Prato is situated in the heart of Tuscany, along the shores of the river Bisenzio, where there is an evidenced presence of a settlement built in the Bronze Ages.
Over the centuries Prato was inhabited by Etruscans and Romans. During the Roman Empire the city received an important growing impulse thanks to the building of the "Via Clodia", an extension of the "Via Cassia" between Florence and Luni, which was, already at the time, a rich trading route. In 570 Prato was invaded by the Longobardi and later in the VIII century the city was occupied by the Carolingi.
The first written traces of the history of Prato are of the IX century, when in the district of Cornio, of probable Longobardo origins, the Church "Pieve of Santo Stefano" was built. In the second half of the XI century, the inhabitants of the area with some other settlers of Roma origins built together the district of "Castrum Prati" near the walls of Castle of the Alberti. Enlarged and fortified with Federico II of Svevia, the city was later ruled by Florence and was embellished with villas, mansions and important buildings.
The Cathedral of Santo Stefano, mentioned since 994, presents a simple and elegant Romanesque-Gothic style structure with an exterior dual color (bicromia), obtained from the use of "alberese" white stone and "serpentine" green colour marble of Monferrato.
The most important building process was made in the XII century and it regards the right-hand side and the bell tower, finished in 1356. The façade, was completed between 1385 and 1457. Between the important masterpieces preserved inside the Cathedral there are: the Stories of Saint Stefano and Saint John the Baptist (a sequence of paintings with a very famous one of the Banquet of Erode, featuring the dance of Salomé), painted by the artist Filippo Lippi and his apprentices (1452-65), which decorate the Major Chapel; the Stories of the Madonna and the "Sacra Cintola", translated Holy Belt (1392-95) of Agnolo Gaddi and his workshop, which are located in the Chapel of the Sacra Cintola and the Stories of the Madonna and Saint Stefano, assigned and completed by Paolo Uccello (1397-1475), which are in the Chapel dell'Assunta. Not to miss are the important sculptures of: the "Tabernacolo of the Madonna dell'Ulivo" (1480) of the "da Maiano" brothers: Giuliano, Giovanni and Benedetto; "The Madonna and Child" of Giovanni Pisano and the "Bronze Cross" on the Altar (1653) of Ferdinando Tacca.
Near to the Cathedral, the Bishop's Palazzo, with its Medieval structure and Romanesque cloister, hosts the Cathedral's Artwork Museum.
Not to forget: the Church of San Francesco, same dual colour (bicromia) exterior as the Cathedral; the Basilica of Santa Maria dell e Carceri, the Church of San Domenico (XIII century); the Emperor's castle, one of the most significant architectonic examples of the North-central Italian academies which developed at the times of Federico II; the Palazzo Datini, the Town Hall, the Palazzo Pretorio, the Wall Frescos Museum, the Civic Museum and the Theatre Metastasio.