Interesting places to visit in Le Marche: Urbino
Urbino, Unesco world heritage, the cradle of Renaissance, the city of knowledge.
As per many city of art, we could sit down and talk for hours about it. Not only is in the top 10 interesting places to visit in le Marche, but also in Italy!. Lovers of art and history, you can’t miss this city, one of the cradle of Renaissance.
Easily reachable with car or bus, Urbino is located in the northern part of Marche and in Renaissance time was a very important center of culture and art in Italy. Owned by the noble family of Montefeltro, Urbino reached its peak with Federico da Montefeltro around the 15th/16th century.
The Duke’s palace
They say your home reflects your personality, Well’ then, the Duke’s Palace is a reflection of the greatness of this man. As you approach Urbino, you are greeted by one of the most elegant and iconic facade in Renaissance. In a direct opposition to the norm the Palace of Urbino is facing the country side and not the city center. This particular detail already shows what Federico wanted to tell the people of his Dukedom: I protect you all.
Indeed he was very attentive towards his city and his fellow subjects!. So much that he was spotted walking in the streets and talking with his people.
As you approach the beautiful entrance of the Palace you can see a superb porticato with white columns. This place was the center of the court life, with nobles walking by and seeking to meet the Duke. All around you a commemorative inscription on the walls explains the Federico’s titles, deeds and feats in all his glory.
And glorious he was!. This beautiful palace is now is also the national gallery of Marche, a great museum of the many works of art of Urbino.
The treasures of the Palace
Walking in the rooms you can find some treasures like the Duke’s alcove, an extremely rare piece of furniture that has survived the pillage of the Vatican and Napoleon. The Alcove is finely decorated with the symbols of the lord’s Ideology. Each symbol is also called Impresa and has a meaning:
- The grenade facing down meant the right to defend oneself if menaced.
- The ostrich meant one’s strength against difficulties.
- The Ermine meant the purity of one’s soul, since it was believed that the animal preferred death instead of dirt its coat.
Paintings and more!
Famous paintings are another treasure of the Palace, and I’ll write about the most famous ones down below.
Christ flagellation form Piero della Francesca. A mysterious painting showing, some say Federico’s step brother corrupted by his two evil advisors.
The Ideal City, another centuries old enigma probably celebrating Urbino as a well ordered society under Federico. Of this particular painting there are only other 2 existing in the world!
The Duke portrait is rich in symbolism: the codex stands for culture and the armor for power. The armor is also decorated with the order of the garter that further proof ones valor. Finally a miter, a present from the sultan himself sits on a shelf and demonstrate that Federico was also recognized by the Ottoman Empire. The duke peculiar profile, was due to an old injury that made him blind from an eye, hence he is always shown from the right side.
Talking about masterpieces, here patiently waiting visitors is one of the best portraits from Raphael: the Silent Lady. Look at the realistic details like the hands and her beautiful and delicate face.
Finally, we reach the sancta sanctorum of the Palace, the Duke’s study room. The room is entirely made in inlay woodcraft. In Short: it’s a masterpiece. Here the Duke isolated himself to meditate and be inspired by the spirits of the great men of the past. 28 portraits of which only half remain while the other is still at the Louvre museum.
Exploring Urbino: more interesting places to visit
As I leave the Palace I move towards my next stop, two small churches, but as you know in Marche appearances can be deceitful!.
First one is Saint John church, displaying a breathtaking fresco made around 1416.
The main piece is the crucifixion of Christ. The fresco shows in vivid colors 132 detailed characters and 27 horses. This church has earned the name of Sistine chapel of northern Marche. The restoration works did a great job to bring out all the beautiful details. These frescoes worked kinda akin of todays comics! You can still see the “scroll” used to represent what the character of the frescoes are saying. Another curiosity is done by the angels halo here represented in 3d and with pieces of glass to reflect the light and give a more mystical effect.
Next is Saint Joseph, with the extremely rich marble decoration.
The actual church has a single room, in a rectangular shape; was richly frescoed on the walls depicting the main events in the life of St. Joseph. Above the altar dominates a large marble shrine, donated by Pope Clement XI, with two columns in red porphyry, coming from the Pantheon, and in the center there is a white marble statue depicting Saint Joseph. Inside the oratory, there is currently preserved a life sized nativity made with chalk and dating back to 16th century. The particularity of the work derives from the fact that the entire chapel, in which it is kept, is entirely covered with tuff to recreate the environment of a cave as much as possible.
Urbino: home of Raphael
Did you think I put Urbino as an Interesting place to visit in le Marche only because of it’s Palace?. Of course not! one can’t visit Urbino without visiting also Raphael’s house!.
The home of the famous artist is not so far from the main square, on a long street uphill. As you arrive in front of it you can see an inscription. The inscription at the door says:
don’t be surprised Raphael was born in this little house, God loves to hide the greatness in the humbleness.
Indeed the house is quite anonymous! it costs only 2 euros to enter and inside you can have a look at where the artist lived whit his family. On the second floor, you can see a fresco of St. Mary and baby Jesus, probably one of the first paintings of a young Raphael.
As I said at the start of this article, I could write thousands of words about Urbino, but as always is better for you to come and experience it first hand!
Every little alley, every corner of this city breath history. Urbino is a must go destination, the testament of Federico Enlightened rulership and a Unesco world heritage location.