The origins of Prato are placed in etruscan age, then absorbed from the roman installation of II century B.C. in the Pagus Cornio, later on destroyed in the greek-gothic war. There are tracks of the etruscan presence in tombs at tumulus and in the necropolis near at the town. Only in the X century the place-name Borgo at the Conio present itself in the story, indicating likely the longobard comunity arose around at the parish of Santo Stefano and confining with a open space occupied from a fort, from which derived the name Pratum. In second half of the XI century happened the fusion of Borgo at the Conio with another nucleus of roman origin arose around at the castle of the Alberti in Vernio, and here appear the Castrum Prati, favorable served from the presence of the river Bisenzio that allowed the early manufacturing development. Around at the Pieve of Santo Strefano the citadel grew thanks at the thriving market of the woollen cloth produced from the craftmen long the banks of Bisenzio: for the centuries to come the spin and the weave will constiute the main resource of Prato. Factor not less main of the social and city aggregation was the presence in Santo Stefano of the Sacra Cintola of the Vergine, very important religious symbol, able to do flow people from every where and favouring municipal, very considerable artistic and social initiatives.
During the XII century Prato, in costant demographic and economical increase and free from the domination of Conti Alberti, become a Common, give itself an adequate administrative organitation and caring the own defence with the building of the city walls and of the towers of guards. After a period of ghibelline predominance, in which Prato was seat of the vicariate imperial of the Tuscany (1239-1250) and Federico of Antiochia, son of Federico II, made build the swabian fortitude on the remainses of the ancient castle, there was a short form of popular government and then the guelphs took again the power at the death of the great emperor.In 1292 are issued antimagniatizi measures (Ordinamenti Sacrati) to brake the interference of the rich in the municipal business. At the beginning of the fourteenth century are recognizable also in Prato the disagreements between White and Black guelph, in spite of this the business, the manifacture of cloth and the "mercatura" was developed further on. The foreign politics of Prato is ready characterized from the everlasting hostility with Pistoia and from the consequent alliance with Florence, that allowed at the pratese Common cut out notable spaces of autonomy on the own region, also thanks at the dynamism of its entrepreneurial, warlike and highly productive class.
In spite of the ancient alliance of Prato with Florence, in the XIV century this last town admired always more assure the dominion on the allied, also because, with all that the traffics and the business prospered, there were dangerous tensions and civil fights between the local hamlet. The interference of Florence obliged Prato, between 1313 and 1319, to place itself under the protectorate of Roberto of Angiò, king of Naples, and then under that of the prince Carlo, that at his death could not hinder that Florence returned at the attack, attaching military Prato. Giovanna of Naples surrendered the rights on Prato at the florentine, that of it maintained the control also allowing at the Common a certain politics and administrative autonomy. The vitality of its town-dwellers did go not loser, which built new walls, and in spite of the epidemics that provoked more dead (1348) the cultural life born from the economical daring was enriched of renowned names: from Cardinale Nicolò Albertini, at the franciscan theologian Ugo Panziera, at the merchant-writers Francesco di Marco Datini and Lapo Mazzei, witnesses of the entrepreneurial and intellectual liveliness sprung from art and merchandise.
If in the XV century Prato lived a period of crisis for the manufacturing activity, the renaissance culture was instead a big season, flaunting names and works of Paolo Uccello and Filippo Lippi ( pictorial cycles in the Cathedral), Donatello and Michelozzo (outer pulpit of the cathedral), the building of the Church of the Carceri etc. The fall and the banishment of Medici from Florence has like tragic repercussion for Prato the invasion of the spanish troops of the papal army, that in 1512 sacked fiercely the town, provoking death and destruction in their attempt direct themselves in Florence to restore the Mediceo power. Only at the end of the century the pratesi were able to cure that large wound and restore the just course of the economical activity.
The scientific progress of the seventeenth century favours the cultural initiatives with the birth in Prato of academies, theatres, colleges, seminars and libraries and with the application of technological innovations for the spinning and the dyeing of the clothes. The medicean management lets the place at the gran duchy and in 1653 Prato sees partially satisfied its ambition at the diocesean dignity, adding itself like titular at the pistoiese throne of San Zeno and rising itself at the rank of true and own town. It seems that was a economical collapse when a medicean law, to protect the wool mill of Florence, imposes at the pratesi to produce clothes of low market and of little income but instead the pratesi "lanaioli" change the production and find new markets, succeeding still to excel. In the XVIII century the Tuscany passes under the domination of Lorena (1737), matter that caarries at considerable administrative and jurisdictional reforms that are useful Prato, benefit from the interest of Pietro Leopoldo that motivates the economical development and builts the clerical structures of the state, failing in this last exploit. The machines generated a new productive system, launching Prato in the international markets (typical the production of the headgear fez and the rigenaration of texile products at the aim to obtain new spuns and materials).
The industrial development and the introduction of the mechanical looms carries at the flap the proletarian question also in Prato, favouring the birth of a politics class of socialist type. Are born economical-social structures that favour the industrial growth and the modernization of the town (most direct railway and new railway station of 1934). During the two wars Prato endured a lot of destructions, from which it was rose with the usual dynamism going foward at favorable conditions of market that produced a bulky immigration from the Tuscany and from the rest of Italy. The texile production differed itself in the Sixty and Seventy years, favouring the requests with products always more various and fine. In 1992 Prato became capital of Province and main tourist centre, areas still in way of important development.
Already at the first look Prato enchants the visitor: it is a attractive town, plowed from the river Bisenzio, with churches and palaces, ancient houses, green wide areas and well 40 kilometres of cycling tracks that do of Prato one of the most livable town of Italy. Between monuments and the Churches it enumerates true and own works of art like the Cathedral of Santo Stefano, Patron of the town, built in its aboriginal nucleus in 994 and broadened and enriched in the centuries, until to assume, in 1457 the present appearance; at its indoor there are frescos of Paolo Uccello, Filippo Lippi, paintings of Giovanni Pisano and Agnolo Gaddi and is preserved the "Sacra Cintola of Maria", the belt that the Vergin, for the apocrifi sacred texts, has given at San Tommaso in the moment of his ascent and that arrived at the town of Prato in 1141, carried from the local merchant Michele. He, left in 1096 at the direction of the Holy Land (it is not clearly if to partecipate at the war of to practise simply the mercatura of furs), lived at long in East, married Maria, daughter of a priest of eastern rite, and had like settlement from the parents of her their most precious treasure, exactly the Sacra Reliquia, devotedly handed down until from when San Tommaso left Jerusalem for his papal mission. Unaware of the real nature of the things, Michele came back in Prato, establishing the continuance of the miracles and portents that convinced him of the sacrility of the Cintola. At point of death, in 1173, he entrusted it at Uberto, prefered from the parish of Santo Stefano, so that kept it. Ever since the Cintola of Maria has protected and defended Prato from the assaults of enemies, in particular of pistoiesi, arriving directly "prevent" to be victim of the canonical of the parish Giovanni of Ser Landetto, that payed his sacrilegious deed with the torture and the life. The public authority ordered the composition of a laus civitatis, the "Cincturale", that established the terms of the legend of Michele and fused the story of the relic with the politics story of the town, exalting thanks at this sacred treasure its dignity in comparison with Pistoia and Florence; still now, like five centuries ago, in the festivity of Christmas, Easter, May 1st and August 15, other that in good form september 8, the bishop shows the Sacro Cingolo at the believers, making three times the turn of the outer pulpit of Donatello at left of the facade of the Cathedral.
Going away oneself from square of the Cathedral in Garibaldi road there is the Politeama Theatre and then the oratory of the Madonna of the Buonconsiglio that keeps the shovel of altar in majolica of the late Fifteenth century work of Andrea della Robbia.
In the end at Garibaldi road there is the immense Mercatale square, until of the antiquity seat of commercial exchanges; a door in the wall of the XIV century, does access at the bridge on Bisenzio; in the square there are besides, between buildings invigorated one time, the Gini palace and the church of San Bartolomeo with sculptures and paintings from the XIV at the XVII century.
A little distance from the big square raises the imposing Castello of the Imperatore built about at the half of 1200, in ancient times connected at the fortifications of the town from the Cassero, a kind of covered "passage", delimeted from two wall and provided also of a superior communication trench adorned from guelph battlements. At side of the Castle there is Santa Maria delle Carceri square where is appeared the homonymous Basilica; continuing for San Bonaventura road arrives in San Francesco square dominated from the Church dedicated at the Holy of the late Thirteenth century with facade in marble at two colours and that accomodates at own inside the funeral monument of Geminiano Inghirami, attributed at the Rossellino. Coming on to Rinaldesca road that is open on the side north-east of the square, in succession there are Palazzo Datini and Palazzo Alberti (seat of the Alberti Gallery, picture-gallery that preseves works of large quality); arrived on the Banchelli road, turning at right arrives Cicognini College, built like monastery, the structure has then accomodated from 1676 a College of the Padri Gesuiti and since 1882 is Convitto Nazionale where studied, between the other, Gabriele D'Annunzio and Tommaso Landolfi; now there are little ten of metres from the hexagonal circuit of fourteenth-century wall that surround almost for whole the historical center and that are of great suggestion, deserving a visit.
Very rich is also the patrimony of the museums of the town, where can be admired works of sacred art, renaissance paintings, of the Seventeenth century and the Eighteenth century, wotks of '800, sculptures and things of minor arts: eighteenth century ceramics, risorgimento arms, customs of Gonfalonieri; besides in the Museo of the Tessuto, sole in its kind in Italy, an homage at the production "queen" of the zone: over 6.00 patterns of different materials, ancients and moderns, supported from reperts of industrial archaelogy of the area.
The territory of the province offers cue for naturalistic visits and enogastonomic itineraries, but also splendid Ville Medicee, ancient parishes, thriving agricultural firms and wine cellars.
The territory produces a good quantity of grapes from which is produced the well-known Vin Santo, white sweet things and aromatic wine that accompanys small biscuits with almonds, the Cantucci. The cookery is simple, connected at the earth and the agriculture, with genuine aromas: soups, canapés with patè of liver of chicken, legumes.