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The walls of Prato. Author and Copyright Marco Ramerini.

Prato: a city full of medieval monuments

Prato (186.000 inhabitants (2008), 61 meters above sea level) is the most populous city in Tuscany after Florence, and a major industrial center, particularly the textile industry (yarn, fabrics, machinery). The city lies in a flat area along the valley of the Bisenzio river and is capital of the of the homonymous province, the last born (1992) in Tuscany.

Prato originated in the Middle Ages as a strategic place along the roads connecting to the Apennines and the Po Valley, the city developed in the communal age thanks to trade, Frederick II, in 1247, built there the imposing Castello dell’Imperatore (Castle of the Emperor). The city in the fourteenth century became part of the possessions of Florence and was fortified by a new wall on which are five gates.

The first historical settlements in the area of Prato were of Etruscan origin (VII-V century BC.), then the area was occupied by the Romans as evidenced by the ancient name of Pagus Cornius. Around the year 1000 are in the area of Prato two distinct residential areas: the Village at Cornio, located in the actual piazza of the Duomo and the Castle of Pratum of the Counts Alberti, Counts of Prato, which stood nearby and that gave the city its name. These two towns in the second half of the eleventh century came together to form the city of Prato who became a free municipality.

Duomo di Prato. Author Massimilianogalardi. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike

Cathedral of Prato. Author Massimilianogalardi

Among the late twelfth and early thirteenth century were constructed two city walls to defend the city, that has became important for the wool trade, the citizens organize themselves militarily in a Society of the People (Società del Popolo). In 1237 began the construction of the Castle of the Emperor. In 1350, Prato exhausted by an epidemic of plague surrendered to the siege of Florence.

The control of Florence does not limit economic, cultural and artistic growth of the city. Prato in 1512 was sacked by the Spaniards rushed to restore the deposed Medici rule. In 1653 the diocese was established, and to Prato was granted the title of City. In the nineteenth century, began the mechanization of industry and in the second half of the century, developed the typical activities of the local manufacture of regenerated wool, derived from textile remnants. This leads to a remarkable economic and urban population growth of the city that continues today.

Il Castello dell'Imperatore, Prato. Author and Copyright Marco Ramerini..

The Emperor’s Castle, Prato. Author and Copyright Marco Ramerini..

The historic center of Prato is the Piazza del Comune, here stands the Palazzo Comunale, with in the atrium the Fontana del Bacchino (Fountain of Bacchus), and the Palazzo Pretorio (Praetorian Palace) which houses the Museo Civico. The Piazza del Duomo is the religious center of Prato, the Duomo in pisano-lucchese Romanesque style dating from the thirteenth century, and its interior contains interesting works of art. Another interesting religious building in town is the church of Santa Maria delle Carceri, building with a Greek cross plan of the late fifteenth century, designed by Giuliano da Sangallo, next to the church is the imposing castle (Castello dell’Imperatore) built in 1247 by the Emperor Frederick II. Another interesting building is the Palazzo Datini dating from the fifteenth century.

Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Carceri, Prato. Author Sailko. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution

Church of Santa Maria delle Carceri, Prato. Author Sailko




Weekly market in Prato: monday
Weekly market, in Piazza Mercato Nuovo Zona Viale G. Galilei, every Monday from 8.30 to 13.30.

Tourist Information Office – Prato
APT Prato
Piazza Duomo 8 – 59100 Prato
Hours October-March: Mon. to Fri. 9-13.30/14.30-18.30; 9-13.30/14.30-18 Saturday, Sunday and holidays: 10-13
Hours April-September: Mon. to Sat. 9-13.30/14 ,30-19, Sundays and holidays 10-13
Tel. 0574.35141 – fax 0574.607925


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  • Gambi Silvia “Prato. Guida alla città. Con stradario” 2013, Mondadori Electa
  • Foggi Rossella “Prato. Arte, storia, cultura” 2006, Aska Edizioni
  • Cardini Franco “Breve storia di Prato” 2004, Pacini Editore
  • AA. VV. “Prato e provincia. I tesori artistici della città, le ville medicee, i castelli” 2004, Touring