Northern Tuscany… the colossal cultural giant Florence casts a shadow over everything around! Mostly in the neighboring province and the eponymous town Prato. It’s difficult to find a place in Tuscany that isn’t crowded with tourists, but Prato is exactly like that! Therefore we found it an ideal afternoon destination and decided to spend a few hours…
Where is located and how to get there
Prato is close to the most famous Tuscan cities – Pisa (82 km), Siena (79 km) And Lucca (50 km). Florence itself is just 20 km or a 20-minute train ride away. Naturally, this makes it an interesting option for day trips from the big neighboring city. Prato has two train stations, which are within walking distance of the city center.
We arrived in the afternoon, coming from Lucca. The ticket between the two cities cost us 6.90 euro and we had two attachments! We boarded a train from Lucca to Montecatini, from there we had to get out of the station and be taken by specialized bus to Pistoia, from where we could continue again by train to Prato. Italian trains are an interesting experience, but definitely the option to travel by car is better! Still, for timetables and tickets you can easily find your way on the TrenItalia website.
For those arriving by car there are two large parking lots near the – Parcheggio Piazza Mercatale and Parcheggio Porta Fiorentina. The price is identical, but the first is almost always crowded, so I recommend the second.
The two churches – Chiesa di San Francesco and Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Carceri
To start the tour we go to two historic churches, the first is located on Piazza San Francesco – Chiesa di San Francesco. The typical of this area striped marble on the facade it closely resembles the Duomo of Prato, which you will see later. Our attention is drawn mostly to the beautiful colorful fresco above the entrance.
Nearby is the Renaissance church Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Carceri, built on the remains of an ancient prison. Some of Lorenzo di Medici’s closest architects took part in the construction of the basilica.
The castle of the emperor – Castello dell’Imperatore
On the same square is the 13th century Prato Castle, also known as the “Imperial Castle”. Its construction began in the 40st of 13th century by order of Frederick II (Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire), but due to his death the castle never acquired its final appearance. Today the structure is in remarkable condition and is used for various events.
Through Piazza San Marco to Porta Mercatale
We are witnessing a slight change in the facades of the buildings and modern architecture is beginning to prevail. Then we realize that we have reached Piazza San Marco, where the old part of Prato meets the modern one. In its center is a huge modern statue of white marble, called Forma squadrata con taglio.
The brown signs tell us that we have deviated from the main sights, so we turn onto via Mazzini. After a while we find ourselves in the spacious Piazza Mercatale, where in addition to the large parking lot, there is also an oval park with a well-maintained lawn, many cafes and restaurants, and beyond Porta Mercatale are the waters of the river Bizenzio.
💡 Prato is known around the world for its textile industry, whose development in the 12th-13th centuries led to a drastic increase in the number of locals. Today it is the second most populous in Tuscany!
The main square – Piazza del Duomo
The main highlight of the visit to Prato is definitely the central square – Piazza del Duomo! At its center is the beautiful marble fountain Fontana del Pescatorello, the work of local stonemasons. At the top is a statue of a fisherman, and the octagonal basin is decorated with beautifully sculpted swans, which are often confused with ducks and and this is the reason the locals call it Fontana del papero or in translation – the duck fountain.
There are no crowds of tourists here, but all the benches are full of retirees who enjoy a quiet everyday life. The beautiful architecture around the square contributes to the typical Tuscan atmosphere!
St. Stephen’s Cathedral – Cattedrale di Santo Stefano
Undoubtedly impressive is the oldest church in Prato – Cattedrale di Santo Stefano. In its place there was a modest temple from the 6th century, but in the 10th century began the construction of this example of a Romanesque-Gothic building, built more than 200 years ago. I have already mentioned to you the stripes of white and green marble so characteristic of all of Tuscany. It’s also interesting that instead of the typical rosette window, there is a clock on the central facade.
The interior is enriched with beautiful colorful frescoes and exquisite sculptures. The church contains many works of art, but the most impressive is the pulpit of Donatello! The one rising in the corner to the main entrance is a replica, and the original marble masterpiece is kept in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
💡 On September 8 the feast of the Virgin Mary is celebrated and the city acquires a completely different look. A parade of costumes, choreography with flags, archery competitions and a medieval market are just some of the things you can see on the streets of Prato on this day.
Church of Saint Dominic – Chiesa di San Domenico
Another iconic church in Prato is the Chiesa di San Domenico. The church and the adjacent monastery were built in the XIII-XIV century. The medieval facade is interesting, which is covered with marble only in its lower part, and the brickwork is left on top. An event of the Red Cross was being prepared on the square around the church, as far as I understood it was a dinner for the homeless.
City Hall Square – Piazza del Comune
On this square in the heart of the city you will find some interesting things! Here is one of the most impressive public palaces in central Italy – Palazzo Pretorio. In the exquisite medieval building today it houses an art museum. Just opposite it’s the town hall – Palazzo Comunale, which has been used for these purposes since 1287. The pleasant atmosphere is complemented by the fountain (Fontana del Bacchino) and the statue of the local merchant Francesco Datini, who after his death donated almost all his fortune to the development of Prato.
Through the streets of Prato
Although the city is little known today, it still has some of its glorious past in the textile industry. Elegant boutiques of local factories are located in the main streets, where they sell their goods at wholesale prices. It’s they who create a modern vision for him and make it a perfect shopping destination, especially for textiles and footwear.
In Prato you will find many pedestrian areas, alleys and typical Italian streets. It has the magic of Tuscan cities, but it lacks the hustle and bustle of tourists. Be sure to try the most famous biscuits – Biscotti di Prato. They were first produced by Antonio Mattei back in 1858 and are available in the popular store with an unchanged to this day recipe. They are also known as Cantucci or Cantuccini.
Time for dinner
For dinner we had chosen Ristorante Lo Scoglio Prato. It’s located in a building that was a monastery in the XVII century. The atmosphere is nice, we weren’t completely fascinated by the food, but we are also to blame… Especially me, with my choice of pizza… They offer a tasting menu, which is very interesting and would probably be a better choice than pizza…😊
I had marked another place to visit – Giardino Buonamici. After dinner we continued our night walk to the center and saw that the doors of the ancient stone wall were open, so we decided to sneak in to take a look. The garden is an interesting green space that you can’t suspect exists in the center of the old town. The place is used during the warmer months for various concerts, events and often has art installations. There is also a bar, making it the perfect place for an evening cocktail.
Night at the square
There was no way we couldn’t found ourselves again in the central square (Piazza del Duomo). Life is in full swing here! Young and old have a chat after dinner, and the beautiful street lamps create a magical atmosphere! We find a place somewhere around the stairs of the Duomo and just enjoy the rest of our stay in Prato…