A Brief Background
Prato is a small but thriving Tuscan city, with a beautiful historic centre and a vibrant cultural and economic life. Famous since the renaissance for its textile industry and still renowned for its manufacture of fine Italian fabrics. The city has a population of some 180,000 inhabitants. A growing percentage of these are immigrants from mainland China, the Indian sub-continent, north and west Africa and elsewhere. The story of textiles in Prato is told in its textile museum. The communal, provincial and regional governments, are progressive in outlook and active in European community affairs. They have welcomed the presence of an Australian academic institution, Monash University, in the heart of their city. For further information about the city, visit Prato's Civic Net site.
The City, Its Monuments and Historical Buildings
Prato has a rich legacy of historical buildings and monuments including: a mid 13th century castle built by the Hohenstaufen Emperors; almost perfectly preserved medieval walls which enclose the ancient city centre; a Romanesque cathedral dedicated to San Stefano with an external pulpit by Donatello and Michelozzo and internal frescos by the great renaissance artist, Filipo Lippi; the church of S.Maria delle Carceri by Giuliano San Gallo; and the well preserved Palazzo Datini, the fifteenth century home of the famous 'Merchant of Prato', Francesco Datini. The city is also home to the prestigious Contemporary Art Centre 'Luigi Pecci' and to the highly acclaimed avant-garde theatre 'Metastasio'.
The best way to see these monuments and learn their rich history is to take a map of the centro storico (historic centre/old town) and follow one of the itineraries prepared by the City Council of Prato or the Prato Tourist Board.
For a brief introduction to Prato, download the following brochure:
- Prato Brochure: Part 1 [1.02mb]
- Prato Brochure: Part 2 [707k]
- Prato Brochure: Part 3 [622k]
- Prato Brochure: Part 4 [932k]
An Iconic Site in the Development of Modern Commerce
During his lifetime, Prato citizen Francesco Datini (1335-1410) built a trading empire with agents in most major cities of Europe. He is credited with inventing the bill of exchange, both for the purposes of lending money and for the transfer of funds in different currencies. In these respects, Datini and his home town of Prato play a central role in the development of modern international commerce and banking. The bill of exchange could not bear interest given the ban on usury by the medieval church. However, people like Datini, acting as de facto bankers, could make a profit from the transaction through differential exchange rates.
When he died, Datini left his enormous wealth of 70,000 gold florins to the poor of Prato. He also left nearly 140,000 business letters and 503 files of commercial documents. These were stored under a stairway in a space that was later bricked up, not to be rediscovered until 1870. These records provide extraordinary insights into life in late medieval and early renaissance Italy. The house where Francesco Datini lived is now a museum. The Francesco Datini International Institute for Economic History in Prato, houses the Datini archive.
- Getting to Prato
- Prato is 15 minutes by taxi from Florence (Firenze) airport. For instructions on how to get to Prato, visit the Towards Prato page on the Prato Civic Net site.
Prato has two train stations: Prato Centrale (10-15 minutes walk from the Centre) and the smaller Prato Porta al Serraglio (3-5 minutes walk from the Centre). Two major railway lines service the province of Prato: the Bologna-Firenze line and the Firenze-Lucca line. The Bologna-Firenze line only stops at Prato Centrale. The Firenze-Lucca line, which continues to Pisa and the seaside town of Viareggio, stops at both stations.
- Trains from Prato Centrale to Florence run approximately every 15 mins until 10.30pm. However at mid morning and lunchtime they are less frequent. Trains from Porta al Serraglio are less frequent in the evenings.
- Trains to Prato Centrale from Florence finish at 10.30pm (although there is one at 12.35am). Services to Porta al Serraglio finish at 9.15pm (but there is a service at 12.35am).
- The return price of the train between Prato and Florence is about 3 Euros, but this is for a regionale (regional) train only. Expect to pay more for an intercity (IC) train.
- Local bus companies CAP and Lazzi provide bus services within the Province of Prato and to Florence. CAP is the most common service within Prato. Tickets for these buses can be bought either at the edicola (newsstands) or the tabaccaio (tobacconist). You can buy as many tickets as you need and then validate a ticket on the bus (have the machine stamp your ticket) as you travel. For information about bus timetables go to the following websites:
- Taxis are expensive in Prato as in the rest of Italy. A taxi from the Prato Centrale station to the Monash Centre will cost about 8 Euros. A taxi to Prato from Florence airport will cost about 30 Euros. Taxis ranks are located at the central train station and Piazza Duomo.
- Car Rental
- Avis Viale della Repubblica, 289. Ph: 0574 596619
- Hertz Via Valentini 60. Ph: 0574 611287
- Bicycle Hire
- There are designated paths along the river and on some of the roads around the historic centre. A bicycle hire company, Pedala, is located by the river on Viale Galilei. You can walk (20 minutes from the Monash Centre) or take Bus 13 to get there. For long term hire, try Platform 3000. Their rates for a street bike are 30 Euros per week.
- What to do - Out of Prato
From Prato there are many great Italian towns and cities that are easily visited by train.
- The best way to find out about Florence's innumerable offerings is to go to the tourist information office at Via Cavour, 1r. Open: Monday to Saturday 8.30-18.30 Sundays and public holidays from 8.30-13.30 Also, http://www.aboutflorence.com or http://www.studentsville.it/.
- Day Trips from Prato
- Many of Italy's most popular towns are easily reached by train from Prato. Rome 2hrs 20mins (from Florence on the Eurostar) Bologna 45mins - 1hr Pisa 1hr 30mins Lucca 55 mins Viareggio (seaside town) 1hr 15 mins For further details go to the trenitalia website http://trenitalia.it/
- July Events in Tuscany
- Pelago 'On the Road' International Buskers Festival. Pelago, 40 minutes from Florence towards Arezzo, annually holds a competition for buskers. Known throughout Europe.
- Pistoia Jazz and Blues Festival. Past acts have included Van Morrison, BB King, Albert King and Deep Purple.
- Mercantia International Theatre Festival Certaldo Season of theatre performances, street theatre, street parades, wine and food tasting.
- Torre del Lago Puccini Festival. Open-air performances of Puccini operas and plays in the small town just out of Lucca.
Out and About in Prato
Usually shops are open during the following hours:
- Monday 16.00-19.30
- Tuesday - Saturday 8.30/9.30-13.00, and 16.00-19.30.
- Clothing stores may open later (between 9.00 and 10.00).
- Most other stores will open between 8.30 and 9.00.
Centro di Scienze Naturali
Via di Galceti, 74.
Ph: 0574 460503. Opening Hours Weekdays: 9.30-12.30 /15.00-18.00. Weekends: 15.00-18.00 - Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
A centre for the care and rehabilitation of animals, the park is over 8 hectares and has pedestrian paths throughout, allowing visitors to see a wide variety of flora and fauna. There's also a Natural Science Museum and a planetarium. The park is easily reached from the Prato Central Train Station on CAP bus #13 or check the website for more information.
- Swimming Pool
- Piscina Pubblica di Prato. Via Roma. It takes a good 20 minutes walk to get there, and on a hot summer day it can be very crowded. Day pass only is available for approx. 7 Euros, and you will need to wear a bathing cap (can be bought at the pool).
- Palagym. Via Costantini 24. Ph: 0574 595 855
- Where to Eat in Prato
Listed below is a selection of restaurants, cafes, bars and gelaterias which have been tried and recommended by the Monash Centre. Many restaurants are closed on Tuesdays and some on Mondays.
- Piazza Mercatale 38/39. Ph: 0574 39023. Delicious wood oven pizzas at a reasonable price, plus other main dishes including seafood.
- Antica Fiaschetteria
- Piazza Lippi 4. Ph: 0574 41225. This is easily the best medium priced restaurant in Prato. Mostly southern Italian inspired cooking. The service is friendly and there are a good range of wines available.
- La Veranda
- Via dell'Arco 10 (just off Piazza San Marco). Ph: 0574 38235. Serves typical Tuscan dishes and a wide variety is available. Efficient service with menus in English if needed. Main courses priced slightly higher than 'trattoria' prices.
- Il Rifrullo
- Piazza Mercatale 18/19. Ph: 0574-25062. Simple pizzeria, but good, cheap entrees and big sized pasta/rice portions. Pizzas also good and inexpensive. Can take larger groups. Outdoor section available.
- King's Pub
- Via Garibaldi 148 (at the Piazza Mercatale end of the street). Ph:0574 28641. Serves pizzas, hamburgers and pasta dishes for a reasonable price.
- Trattoria Pizzeria "Maria" 8 Lanterne Blu
- Viccolo degli Arrigoni 2 (off Via Firenzuola). Ph: 0574 331 139. Serves wood fired pizza and calzone. Reasonably priced with good sized portions.
- Via Mazzini 37-39. Ph: 0574 400730. Quick service and thin crust pizzas at a good price. They also serve a variety of crepes.
- Ristorante Porta al Serraglio
- Via Cavallotti 36. Ph: 0574-30849. Good food with a variety of entrees and mains as well as a good wine list. Indoor or outdoor (in a marquee) tables. A reasonably priced eatery. Better for small groups.
- La Buchina degli Angeli
- Piazza Mercatale 134. Ph: 0574442922. From the outside it looks small but unfolds with room after room, including a large elevated outdoor dining space. Good choice and mid range prices.
- Osteria Cibbe
- Piazza Mercatale, 49. Ph: 0574607509. Small restaurant serving typical Tuscan cuisine. Booking recommended.
- Lo Scoglio
- Via Verdi 42. Ph: 057422760. This restaurant serves big pizzas, a range of pasta dishes, plus an assortment of main courses and side dishes. They also have local wines plus decent house wines. Prices are quite reasonable, but service can be 'off-hand'. Can take large bookings.
- Something Different
- Via Dei - Sei (off Via Garibaldi). Take away which makes very good falafel and kebabs. Friendly owner. Opens from 16.30 till late.
- China Town
- Via G. Mazzini 38. Ph: 0574 604862. Chinese restaurant and take away close to the Monash Centre. Cheap with 'meal deals' available.
- Rosticceria Cinese
- Via Santa Margherita (near Piazza Mercatale). Good, cheap take away Chinese food.
Dove Si Mangia Bene - Higher Quality (and price) Restaurants
- Ristorante Pirana
- Via G Valentini 110. Ph: 0574 25746. A seafood restaurant often recommended on internet restaurant guides to Tuscany.
- Ristorante Baghino
- Via Accademia 9. Ph: 0574 27920. Another restaurant favourably mentioned by various internet sites. One minute from the Monash Centre.
- Ristorante Tonio
- Piazza Mercatale 161. Ph: 0574 21266. Excellent if pricey seafood restaurant.
- La Fontana
- Via di Canneto, 3, Prato. Ph: 0574 27282. Located ten minutes drive from the centre in the hills above Prato, La Fontana specialises in meat based Tuscan dishes including the famous 'Fiorentina' steak. Another speciality is souffle (chocolate or orange) which must be ordered at the time of making your reservation. Expect to pay between 35-60 Euros per person. Bookings strongly recommended.
- Cafe/Deli Forno
- Via Garibaldi 41. Ph: 0574 21873. Bakery which will also make up simple sandwiches with mortadella, prosciutto or ham.
- Blue Night
- Piazza Mercatale. Simple place open late. Offers hamburgers and hot dogs, with bottled beer available.
- Bar Maracaibo
- Via Cairoli 15. Ph: 0574 26319. Offers lunch (half portions available) and small snacks. Eat-in area at the back of cafe or tables outside during summer.
- Antico Caffe
- Via Garibaldi 140. Zona Piazza Mercatale. Ph: 0574 23897. Recommended for lunch. Reasonably priced and food is good.
- Pizzeria Miky
- Via Garibaldi 142. Pizza by the slice, reasonable prices. Open late.
- Bar Formica
- Via Mazzoni (at the end of Via Dell'Accademia in front of the Centre). Fresh rolls, excellent coffee and lots of chocolate are available. Friendly service. International telephone cards are also available here.
- Via Magnolfi. (opposite the train station Porta al Serraglio). Inspired by the film, this pasticceria (cake and pastry shop) serves all types of hot chocolates including with chilli. A range of delicious pastries and cakes is also available. The shop is beautifully fitted out, but prices are still reasonable.
- Sopratutto Libri
- Corso Mazzoni 27. Ph: 0574 440821. Inside the bookshop is a bar which has a good selection of pastas and salads at reasonable prices. Half portions are also available.
- Gelateria L'Emporio. Via Ricasoli 142. Very popular and open until late. Fresh fruit flavours and very reasonable prices.
- Polo Nord
- Via Garibaldi 112. A small range of flavours, but excellent quality.
- Bartolini Roberta
- Via Cairoli 21. A good range of flavours and sizes with reasonable prices. Just down from Hotel Flora.