Urbino is the best-known city of Marche. This is not a place for a fleeting visit, but rather a careful exploration and review. You will slow down to savor the enthralling spirit of history that haunts the magnificent buildings of this city. The splendor of Urbino cannot be portrayed in words; instead, you must spend time wandering the ancient streets to acquire a true understanding of the city’s history.
With picturesque stone dwellings scattered along charming city streets and the celebrated Ducal Palace dominating its skyline, Urbino encompasses all that is classic Italy. Urbino is home to many art treasures and Renaissance monuments, including Piero della Francesca’s Ideal City and Raphael‘s ornate house. The cultural beauty within the city walls is rivaled only by the magnificence of the region’s surrounding mountains and valleys.
Start at the Piazza Duca Federico by the neo-classical style Cathedral which contains fine paintings by Federico Barocci. Discover the house of Raffaello, the church of St. Domenico, the university, and the Oratories of Santa Croce and St. Giovanni Battista. Finally, continue on to the Ducal Palace, the greatest jewel in town. Built for Federico da Montefeltro by architect Luciano Laurana and Francesco di Giorgio Martini, it is a masterpiece of Renaissance art.
Modern Urbino is above all a lively university town. The Universita’ degli Studi, it is one of the largest private institutions in the country. In Urbino, the students outnumber the general population.
A traveler can also use Urbino as a base for excursions to the towns and villages throughout the northern part of Marche, towns as serene and lovely as those in Tuscany although less known.
Botanical Garden (Orto Botanico)
A delightful stop is the Orto Botanico, a small, walled botanic garden full of rare plants. The shade is welcome, and this is one of the few places in Urbino where there are no paintings. The entrance is in Via Bramante.
Duke’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale)
The palace facade, overlooking the hills, consists of three tiers of balconies between two slender towers. The decorative trim is of Dalmatian limestone that hardens to look like marble. To enter it today, you’ll need to go around to the back through the Cortile d’Onore. Much of the palace interior is occupied by the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, a splendid collection whose finest works were originally the property of Duke Federico.
Marche National Gallery (Galleria Nazionale delle Marche)
Galleria Nazionale delle Marche is Urbino’s most important museum. The museum showcases paintings from the 14th through the 17th centuries and is housed in the Ducal Palace, which was built by Duke Federico da Montefeltro. He had the palace built to symbolize the military power of the sovereign and to celebrate freedom and culture. Accompanied by his wife, Federico invited some of the most famous and appreciated artists of the time to his court, including Bramante, Paolo Uccello, Leon Battista Alberti, Piero della Francesca, and Raphael.
Piero della Francesca’s Flagellation is perhaps the best-known work in Urbino. The same room contains Piero’s Madonna di Senigallia, another superb work. Other works not to miss: Crucifixion by Antonio Alberti de Ferrara, the Annunciation by Vicenzo Pagani, La Muta and St. Catherine of Alexandra, by Raphael, and also fine works by Luca della Robbia, Giavanni Santi (Raphael’s dad), Carlo Crivelli, Verrocchio, and Alvise Vivarini. The Spanish artist Pedro Berruguete contributes the famous Portrait of Duke Federico.
To some, no festival can be as exciting as the experience of setting foot into Raphael’s house. Born there in 1483, Raphael grew up with a remarkable father: painter, poet, and teacher Giovanni Santi. It is said that the father and son used to sit on a big rock outside their house where they would prepare painting colors together. Today the house is a museum and is filled with paintings, manuscripts. and original furnishings from the 15th-century. The room where Raphael was born is embellished by the beautiful fresco Madonna with Child, reputed to have been made by the artist at a very young age.
San Bernardino degli Zoccolanti Church
As you leave Urbino (a pleasant half-hour walk from the west of town), pause to pay your last respects at the tombs of Duke Federico and his son, Guidobaldo, in the fine church of San Bernardino. The church was built in 1491 by Francesco di Giorgio Martini and stands on the hill above the junction for the Pesaro road, just follow the signs.
Urbino and its surrounding hills provide a great landscape for walks, though the streets can be quite steep. Urbino can also be used as a base for excursions to the towns and villages in the rolling hills and mountains of the northern portion of Le Marche, towns as serene and lovely as those in Tuscany, although less known. Some of the most enchanting landscapes lie in Montefeltro. Far from the beaten track, it is studded with remarkable rocky crags, each crowned by a castle.