of the town is the Badia di San Salvatore which was part of a monastery built by the Benedictines between the 11th and 12th centuries. The church, in Romanesque style, is very beautiful and inside it preserves some interesting art works; the adjoining museum of sacred art is also worth visiting. Among other things to see are the Renaissance Villa il Mulinaccio and the Centro di Documentazione Storico-Etnografico della Val di Bisenzio (a historical-ethnographic museum).
Rocca di Cerbaia
The Rocca di Cerbaia is surrounded by greenery on the top of a hill overlooking the Bisenzio river. Probably built between the end of the 11th and the beginning of the 12th century, the castle was granted by the Emperor Federico Barbarossa to the Alberti Counts who maintained possession until 1361, the year in which the fortress was sold to Florence. Over the following centuries the fortification lost its importance and changed hands several times until, not many years ago, it was purchased by the Municipality of Cantagallo, which began restoration and conservation works.
The fortress today is reduced to a state of ruin even if the two walls and various structures can still be identified, among which the central tower with a pentagonal base stands out. At the foot of the hill there is still the medieval bridge (Ponte di Cerbaia) which was used to cross the Bisenzio river and reach the castle. The Ponte di Cerbaia is even older than the Rocca since it dates back to the early Middle Ages and is characterized by three lowered arches. Don’t ask me how, but on the side of the bridge a cypress was born and raised!
Vernio is the northernmost municipality of the entire province of Prato; its territory is mostly mountainous and characterized by dense vegetation. An excellent summer destination for a holiday of relaxation and contact with nature, Vernio has a lot to offer also from the historical and artistic point of view. Among the main points of interest are the Rocca di Vernio (privately owned), the Badia di Santa Maria a Montepiano, the Pieve dei Santi Ippolito e Cassiano and the Mumat, Museo delle Macchine Tessili (Museum of Textile Machines).