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Prato

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Inhabitants in 1991: 165.707

The municipal territory of Prato extends for 97,59 square kilometres in the plains of the Val di Bisenzio. Feudal dominion, then free municipality subdivided into urban boroughs called Eighths (Porta San Giovanni, Porta Travaglio, Porta Gualdimare, Porta Fuia, Porta Santa Trinita, Porta a Corte, Porta Capo di Ponte, Porta Tiezi) and in neighbourhoods (Santo Stefano, Santa Maria, Santa Trinita, San Marco), Prato – from 1863 had the official denomination of “Prato in Toscana” and returned definitely to being simply Prato in 1931 - it reached its present day territorial aspect in 1949, when the districts of Vaiano and Solignano were detached from it and became an autonomous municipality denominated Vaiano.

It seems to have been ascertained that in the Prato area there was in ancient times a settlement first Ligure then Etrusco (VII-V cen. B.C.) and finally the so called “pagus Cornius Romano” (Roman village called Pagus) and that the habitation had been destroyed in the VI century during the Greek-Gothic war. A long time passed before Prato reappeared, in the history of the X century, when it resulted as being organised in two distinct nuclei: the castle of the Counts Alberti and the Borgo al Cormo, developed around the parish church of Santo Stefano. In the second half of the XI century, for the notable influx of immigrants from the nearby countryside, the habitation by now extended and constituted as a single body, was surrounded by walls, and the Alberti were the definitive Counts of Prato by Imperial Investiture; The power of these descendents was such that Matilde di Toscana and her allies, according to the chronicle source, besieged Prato and razed it to the ground in 1107. Probably destroying the walls but the inhabited centre survived since in 1142 we have the first mention of the municipal consuls, an organisation which took on an antagonistic function when confronted with the authorities, the Bishop of Pistoia and the Alberti (who finished by ceding their rights as Earls to the Emperor in the second half of the XII century); meanwhile between the end of the XII century and the start of the XIII a new circle of walls was erected with a perimeter of around 1700 metres. After a phase in which the consuls guiding the municipality alternated with local and foreign Podestas, from 1224 the Podesta institution was stable and Prato in these years saw the relentless struggles between the two camps of the Guelfi and the Ghibellini. They were in favour of the family Sveva in the fourth and fifth decades of the 1200s, when Federico d’Antiochia, son of Federco II and his vicar in Toscana, had the castle constructed known as “dell’imperatore” (The Emperor’s) – from 1252 it was governed by a first governor of the people, from 1260 to 1267 by a Ghibellino government, then by a Guelfi regime: in 1285 it installed a new regime of the eight defenders, with a government composed only of the people which in September 1292 promulgated a collection of dispositions (the Sworn Regulations) intended to discriminate the magnates, that is the exponents of the traditional patronage of the city.

At the start of the 1300s, Prato could claim to have managed, in one and a half centuries to conquer, starting from scratch, notable autonomous space compared to the nearby Pistoia and Firenze (however it rarely left the wake of the latter in its political choice), having a small district, it possessed a higher number of inhabitants to that of “ancient” Pistoia and Arezzo, it had a management class consisting of a large and fortified representation of productive rank and in this period realised several of its most significant architectural works, from palaces of the powerful laity to the churches of San Francesco and San Domenico, and to the squares of the Parish and the Market. It then seemed that Firenze was no longer content to have Prato as an ally and tended towards annexation, forcing it for long periods of protectorate, to free itself of this the governing Pratesi first offered the Lordship to Roberto d’Angiò (from 1313 to 1319) and then – when the Toscani Guelfi were busy with a decisive encounter with Castruccio Castracani Lord of Lucca and Pistoia – from 1327 they gave the perpetual Lordship to the Angioino Prince Carlo and his descendants. The premature death of Carlo (1328) and the absence and lack of interest by his inheritors made it into a mediocre remedy which did not free Prato from the Fiorentina threats.

In 1343 a Magnate family from Prato, the Guazzalotti took over power, with the indispensable consent of the Fiorentini, in July 1350, but Firenze occupied Prato militarily, threw out the Guazzalotti and to save form and the good relationship with the Angioini, acquired the Pratese land in 1351 generously giving 17,500 florins to the Queen Giovanna di Napoli. From then having conserved a certain administrative autonomy, Prato followed the fate of the Toscano capital, without any serious intolerance (if one exempts the attempts to reconquer it by Iacopo Guazzalotti from 1351 to 1353, and an anti-Medicea revolt in 1470), but they were certainly condemned to a condition of subordination which would became difficult above all from the end of the XV century. In 1384 the long work of the last surrounding walls was completed (a perimeter of 4,500 metres) which encompassed enormous areas of greenery since Prato had also suffered in this decade a radical demographic re-dimensioning. In 1512 it suffered a pillage of unprecedented ferocity by the Spanish troops who had come to restore the Podesta of the Medicea Lords. In 1653, managing to obtain only part of the for centuries sought after objective, Prato was designated diocese in union (and equal grade) with Pistoia, even if the Bishop continued to reside practically always in the other Seat; however it was thus possible for the Grand Duke Ferdinando II to concede it the title of city. If in the XVI and XVII centuries Prato lived a torpid life, already in the 1700s it began to draw out the hypothesis of the modern city, with the economic, cultural and political growth of the new middle class, protagonists of the 1800s development. These developments in their own way gave proof of the excessive discussions which divided the city and gave start to the revolts of May 1787 against the Ecclesiastic reforms wanted by Bishop Scipione dei Ricci and the growing fortunes of the Cicognini college launched as being one of the most prestigious Italian schools.

The XIX century opened with favourable prospects on which the political incidents had little effect, not during the period of French government nor that of the successive phase of the Lorensi restoration, to whom however must be given the merit of having motivated manufacture and trade. Despite this Prato actively participated in the movement for the unity of Italy, with a well fuelled group of patriots, among whom in the forefront were Piero Cironi and Giuseppe Mazzoni, one of the three heads of the provisional Toscano government in 1848. After the Union the leadership of the municipality was alternated between moderate administration and radical democratic, which kept the local dialectic politics lively. This was more acute because Prato was in full industrial development and characterised by the presence of the always more extensive working class, between the end of the 1800s and the start of the 1900s, there was the first big strike of the weavers; in 1919, at the first universal suffrage election the socialist party had 63% of the votes and the peoples party 22%. This did not stop, a few years later, a rapid turn to Fascism by the city, but there remained nuclei of opposition to the regime which was able to furnish a valid contribution to the clandestine struggles and the Liberation, which came on the 5 September 1944 with the intervention, first by the partisan formations and then, by the allied troops. After the war, from 1948 characterised by an uninterrupted series of municipal administrations by the left, it overcame, in a brief period, the phase of reconstruction of the war damage which had had a heavy toll on buildings and machinery.

The socio-economic physiognomy of Prato was later accentuated, and in consequence of the industrial fortune (which had alternate periods of great expansion and phases of negative circumstances) had expanded the numbers of inhabitants through migratory fluxes from the neighbouring towns above all from the south; while the city was enlarged with the construction of numerous peripheral quarters, they completed a series of interventions in the centre of restoration, retraining programmes and street furniture. Perhaps motivated by the wish to contradict the image of a city dedicated only to material work and to earnings, Prato, in the last thirty years is marked for a series of initiatives and manifestations which has qualified it also as a cultural centre on international level.

Among the illustrious men born in Prato one must remember Cardinal Niccolò Albertini da Prato, authoritative politician of his time but no one listened to him in his home town (died 1321); Ugo Panziera, theologian and Francescano missionary (died 1322); Paolo dell'Abbaco, mathematician (1281 ca.-1365 ca.); Convenevole da Prato, grammatist, maestro del Petrarca (cen. XIV); lacopo di Zarino Guazzalotti, Cavalier (sec. XIV); Merchant par excellence Francesco di Marco Datini (1335 ca.-1410) and his friend notary Ser Lapo Mazzei (died 1412); man of letters and architecto Giovanni Gherardi (1367-1444); artist Filippino Lippi (1457-1504); Cesare Guasti, archivist and historian (1822-1888); dramatist Sem Benelli (1877-1949); writer Curzio Malaparte (1898-1957).

It's easily reached by the A11 Firenze-Mare highway which goes to Versilia and was built in the 1930s.
At various points in its history Prato has been extremely important for its textile production, both nationally and at a European level. From a logistical point of view, it also has the advantage of being located on the Firenze-Bologna rail line. It's halfway between Firenze and Pistoia, and the three cities together make up what on paper is called the Firenze-Prato-Pistoia "metropolitan area".

Always a source of conflict between Firenze and Pistoia, it lost its independence to Firenze in the middle of the 14th century, and its business and economy subsequently went into decline. One of the most well-known figures in its economic development was the banker and merchant Francesco Datini, who invented the bill of exchange.
Although Prato is popularly known more for its economic importance than for its architecture, there are in fact many culturally interesting monuments in the city.

Places to visit:
Emperor’s Castle, Impressive construction built for Federico the Great in around 1250. It had remained cut of, but successively was joined to the 1300s walls. In the 1700 it underwent several modifications. Has a large internal courtyard used for manifestations.
Piazza del Comune, king pin of the city, has a particular L formation. In 1896 a statue of Francesco di Marco Datini was placed there. The most important buildings face onto it.
Palazzo Comunale, 1200s construction, it was radically remodelled in the 1700s. Some of the original construction has been preserved. In the atrium the original fountain of Bacchino by Ferdinando Tacca is preserved, and there are precious paintings preserved in the interior of the palace.
Palazzo Pretorio, positioned opposite the Palazzo Comunale, it was constructed in two phases,. The oldest conserves the tower house construction from the 1200s while the other part was constructed in the 1300s. From 1912 it hosts the Civic Museum, an important collection of works of art from various eras.
Palazzo Datini, acquired at the end of 1300s, as residence of the famous banker Francesco Datini. It had the façade delicately frescoed but now there are only a few fragments remaining. The elegant interior host the precious Archivio Datini, with the private and mercantile correspondence (from 1382 to 1410) of the banker and a vast sample book of fabrics of the time.
“Luigi Pecci” Contemporary Art Centre, an important collection of contemporary art donated to the Prato municipality by Enrico Pecci. The centre also includes the Museum of Contemporary art.
Palazzo degli Alberti, erected in the 1400s on a preceding structure and now the Seat of a Bank, where there is organised a collection of art which can be visited by appointment.
Palazzo of the Roncioniana Library, erected in 1700s to contain the vast collection of Marco Concioni, which today counts 75 thousand volumes and diverse precious manuscripts and codex.
Piazza del Duomo, of 1300s origin, in 1800 a fountain and monument to Giuseppe Mazzoni were placed there. Other than the Cathedral, the 1700s Palazzo Dragoni and Palazzo Verri face onto it
Cathedral, founded before the year one thousand and built from 1211, it has the façade and the right side of striped white and green marble, where the pulpit of Sacro Cingolo by Donatello and Michelozzo from 1400 sticks out: on the right side is the elegant 1200s bell tower. The three nave interior of the Cathedral is divided with columns of green marble; the most important chapel is that which holds the Sacro Cingolo (relic of the Sacra Cintola donated to S. Tommaso by the Virgin Assunta), finely frescoed by Agnolo Gaddi: while the Chapel Major shows frescoes by Filippo Lippi. Precious vestments and other works of art beautify the interior of the Cathedral.
Museum of the Cathedral works, in the Episcopal Palace, it conserves precious works of art by the great artists, such as Donatello, Paulo Uccello, Filippo Lippi and others.
Santa Maria delle Carceri, church projected in 1485 by Giuliano da Sangallo, and an admirable example of Renaissance architecture; it conserves precious terracotta by Andrea della Robbia. It takes its name from the place which in precedence held the prison.
San Francesco, situated in the same name square, of 1200 origin, it has white and green marble decorating the façade, with a gothic style portico. The single nave interior and three Gothic chapels at the base has been strongly impoverished by restoration works at the beginning of the 1900s.
San Domenico, is an important Gothic style building characterised on the left side by a very high mullioned window and a marble door; it is dominated by a 1300s bell tower. The interior was remodelled in Baroque from in the middle of the 1600s. The Chapter House is completely frescoed.

Historical info reproduced upon authorization of Regione Toscana - Dipartimento della Presidenza E Affari Legislativi e Giuridici
Translated by Ann Mountford
Picture by Sandro Santioli

 
 
 
   
 
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