If there is one city that can impress those looking for lesser-known destinations, it’s Prato. Considering how the city is presented in the press, visitors will be surprised to discover an elegant and well-preserved historic city centre, as impressive as the most famous Medieval cities dotting Tuscany. One of the first things that will capture anyone’s attention inside the city walls is the Emperor’s Castle, a rare example of Swabian architecture in North-Central Italy. Nearby, take in the expansive, beautiful piazza Duomo, home to the Cathedral of Santo Stefano. On the outside of the Cathedral, the circular external pulpit by Donatello and Michelozzo wraps around the far right corner. Inside, visitors can admire the splendid frescoes by Filippo Lippi. The pulpit is used every September 8 for the ostensione, or viewing of Madonna’s girdle, known as the sacra cintola. The Pratesi are particularly proud of their city’s relic.
Tourism, even among foreigners, has been on the rise in recent years, which has encouraged a transformation inside the centre. Many new restaurants and bars have opened and a favourite pastime is taking evening strolls through the narrow streets and historic piazzas, free from that claustrophobic feeling that can come from being in a city with higher traffic. Despite its quaint size, there are certainly things to see: a short walk around the city and visitors will undoubtedly have stumbled upon Palazzo Datini, Palazzo Pretorio, the Basilica of Santa Maria delle Carceri by Giuliano da Sangallo, the churches of San Francesco and San Domenico, the Museo di Pittura Murale and the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, home to works by Renaissance masters such as Agnolo Gaddi, Paolo Uccello, Filippo and Filippino Lippi, Donatello, Michelozzo and many more.
Prato is a city that knew how to introduce contemporary into his historical character (as a calling and out of necessity), and for this reason, the “Luigi Pecci” Centre for Contemporary Art is of notable importance. Designed by the rationalist architect Italo Gamberini and founded in 1988, the Centre is known worldwide, with an extensive exhibition program that adds to the important permanent collection featuring works by the biggest artists of the last 30 years.
Like any vibrant city, Prato is also understood in terms of its communities. The Chinese community is important here, which, for visitors, presents first and foremost an interesting opportunity to embark on a culinary tour through streets that seem to be true transplants from the Paese del Dragone in a Tuscan suburb. Any visit to Prato should include a stop at the Textile Museum, a unique and educational expression of the city’s textile history. The museum conserves samples that range from the 5th century to today, and the building itself is a monument of industrial archeology, having been a major mill complex in the 19th century and the only extant example within the Medieval city walls.
Cover image credit: Adam Nowek