Prato sits in the heart of Tuscany, near some of the most famous of the world's cities of art: Florence, Lucca, Pisa, Siena. It is the second-largest city in the Region, as well as the third in Central Italy for number of inhabitants.
The city's roots lie in the realms of art and nature, even if its economy - and that of the Province - was historically founded on the textile sector. Such a history is still alive and kicking, spurring on its growth beyond the riches it created; the area remains particularly rich in its values of hospitality, and in its cultural diversity.
The city of Prato, internationally renowned for the textile production that has its roots in a time-honored tradition, gather the evolution phases of this activity together in a museum. It is a journey through the historical memories and world of textiles.
The terrain is rather varied, offering historic-artistic attraction of great significance along an itinerary in discovery of the treasures of the Etruscan, Medieval, and contemporary ages.
The Province of Prato is an authentic discovery of unexpected treasures. In a province primarily known for its important textile districts, it is less-known that it preserves historic works of beauty, where traditions and a prized cuisine blend with the beautiful scenery to create a dynamic that is fresh, modern and new.
The Province comprises the Comunes of Cantagallo, Carmignano, Montemurlo, Poggio a Caiano, Vaiano and Vernio.
Prato offers visitors significant historical-artistic attractions: for instance, in its historic center, the Emperor's Castle (Castello dell'Imperatore) stands out as a testimony to the unique Swabian architecture of central southern Italy), just as its singular Duomo boasts the venerated relic of the Holy Belt of the Madonna (the Sacra Cintola), along with splendid frescoes by Filippo Lippi, recently restored.
On the facade of the Duomo is the Pulpit by Donatello and Michelozzo, used for the revealing of the Sacra Cintola (usually every September 8, during the Historic Court).
The visit should then proceed towards Palazzo Datini, Palazzo Pretorio, the Basilica of Santa Maria delle Carceri in Giuliano da Sangallo, and the Churches of San Francesco and San Domenico; in these structures and in the civic museums, e.g. the Museum of Mural Painting and the Duomo Museum, masterpieces by Agnolo Gaddi, Paolo Uccello, Filippo and Filippino Lippi, Donatello, Michelozzo and other famous 14th-Century and Renaissance artists make their homes.
A trip to the Textile Museum is a must; situated in the former building of a historic factory, it expresses the city's fabric history, with cloth swatches and documents, objects and old wool-combing machines dating from the 5th Century to the present day.
A recent addition to the spectrum of the area's museums is the Planetary Sciences Museum, located just outside the city walls; set in a rather scenic spot, it houses numerous exemplars of meteorites and minerals.
Equally-excellent is the Luigi Pecci Center for Contemporary Art, active on an international level and possessing an important permanent collection comprising major works from the last 30 years. The city itself is further enriched, esthetically-speaking, in the way of public sculpturework: on the Museum's exterior is Henry Moore's very notable Square Form, in Piazza San Marco.
Particularly interesting is the Museum and Center for Documentation of the Resistance of Figline, commemorating the suffering and extermination in the Nazi concentration camps.
The rest of the Provincial territory abounds with treasures: necropolises and Etruscan finds (in Comeana and Artimino), as well as the recent excavations in Gonfienti (east of Prato).
The lovely Romanesque churches dispersed in the zone of Carmignano include the Church of San Michele and Francesco in Carmignano with the gorgeous Visitation in Pontormo, the Abbeys of Val di Bisenzio, the Medieval hamlets, splendid Medicean Villas in Poggio a Caiano (where recently a Museum of Still-Lifes was inaugurated) and Artimino, the Quinto Martini Park Museum in Seano and the entire system of protected areas (above all, Monteferrato, Calvana and teh Acquerino-Cantagallo Natural Reserve).
Worthy of mention is the Luicciana Open-Air Museum in Cantagallo, made up of contemporary art installations.
Numerous historical fests and events take place at different points throughout the year. One is the Ostensione della Sacra Cintola in Prato, in which the Holy Belt of the Madonna is shown to the public five times annually (Christmas, Easter, May 1st, August 15th, and at the end of the September 8th Historic Court). Carmignano, rather, hosts the Feast for its Patron Saint, St. Michael; for three days, the main piazza becomes the focal point in town. The same piazza is decorated for the Ancient Fair each December.
The Assedio alla Villa, in Poggio a Caiano (September), is an event that re-evokes the grand celebrations that accompanied the arrival of Joanna of Austria (betrothed to Francesco de' Medici) in Tuscany in 1565.
The historico-religious re-evocation of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ runs every three years (on Maundy Thursday) in Comeana, featuring more than 700 figures that walk the long path to make for a very suggestive display.
The Historic Court of Montemurlo re-evokes the famous battle of 1537 between the exiled Florentines, led by Baccio Valori and Filippo Strozzi (owners of the Villa del Barone and the Villa Strozzi, respectively) and the troops of Cosimo I de' Medici on the last day of the month of June.
In Sant'Ippolito di Vernio, Carnevalino is celebrated on the first Saturday after Ash Wednesday. Pasta embellished with tuna sauce and paired with herring is the symbolic dish of this event.
Finally, every year the first Lent Sunday brings the historical re-enactment of Polenta Fest, or Pulendina, to Vernio.
As with all Tuscan cuisine, the typical dishes of Prato Province are equally-simple, deriving from long-standing traditions that put to use every edible part of the ingredients, wasting as little food as possible.
Prato's specialty is sedano alla pratese (celery), prepared with the softest stalks of the vegetable and filled with chicken livers, veal meatballs, egg yolks and spices, and fried in plenty of oil before being drowned in a meat and tomato sauce. Other tasty basics include classic pasta with beans, farinata (a chick-pea flatbread) with black cabbage, potato-stuffed tortelli (similar to ravioli), rabbit, breadcrumb soup, and ribollita, a stew of carrots, black cabbage, beans, stale bread and various aromas.
Not to be left out are Prato's mortadella and Carmignano's figs.
Among the traditional desserts are Prato's cookies - the mantovana, pesche - the amaretti from Carmignano and the Carmignanini; Vernio's zuccherini; and Calvana's sassi.
Try the extra-virgin olive oil on the typical bread of Prato, the Bozza – as well as the wines of Carmignano (renowned since the Medici heyday), or a Pinot Nero from Bagnolo.