Founded by an ancient civilization of Italy called the Umbrians, Urbino (Urbinum Hortense in Latin) is a vibrant town in the northern part of La Marche in central Italy. The city was later occupied by the Etruscans, Celts, Gauls and finally the Romans in the 3rd century B.C. However it was in the 12th century B.C when the power was handed over to the Montefeltro family that Urbino became popular as a centre of artistic and literary activity under the rule of Federico da Montefeltro. Birthplace of the famous artist Raphael, Urbino is a World Heritage Site that has a rich legacy of Renaissance culture. Around 15th century, the dukedom and its neighbouring towns became a part of the Papal States.
This small but beautiful town nestled between the Apennine mountains and the Adriatic Sea was one of the pioneers of the Renaissance movement. The duke’s twin turreted palace still holds some outstanding collection of period art. History says that it was at Federico’s court Piero della Francesca wrote on the science of perspective, Trattato de architettura (Treatise on architecture) was written by Giorgio Martini and Giovanni Santi, Raphael’s father wrote about the chief artists of his time. In fact it was Federico’s court that set the standards of what we call a modern European ‘gentleman’. It was the splendour of this picturesque hill town that inspired UNESCO to mark the entire region as a World Heritage Site!
The route to Urbino is also a wonderful experience. Though there are no trains going to Urbino, the city is easily reachable by bus. The closest airports are Ancona and Rimini, Italy. The closest train services are till Pesaro and Fano. From here a number of buses are available to Urbino. The Pesaro based Adriabus runs upto 15 services between Pesaro and Urbino. Bus services from Urbino connect with other smaller regions in the town. And if you are arriving by car, you will have to park at the foot of the hill as motor vehicles are banned from the city. You can either walk up the hill or take a bus. You can approach the Urbino tourist office located in the town’s central square for further queries. There is also a small office near the main bus station where you can pick up a map.
The outstanding beauty of the hill-town has attracted the attention of not just humanist scholars and artists but also millions of tourists and voyagers. Urbino’s huge Ducal Palace, also called Palazzo Ducale is a microcosm of Renaissance architecture, art and history. It is today the National Gallery of the Marches and is an important centre of medieval paintings. The house in which Raphael was born and raised is only a 10 minute walk from the Ducal Palace. The place is worth a visit though today, it has only one work by him; a touching fresco of Madonna and her child. At the top of Via Rafaello, a short stroll along the city wall leads to a massive gate. Up the stairs takes you to the Fort of Albornoz (today a library and public park). One also gets to witness a splendid panorama of the town, ducal palace and the surrounding countryside.
The Duomo or cathedral of Urbino was constructed in top of a sixth century religious building. It was rebuilt in the Neoclassical style after an earthquake in 1789. The cathedral is home to several artworks including the Last Supper by Federico Barocci. Piazza Rinascmento, Piazza della Republica and Piazza duca Federico are the important squares in Urbino where you can find café’s, stores, shops and a lot of people. Urbino also house a well laid out botanical garden with many plants, ponds and pathways. The modern residential town constructed outside the walls is but different from the structure and layout of the ancient town. Though Urbino still has not enough room for development, the town was famous for the manufacture of majolica (tin-glazed pottery) until the 17th century.
Food at Urbino needs no description. To put in simple words: delicious and mouthwatering! Ca Andreana is a cheap country inn, about a ten minute drive from Urbino. Master dishes of the inn include tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms, lamb al forno (oven-crisped lamb chops) and rabbit with fennel. Albergo San Domenico is another inn which lies very close to the Ducal Palace. Al Cantuccio serves hot pasta and pizza while Trattoria del Leone provides 20-euro fixed price dinners. The menu has omelets with pumpkin and pecorino and a local crispy flatbread called Crescia Sfogliata. There are also quite a number of books featuring the hill-town of Urbino. ‘Urbino: The Story of a Renaissance City’ by John Osborne covers the city’s art, architecture and history and also includes references from another book on the town called “The Book of the Courtier”.
The town where ‘gentle discussions and innocent pleasantries were heard’ is today a ‘new’ Urbino. With changes in the street pattern and recent buildings that came up, Urbino has tried to adapt itself to the modern culture. Chefs, bakers, cheese makers, wine and olive oil producers are the best artists available in today’s Urbino. Yet the town has not lost its legendary charm. Urbino was, still is and will forever be the quintessence of Italian Renaissance.