The first work of architecture we find along via Roma is the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Soccorso, at the corner with via del Ceppo, outside Porta S. Trinita. Like other Tuscan churches, this sanctuary was built to protect a tabernacle that was the site of a miracle.
Legend says that on November 6, 1570, a shepherdess was caught in a terrible storm, so she took refuge in this small aedicule, which contained an image of the Virgin Mary nursing baby Jesus. The ditches began to overflow and the countryside risked flooding. The girl began to pray to the holy image and she and her flock were protected from the rain.
This event was followed by other miraculous moments that convinced Prato’s religious authorities that a sanctuary should be built in this spot. The building was based on a design by Alfonso di Santi Parigi and erected between 1575 and 1585. On April 25, 1578, the miraculous tabernacle was moved inside the church in a solemn ceremony. Santi di Tito, who trained with Bronzino, was hired to paint the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, which was meant to enclose the niche with the holy image of the Virgin Mary. The welcoming porch surrounding the church was designed to offer refuge to the many pilgrims who came to the church every once in a while: on the first Sunday in May, there is still a ceremony during which the faithful gift oil for the votive lamps, attended by many residents from the neighbourhood.
After leaving the city’s monumental hospital, begun in 1932 by Brunetto Chiaramonti, you come to the Ippodromo, built in 1926 and later enhanced after the war. The large park is home to the city’s pools, tennis courts, soccer fields and race tracks. The Ippodromo also hosts many events during the summer, including the traditional Festa dell’Unità and concerts.
Continuing down via Roma, you can admire many noble residences dating to the 18th and 19th centuries, including Villa Cipriani and Villa Inghirami near the Depuratore di Baciacavallo. The landscape changes here, where you’re surrounded by open countryside and the first stretches of the Cascine di Tavola, a vast park extending between the municipalities of Prato and Poggio a Caiano that was commissioned by Lorenzo the Magnificent. Via del Palasaccio, which links with via di Castelnuovo – parallel to via Roma – is home to an interesting building and mill that dates to the late 15th century. There is a small 17th-century oratory near the mill, with a gabled façade and wooden ceiling; it replaced a small church that was absorbed into the farmhouse.
The most important hamlet in this area is Castelnuovo, founded in the 13th century as a stronghold to defend the border with Florence and Pistoia. The square fortress had two gates that still existed as late as the 18th century. During World War II, German troops bombed the north access, of which only a few alberese ashlar blocks remain, while the southern gate had already been demolished in the 1800s.
This fortified, medieval village is home to the Church of S. Giorgio, which has an interesting 18th-century façade. The church is adjacent to an oratory overseen by the Confraternity of the Natività di Maria. Though similar in style to the other churches dotting the countryside at the foot of Montalbano, the Church of San Giorgio stands out for its beautiful painting of the Nativity of Mary, attributed to the Florentine Cosimo Lotti. The area around Castelnuovo vaunts many farmhouses, mills, barns and other important rural buildings. Some of these date to the Middle Ages, which we know thanks to the many towers that still stand today, while others likely date to the 16th century.