Urbino was one of the most important cities during the Renaissance era, mostly thanks to his lord Federico di Montefeltro. In the second half of 1400, he strived to reorganize Urbino in order to create a modern, rational and beautiful city. He, therefore, summoned some of the most important artists and intellectuals of his time. By the way, Urbino is also the birthplace of the famous painter Raphael. But let’s go to the core: What to see in Urbino!
What to see in Urbino
1 Palazzo Ducale
The Duke’s Palace is a small fortified city. You will see it as soon as you reach Urbino and the view is breathtaking. Federico wanted to build a palace that could outdo any other noble residence in Italy. And not just because he wanted to stand out. His actual aim was to transform Urbino into the ideal city. And the Palace ought to be the most exquisite expression of this. The construction required over 30 years of work. It now hosts the Marche’s National Gallery. Sadly many of the most important artworks once part of the Palazzo were lost, stolen, looted or sold by the heirs. For example, the famous double portrait of Duke Federico and his wife Battista Sforza is now at the Uffizi in Florence.
Highlits of Palazzo Ducale
Facciata dei torricini
It is the facade with the two cylindrical towers. The towers enclose two spiral staircases so that the Duke could reach the stables directly from the Palace and possibly escape in case of need. They’re now a way to reach the center. But do not despair: there’s also an elevator (see the Information section).
Piero della Francesca paintings
Flagellation and Madonna col Bambino by Piero della Francesca. The first is one of the most mysterious works by his author, still object of debates and interpretations by scholars. The second was a gift by the duke to his daughter Giovanna.
The ideal city
In The ideal city (whose author is unknown), architecture is a metaphor for good government, where everything is at his right place.
The Duke’s studio
Studiolo del Duca (Study of the Duke): it also has some missing parts. The top end of the room displays in fact only 14 out of the 28 original portraits of illustrious men, chosen to be an example for the duke. The other 14 are at the Louvre (thank you, Napoleon), displayed in a corridor where no one pays attention to them, while here they would make perfect sense, being part of a complex work.
Under the portraits, the wooden closets are adorned in marquetry with symbols of Virtues and Arts, a portrait of the Duke and his armor, some musical instruments and a series of objects referring to the process of personal improvement.
At the corner of the room next to the studiolo, take the stairs up the tower and reach the panoramic point. Of course I was alone, because Matteo hates heights. So I took a selfie.
Raphael’s portrait of a lady
La Muta by Raffaello portrays Giovanna, daughter of the duke. I particularly liked the details of the dress and the hands.
Paolo Uccello’s small but dazzling panel
The Miracle of the Desecrated Host by Paolo Uccello is like an ancient comic book. From left to right it narrates the miracle in a vivid, fabled way. I loved it.
The original church, built around the year 1000, was destroyed by an earthquake at the end of 1700 and so rebuilt in a neoclassic style. The Caves are the most interesting part are: during the Second World War the Treasure of St. Mark’s Basilica was brought here to be kept safe. The other church you see almost in front of the Duomo is the church of San Domenico, dating back to the second half of 1300 but rebuilt internally in 1700.
3 Piazza della Repubblica
Piazza della Repubblica is the meeting point of Urbino’s inhabitants because it is located at the crossing of 5 important streets leading to the main areas of the town. Plus it has several cafés and a gelateria. Read below.
4 The House of Raffaello Sanzio
The birthplace of Raffaello is halfway along the steep street leading to the Fortress and the park on top of the town. Here Raffaello was born on March 28th, 1483. He studied at the workshop of his father, who was an artist at the court of the Duke. In the house, there are not many Raffaello’s artworks. On the ground floor, you can see his father’s atelier, also used for temporary exhibitions. While on the first floor there are copies of Raffaello’s paintings. The only original piece is in the painter’s room: the fresco Madonna col Bambino, probably accomplished by father and son together. Going up towards the fortress you reach Piazzale Roma, where there’s the statue of Raffaello (under restoration when we were there).
5 Parco della Resistenza (panoramic point)
On top of the city, there’s a Fortress, Fortezza di Albornoz, surrounded by a nice park. The fortress dates back to 1300 and is now the seat of a museum (a part with archaeological finds and another part dedicated to the history of war equipment between 1300 and 1500). From the park, you can enjoy a great view of the town and the splendid Palace, relax for a while and take beautiful pictures.
6 Saint John’s Oratory – Oratorio di San Giovanni
The chapel has a late Gothic facade but the true masterpiece is the cycle of frescoes inside: painted by the Salimbeni brothers in 1400 it depicts the Crucifixion, Madonna of the humility and the life of Saint John Baptist.
7 Saint Joseph Oratory – Oratorio di San Giuseppe
On the walls you can see the paintings displaying the life of Saint Joseph. Plus a Nativity Scene realized at the half of 1500 with life-size statues of tuff and pumice stone.
Where to park in Urbino
The most convenient place is Borgo Mercatale, right under the Duke’s Palace facade. There you can go up using the elevator (right under the facade there’s the Tourist Info sign). The fee is €0,50 each for a ride up or down. PS the view from the parking lot is the one below…. amazing!
What to eat in Urbino
As for the food, since we were in Urbino only for half a day, we had a simple crescia, a sort of piadina. You can choose your favourite filling among veggies, cold cuts and/or cheese. I didn’t particularly liked the place where we unfortunately chose to try it so I won’t say anything about it. On the other hand I can recommend for a gelato the gelateria Sorbetto del Duca in via Raffaello, 1, that also has some lactose free flavors.