At UNH Tuscany, you’ll be taking your classes in an 18th-century palazzo. Whether you’re studying, doing research or relaxing with fellow students, you’ll spend much of your day inside a piece of Prato’s history.
In Italy, each palazzo has a story to tell about the noble families who built and once lived there. And without a doubt, Palazzo Benini is no exception. We’ll take you on a tour of your new campus, but first let’s have a look at the fascinating history of this palazzo.
Palazzo Benini: A Brief History
Palazzo Benini was built in the neoclassical style in the late 1700s and is attributed to the architect Antonio Benini.
In the 19th century the Palazzo was the home of Monsignor Giovanni Antonio Benini, Bishop of Pescia (1856-96) and Gran Gonfaloniere of the city of Prato; his portrait hangs in the school reception hall. Other notable family members include Gioacchino Benini (1799-1866), cofounder of the Cassa di Risparmio di Prato bank and the Metastasio Theatre, and Gioacchino’s daughters, the painter Ebe (1830-55) and the poet Ada (1833-54).
Throughout the 1800s, Palazzo Benini was a meeting place for intellectuals and artists, many of whom were fierce proponents of Italian nationalism and independence. We like to think that the Palazzo continues to be a meeting place for intellectuals and creative thinkers in its new role as the UNH Tuscany Campus!
UNH in Palazzo Benini
At Palazzo Benini, the Tuscany Campus enjoys the use of almost 8,000 square feet, with many rooms suited to the needs of students and faculty alike.
On the ground floor Palazzo Benini boasts an exclusive and impressive entrance hall lined with paintings and antique wooden benches. Upstairs, reached by the staircase in traditional grey pietra serena stone so characteristic of Tuscan palaces, the program occupies two floors. One of these is the entire piano nobile, the floor which traditionally held the best reception rooms used by the historic families who built them. On this floor students have access to a reception hall, classrooms (one of which is the grand salone, or reception hall), four offices for staff and faculty, library, computer room and a beautiful frescoed lounge.
The school is also entirely handicapped-accessible as it is fitted with an elevator, wheelchair ramps and an accessible bathroom. And on the ground floor there is even a typical Italian café for those who want a quick cappuccino between classes!
Let’s take a quick tour of your new Campus, Palazzo Benini:
In the reception hall you’ll find a staff member ready to help you with any questions you have. You’ll also find the student mailboxes here.
The portrait hanging over the fireplace in the Reception Hall is Giovanni Antonio Benini (1812-96), bishop of the nearby diocese of Pescia, who lived here in the nineteenth century. He is buried in the cathedral of Pescia.
In the computer room are PCs available for your use whenever the school is open. Login details are given to you at the start of the semester. You can print to the student printer in the same room.
The library houses all of the books you need for the required readings in all of your courses, as well as chairs and a sofa for sitting and reading. You can borrow books through the honor system, which means we simply ask you to fill out the lending booklet whenever you take a book away. Lending is restricted to 48 hours at a time to allow you to access all of the books when you need them.
Who was Malaparte?
The library is named after Curzio Malaparte (1898 – 1957), born Kurt Erich Suckert, an Italian journalist, dramatist, short-story writer, novelist, filmmaker and diplomat. His chosen surname, which he used from 1925, means "evil/wrong side" and is a play on Napoleon's family name "Bonaparte" which means, in Italian, "good side." Malaparte's final book, Maledetti Toscani, his attack on middle and upper-class culture, appeared in 1956 – excerpts from this famous book are reproduced on the walls of the library, including several lines where he reflects poignantly on Prato and the character of the Pratesi. Malaparte died in 1957 and is buried in a special tomb on top of the mountain Monte Spazzavento overlooking the city of Prato.
The lounge (salottino) is located in a small, beautifully frescoed room at the center of the school. This is where you’ll stop to chat with other students or professors, or just relax after a class. In the lounge, it’s not at all unusual to hear your fellow students speaking Italian with local students during our language exchanges.
The school’s largest classroom is located in what was known in historic palaces as the Salone, or Salone delle feste, and was used by founding families as the main reception room of the household. In the AulaMagna hangs a large wooden coat of arms of the Benini family.
This classroom is named after the most famous Pratese of them all, Francesco di Marco Datini (1335–1410), an Italian merchant born in Prato at the height of the Renaissance. Datini’s extraordinary career provides us with one of the great success stories of the Middle Ages. A dealer in wool, sacred pictures, spices, and iron, he established an import/export house with branches in Pisa, Genoa, Barcelona and Majorca. He amassed an immense fortune! H
e also left behind, in wooden crates, the entire archive of his business - over 150,000 letters, some 500 ledgers and accounts books, and a mass of personal and business documents. They constitute the world’s largest collection of economic documents of their kind. Palazzo Datini is in nearby via Ser Lapo Mazzei. Datini is buried in the church of San Francesco.