The tourist office (tel 0574-24-112) is at Piazza Santa Maria delle Carceri 15, and is open Monday to Saturday 9am to 1pm and 3 to 6pm, Sunday 10am to 1pm. The free monthly events guide, Pratomese, available here and at many hotels, faces an uncertain future due to budget cuts -- enquire locally. Thankfully, Prato's tourism website (www.pratoturismo.it) features an event search by date, so you can learn what's happening during your visit. A cumulative ticket for the Museo di Pittura Murale (in San Domenico), the Castello dell'Imperatore, and the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo costs 8€.
Festivals & Markets
The town's main event is the display of the Virgin's girdle, which is done five times yearly -- Easter Sunday, May 1, August 15, September 8, and December 25. This girdle is supposedly Mary's belt, which she removed and passed down to that ever-doubting St. Thomas while she was being Assumed into Heaven (rather than have Mary suffer a mortal death, God decided to assume her, or lift her bodily, up into the afterlife right at the point of her death; Thomas, as usual, didn't believe his eyes, and Mary did this to convince him -- you'll see the moment captured in paint, marble, and inlaid wood all over town).
The holy artifact came to Prato at the time of the Crusades, when a local boy fighting in the Holy Land married Thomas's descendant and got the girdle as part of her dowry. The strip of dark green cloth is now preserved in a glass-and-gilt case that's kept inside nesting boxes within its own chapel in the Duomo under a series of locks that only keys held by the bishop, mayor, and local chief of carabinieri can open -- and they do this with much pomp and Renaissance-style ceremony during the five yearly High Masses to celebrate the relic. The prelate, amid swirling incense and chanting, shows the girdle three times each to the parishioners inside the church and to the crowds massed on the piazza outside (there's a special exterior pulpit solely for this purpose), the faithful chosen to be so blessed line up to kneel and kiss the case with the girdle in it, and the relic is then locked away until the next celebratory Mass. A costumed parade with lots of drumming and fifing then follows.
The Festa degli Omaggi is a costumed historical pageant on September 8. The renowned Teatro Metastasio's season runs October through April, and the main market is held on Mondays at the Mercato Nuovo.