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PRATO

Main sights:

- The Duomo (Piazza del Duomo). The outstanding Romanesque- Gothic Cathedral of Prato is devoted to St. Stephen. It was built in the same place where the homonymous High Middle Ages pieve (church) stood. The construction of the current Duomo, which is considered one of the most remarkable religious sites in Tuscany, started in the 13th century after a design attributed to the eminent architect and sculptor Guidetto da Como, though it is known for certain that he conducted the work of the elevated and elegant bell-tower, the internal ensemble of columns and the beautiful Romanesque cloister. The construction of the Cathedral went on until the second half of the 14th century. Then it was enlarged, acquiring its present Gothic features.  
The marvellous façade and the right side of the Cathedral are covered by white and green precious marble stripes, while over the large portal is placed the fine glazed terracotta lunette by the illustrious ceramist and sculptor Andrea della Robbia (1435-1525).
On the external corner of the right side juts the stunning Pulpit of the Sacro Cingolo (the Sacred Girdle), which was built by the great Florentine architect and sculptor Michelozzo di Bartolomeo (1396-1472) and gorgeously carved and ornamented by his brilliant contemporaneous Donatello.
The plant of the Cathedral, shaped by a central nave and two aisles crowned by apses with six arcades supported by green marbles columns subdividing each aisle, is a remarkable example of the Tuscan architecture of those centuries where the first inner structures are ideally equilibrated with the later ones, like the exact transept projected and built by the talented sculptor, architect and painter Giovanni Pisano in the second half of the 14th century.
The most famous chapel hosted in the Duomo is the Cappella della Sacra Cintola, which construction started in 1386 to preserve the girdle of the Holy Virgin, granted by the Virgin to St.Thomas and brought from Constantinople to Prato in the 12th century by Michele Dagomari, a rich merchant, in occasion of one of the recurrent travels to Byzantium carried out by the Pratese merchants. The wonderful chapel, worldwide appreciated as it is the most important objective of Marian pilgrimage in Tuscany, was gorgeously ornamented by the celebrated Tuscan artist Agnolo Gaddi in the last decade of the 14th century, who painted a fresco cycle depicting the story of the Sacra Cintola. The chapel also hosts the wonderful sculptured group of “The Madonna and Child” by Giovanni Pisano.

Among the many remarkable art works hosted in the Duomo, make stand out: the 15th pulpit, shaped like a bell, which is a teamwork by the illustrious Tuscan sculptors Mino da Fiesole and Antonio Rossellino; the splendid 15th fresco cycle by the famous Fra Filippo Lippi, depicting scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist and St. Stephen, hosted in the Cappella Maggiore, and the amazing one painted by the brilliant Paolo Uccello around 1435, depicting scenes from the life of the Holy Virgin and of St. Stephen, preserved in the Cappella dell’Assunta; the spectacular Tabernacle of the Madonna dell’Olivo, carved in 1480 by the celebrated sculptors and architects da Maiano brothers, Giovanni, Giuliano and Benedetto, and the impressing bronzed crucifix placed on the High Altar, sculptured in 1653 by the prestigious Tuscan artist Ferdinando Tacca.

- The Museum of the Cathedral (Piazza del Duomo. Closed on Tuesdays. Entrance ticket: 3 €). The museum is located alongside the Duomo, in the medieval Palazzo Arcivescovile. It preserves an outstanding collection of religious artworks, including paintings, sculptures, furnishing and valued sacred objects, and several masterpieces by Filippino Lippi, Paolo Uccello and Spinello Aretino.

- The Church of Santa Maria delle Carceri (Piazza Santa Maria delle Carceri). Is a splendid Renaissance church with a Greek cross plant, which construction started in 1484, after a design of Giuliano da Maiano, and was completed eleven years later by Giuliano da Sangallo. The church preserves some wonderful art works, like several glazed terracotta created by the Della Robbia artistic dynasty; the spectacular stained glass-windows representing scenes from the life of the Holy Virgin, decorated by the great Florentine painter Domenico Ghirlandaio almost at the end of his life; a beautiful panel representing the “Madonna and Child” from the 14th century, which stands over the High Altar, and a marvellous 19th canvas by the prestigious painter Antonio Marini.

- The Castello dell’Imperatore (Piazza Santa Maria delle Carceri. Closed from October to March. Entrance ticket: 2 €). It is also called “Fortezza di Santa Barbara” and is considered one of the most important fortresses in central-western Italy, not only for being the sole example of the Nordic military architecture in that territory, but as it was commissioned around 1240 by the Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, King of Sicily, from probably the best military architect of the age in Italy, the Sicilian Riccardo da Lentini, who projected the castle and conducted the work assisted by the son of the Emperor.
The magnificent Romanesque-Gotich castle has a squared layout and four massive towers, one on each corner, and includes a superb courtyard where, in summertime, are currently held important concerts and theatre performances.

- The Palazzo Datini (Via Ser Lapo Mazzei. Closed on Sundays. Free Entrance).
The splendid medieval palace was purchased at the end of the 14th century by Francesco Datini (Prato, 1355-1410), the famous banker, who established the cheque as means of payment, as well as art patron and philanthropist, considered by the Pratesi an outstanding man of the city’s history. He helped a large number of needy citizens and humble religious congregations. In his last will Datini donated a great part of his richness to a charitable foundation with site in his palace. When Datini acquired the palace it became the main centre of cultural and economic activity in the town. Datini hosted in his palace several illustrious people, like Francesco I di Gonzaga, Lord of Mantua, and Luigi II d’Anjou, King of Naples, who collaborated with him in the development of the town.
The façade of the beautiful palace was frescoed with refinement, but at present only some fragments are preserved. The marvellous interior houses the famous Archivio Datini, which displays his numerous mercantile documents and private letters, as well as high interesting account and commercial books related to the textile craftsmanship and trading of the age in Prato.

- The Textile Museum (Via Santa Chiara, 24. Entrance ticket: 4 €). Is an exclusive museum which hosts a superb collection of local and foreign textiles and clothes, from everywhere in Italy, Europe, India, China and America, dated for the most part between the 15th and the 19th centuries, though there also is a remarkable selection of very old textiles, which comprises pieces from ancient civilizations.

- The Luigi Pecci Museum of Contemporary Art  (Viale della Repubblica, 277. Closed on Tuesday and Thursday. Entrance ticket: 7 €). The museum is included in a large structure of the amazing and modern architectonical complex, projected by Italo Ciamverini in 1987.
It houses one of the most remarkable collections of contemporary art in Italy. The other structures of the complex are mainly used to hold temporary exhibitions, cultural activities and performances.

 

Where to eat:

- Ristorante “Baghino” (Via dell’Accademia, 9). This formal and beautiful restaurant is considered one of the finest in Prato. It offers an excellent selection of local and Tuscan dishes. Prato’s traditional desserts are absolutely exquisite. Wine list is first-class.
A full meal is around 45 €.
- Ristorante “Lo Scoglio” (Via Verdi, 42). Is a well-known restaurant offering a very good variety of Tuscan specialities, fresh fish dishes and pizzas. Tuscan and local wines are fine.
A full meal is about 40 €.
- Ristorante “Le Anfore” (Via Cambioni, 21/23). Is a pretty restaurant, which cuisine is specialized in fresh fish and in old Tuscan recipes, all of them tastefully prepared.  Wine list is good.
A full meal is around 30/35 €
- Ristorante- Pizzeria “Il Ragno” (Via Valentini, 133). Is a charming both restaurant and pizzeria with a very good fresh fish and a delicious variety of homemade pasta, vegetables and pizzas. Tuscan and local wines are very good.
A full meal is around 30/35 €.
- Osteria “Cibbè” (Piazza Mercatale, 49).  Is a fine, popular and busy tavern, offering a wide range of local and Tuscan specialities. Meat dishes and vegetables are a must. Local wines are superior.
A full meal is about 30/35 €.    
- Trattoria “La Vecchia Cucina di Soldano” (Via Pomeria, 23). Is a popular lovely trattoria, offering an ample and tasty variety of local meat and pasta dishes. Local wines are satisfactory.
A full meal is around 20/25 €.

For more informations on Prato click here


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