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Duomo of Urbino

Panorama of Urbino

Waterworks of the Ducal Palace in Urbino



For more on Italian churches visit Bill Thayer's website
The Churches of Italy
Churches of The Marche
And also Bill Thayer's
Gazetteer of Italy
The Marche
Welcome to Urbino
From Jesse's Journeys in Italy

Population:  15,441(2004 census)
Official website:
Wikipedia: Urbino
Map: MapQuest

Urbino, which sits on a high ridge between the Val di Metauro and the Val di Foglia, is one of the most fascinating small cities in Italy. Indeed, in 1998, UNESCO designated it as a World Heritage Site because of its its importance as an artistic, architectural and cultural center, particularly during the Renaissance.

Urbino was first settled by tribal Gauls during the 5th or 4th century BC, but by 295 BC it was in the hands of the  Romans, who called it Urvinum Mataurense (or "little town on the Metauro").  Around 285 BC, the Romans began to colonize the city and surrounding area, and over a period of time, principally because of its its strategic location, Urbino became a Roman municipium (48 BC).

The Goths conquered Urbino in the 4th century, after a prolonged siege, but in 538 AD, the city fell to General Belisario commanding Byzantine forces.  Byzantine dominance ultimately gave way to Longobard control (752 AD). Charlemagne, King of the Franks defeated the Longobards in 756 AD, and then donated the city to the Papal State.

After the "donation" the fortunes of Urbino declined, but during the 11th century it entered into a period of prosperity and by the 11th century had become an independent comune, or "free state".  It's freedom was not to last because, like most of the other free states, Urbino ultimately came under the domination of powerful families, the most important of whom were the Montefeltros, the Dukes of Urbino, who ruled for more than a century or so from about 1234 AD, with a short interruption in the early 14th century.  Montefeltro rule extended over a wide territory and included Gubbio in Umbria and Cagli in The Marche and a number of outlying castles and forts.

In 1444, the Montefeltro torch passed to Frederico III, who established a lively Renaissance court in the mode of the Florentines who were then ruled by the Medicis.  It is principally to the patronage of Frederico, a skilled warrior and subtle politician, that Urbino lays claim to its current architectural, cultural and artistic importance.

During the 14th and 15th centuries, the Montefeltro's, as all leading families in northern and central Italy were unavoidable part of the internecine struggles between the Ghibelline (pro Imperial) and Guelph (pro Papal) factions, remaining mostly on the Papal side throughout.  Urbino stayed within the ambit of the Papal States until the unification of Italy in 1860.

Inside the centro storico - the historic center - which is surrounded by walls and ramparts of baked brick, you will find the main gathering place of the city is the triangular-shaped Piazza della Repubblica which sits in a bowl between two hills and is intersected by the city's four main streets, Via Mazzini and Via Cesare Battista running in one direction, and Via Raffaelo and Via Veneto in the other.

Facing the piazza are the Duomo and the perhaps the most significant architectural work in Urbino is the Palazzo Ducale (ducal palace) with its twin sixty meter high towers.  The palace now houses the University of Urbino (founded in 1564) and the most important art gallery in The Marche, the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche.

The palace, with a rather blank facade, seems rather unprepossessing from the piazza.  However, once inside, the palaces many glories become obvious.  Immediately one encounters the well-lit and delicately proportioned interior courtyard - the Cortile d'Onore -  which became a  model for similar courtyards at many other palaces throughout Italy.  Note the details of the colonnade and overlooking windows of the apartments.

Detailing the palace's many features is beyond the scope of this article, but if you go, be sure to look for the monumental "grand" stair case, the kitchen and scullery, the below ground waterworks, and Frederico's own small study, completely decorated with trompe l'oeil.  The paintings in the gallery include works by many of the artists who adorned the court: Piero della Francesca, Luciano Laurana, Leon Battista Alberti, and Francesco di Giorgio Martini.  Raphael and Bramante were both born here during the high renaissance, and doubtless acquired many of their artistic sensibilities in this atmosphere.

The original Renaissance style Duomo was destroyed by earthquake in 1789 and was replaced with a neo-classical design that some find overwrogght.  There is an ecclesiastical museum in the church, but there are not many superlative works, and indeed the only good piece may be the Last Supper by Barocci.

On higher ground above the city, one can tour the Fortezza Albornoz (15th century) and surrounding gardens, and take in stunning views of the surrounding countryside.  The nearby Oratorio di San Giovanni has an undistinguished facade, but in its interior houses wonderful frescoes from the early 14th century painted by the brothers Lorenzo and Jacopo Sanseverino.

The house where Raphael was born is on Via Raffaelo.  Inside you will find an early Madonna and Child by the great artist, and works by lesser artists, including his father Giovanni Santi.

Visitors to the city will enjoy strolling the crooked, up-down-and around medieval streets in the old quarter.  One enjoyment leads to another, so when the mood hits, order "cafe e cornetto" at one of the many cafes there, or stay longer and partake of a good lunch or dinner at a bistro or restaurant.  Italian food being what it is, and Italians being who they are, every meal is a memory.

This article was added by Vian Andrews on May 1, 2006

The Marches Region

4343′N 1238′E


By Car:  Ancona - 101 km; Rimini - 63 km; Gubbio - 53 km; Florence - 280 km; Perugia - 102 km





Coat of Arms for Urbino

Outside Urbino, about 2 kilo meters to the south, look for the Renaissance style church of San Bernardino.  It holds the tombs and black memorial stones of the Montefeltros.  Once thought to have been designed and built by Bramante, the church is now attributed to Francesco di Giorgio Martini.