I visited Prato many years ago and I remember thinking it was an interesting city that deserved more exploration. In October I dropped in for a few hours. It is on the train line between Lucca and Florence, making it very easy to get to.
I left the train at Porta Serraglia, on the edge of the old section of Prato, a very good place to begin a walk through the city.
Just a short walk from the station is the magnificent cathedral of Santo Stefano, built on the site of an earlier church. The current structure dates from the Romanesque period of the 12th century.
The external pulpit was added between 1428 – 1438, built by Michelozzo and decorated by Donatello.
The church houses frescoes by Paolo Uccello, Filippo Lippi and Agnolo Gaddi.
The Piazza del Duomo is enormous. A lovely fountain forms the centrepiece.
Mazzoni keeps a weary watch over the piazza often with the help of pigeons sitting on his head.
Piazza del Comune is the heart of Prato. The square is home to the medieval Palazzo Pretoria, which is now a museum. It was built in the 13th century from red brick. An external staircase, clock tower and white stone gothic style additions happened from the 16th century.
The imposing white marble statue of Prato’s famous merchant, Francesco di Marco Datini (1335-1420), dominates the square.
The lovely Fontana del Bacchino is tucked in a corner. It is a copy of the original by Ferdinand Tacca, which is now kept in the Palazzo Comunale.
The streets of Prato are easy to navigate and there are many interesting buildings to keep your attention. There is good shopping and inviting cafes and restaurants.
A short walk from the Piazza del Comunale is the Castello dell’Imperatore, the only example of Swabian archicture in northern Italy.
It was built on the site of a small fortress. The castle is attributed to architect Riccardo da Latina, who also designed castles in Augusta, Syracuse and Catania. It was never finished because Fredierick died and the workmen left. It has served as a home , a war veteran’s shelter and a prison.
On my way back to the station I came upon a part of the old wall. Some of it had been put to use as an external wall of a house.
Prato has a long tradition of textile manufacture. There is an excellent textile museum, which I intend to visit on my next trip to Prato.
The city is still involved in textiles. It has the second largest Chinese community (after Milan) in Italy. Chinese immigrants first arrived in the 1980s and 1990s to work in the textile factories. There are around 3,500 workshops where approximately 45,000 Chinese workers are employed, legally and otherwise.
This community is outside the historical centre and has a thriving market area with lots of good Chinese restaurants. I realise that people don’t usually visit Italy to eat Chinese food, but when you stay for months at a time it can be a treat to eat something other than Italian food. I’ll show you one of these in another post.