The Merchant of Prato

I had never heard of Prato and I bet you haven’t either.  But Florence’s little sister is worth a visit.  It is only about 15 km from Florence and it is charming.  We were unfortunate to be there on a Tuesday when most everything is closed but we still got to see the town.  There are frequent trains to Prato and Prato Centrale is about a 15 minute walk to the historical city center.  The TI is in the city center as well as the cathedral and museums.

One of the first sights you come across is the Emperor’s Castle.  It is only has the walls as the inside was not finished but it is beautiful.  And I bet the views from the top will be magnificent.

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The town has a famous cathedral because the painter Filippo Lippi supposedly had an affair with a nun who posed for the frescoes.  We couldn’t go then because they were saying the mass.

However, the one site that was open and that I was so glad to have visited was the Palazzo Datini.  Francesco Datini was a prosperous merchant who lived in the late 1300s.  He kept such meticulous records that his ledgers and letters have provided some of the most complete insights into the lives of the people of Prato and Tuscany at the time.  It was fascinating to see how far and wide he traded and what he traded.  He was also quite prosperous and generous.  When he died he left his fortune to the poor of the town.  The house does a good job of explaining about the trade and the customs of the time.  His house has some beautiful frescoes.

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After coming home I decided to read more about Francesco Datini.  Iris Origo wrote the book “The Merchant of Prato”.  It is such a fascinating book that makes me want to return to this town to see all the things she wrote about.  It talks about the city’s flourishing textile business and how people lived at that time.  And to think so much of it was taken from Datini’s letters and ledgers which he ordered to be preserved and was probably forgotten under the stairs for about 450 years.

While in Prato be sure to eat some Biscotti di Prato.  Yum!!

Next time I want to visit Florence I’ll stay in Prato.  I can take a train anytime into town, see the sights and come back to some peace and quiet.  I also bet the hotel prices are much lower.  Plus I want to explore the sights that were closed and get to know the merchant of Prato’s town better.  Until next time Prato.  I can’t wait to return.

 

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