Saturday, June 16, 2012


If you're looking for a nice little side trip when you're visiting Florence, head out on the A11 (Autostrada Firenze-Mare) and in about 25-30 minutes, you'll find yourself in Prato.

Piazza Duomo - Prato

Prato's main industry, for centuries, has been textiles.  And where better to learn about that part of history than the Museo del Tessuto...the Textile Museum!  4 euros will get you a ticket in to see all sorts of examples of textiles, materials, tools an machinery that have been used throughout the ages.  (Note: photography in the museum is not allowed)

One building that you can't help but notice in Prato is the Castello dell'Imperatore.

Casetello dell'Imperatore (photo credit: Simone Cinotti)
Construction on this castle began around 1248 by Imperatore Federico II di Svevia as a way to keep the trade route from Germany under military control.  The castle is square with towers on the corners and in the centers of each wall.  The center of the castle, which used to house several buildings, is today completely empty.  They are currently renovating part of the castle and we were not permitted to enter it when we visited on a very rainy December morning, but we did get to take some pictures while standing in the doorway.

The interior of the castle (photo credit: Simone Cinotti)
An outside view of one of the towers

Directly across from the castle is Santa Maria delle Carceri, a basillica that was built in the 1480's.  Legend has it that a child saw a painting of the Madonna and Child come to life on the wall of the carceri (local jail), so it was decided to build a basilica at that place.  Lorenzo de Medici hired the architect, Giuliano da Sangallo, to design the church, which he did.  He took his inspiration from the Pazzi Chapel in Florence (designed by the famous Filippo Brunelleschi), and the final building favors that chapel quite a bit.

Santa Maria delle Carceri

About four blocks north west of Santa Maria delle Carceri is the Duomo di Prato, the Cathedral of St. Stephan.  There are documents supporting the fact that the church has been there since the late 10th century, but there is speculation that the church may very well have been there for some time before then.  The current church structure was built in the 12th century

Duomo di Prato (photo credit: Simone Cinotti)
Inside the church are beautiful frescoes by Filippo Lippi and Fra Diamante.  There are a few side chapels, one of which, the Cappella del Sacro Cingolo, houses a famous relic: a belt which, according to legend, was given by the Virgin Mary to Saint Thomas.

Interior of the Duomo

Exterior and the pulpit by Donatello (photo credit: Simone Cinotti)

Walk two blocks to the south of the Duomo and you will find yourself in the Piazza del Comune.  The Fontana del Bacchino is there...

Fontana del Bacchino (photo credit: Simone Cinotti) is the Palazzo Pretorio, built in the late 13th, early 14th century, which used to be the City Hall.

Palazzo Pretorio (photo credit: Simone Cinotti)

Much like in Florence, the streets of Prato (especially in the historic city center) are lined with many small shops.  If you get the chance, stop by Antonio Mattei, which has been in existence at Via Ricasoli 22 since 1858, baking delicious treats, such as cantucci (a biscotto/cookie) or, my personal favorite, a torta mantovana (a cake with almonds and pinoli).

(photo credit: Simone Cinotti)

On your way in or out of Prato, take a moment and take a look at the city walls.  They've been protecting the city since the 1170's!

(photo credit: Simone Cinotti)
I would suggest spending a good part of a day in Prato, if not a whole day.  There is plenty to see and do.  If you enjoy art, there is a lot of it in and around the city, and surprisingly a lot of it is modern.  Of course, there are plenty of historical places to see as well, along with shopping and great places to eat.  If you are in the area and have some time, stop on by.  You won't be disappointed!

(A special thank you to Simone Cinotti, who took many of the photos of Prato after my camera battery died while we were visiting!)

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