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How shall I spend my day in Urbino?


One month from today, I'll be on my way to Italy!! Yay! As always, I have a list of things that I would really like to see and do. Some are already fixed: my workshop on Umbrian textiles in Perugia; the one-week house rental in Anghiari.

Others have been on my list for years: visiting Norcia, in the mountains of Umbria; seeing the city of Urbino, which lies across the Mountains of the Moon in the Italian region of The Marche.

I really think that this will be the year in which I do both!! I'll save Norcia for another post. But I've been doing some research lately on how to spend my day in Urbino, and hoping that my traveling companion PM agrees.

Urbino looks like a fascinating city. It's the birthplace of the great painter Raphael, who left at a young age to apprentice in Perugia (where else!) under the master Perugino. (My visits to Perugia always include pilgrimages to the sites where Raphael and Perugino's works remain.)


Raphael (that is his self-portrait from 1504) is one reason, but not the only reason, and perhaps not even the most important reason that I want to visit Urbino.

Another reason: it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As explained rather cruelly on the UNESCO website, "owing to its economic and cultural stagnation from the 16th century onwards, it has preserved its Renaissance appearance to a remarkable extent."

Further, the city boasts a fascinating Renaissance palace, former home to the Duke of Urbino, Federico da Montefeltro, who ruled from 1444 to 1482. Apparently, visitors reach the fortified palace from the lower Piano del Mercatale, via "the big helicoidal spiral stairs designed by Francesco di Giorgio Martini" according to the Urbino city website.

It seems that Federico da Montefeltro was a very successful condottiere, or skilled mercenary; and also a skillful diplomat and an enthusiastic patron of art and literature. At his court, Piero della Francesca wrote on the science of perspective, Francesco di Giorgio Martini wrote his Trattato di architettura ("Treatise on Architecture") and Raphael's father, Giovanni Santi, wrote his poetical account of the chief artists of his time. Federico's brilliant court, according to the descriptions in Baldassare Castiglione's Il Cortegiano, "The Book of the Courtier", set the standards of what was to characterize a modern European "gentleman" for centuries to come.


Today, the Ducale Palace is home to a few museums, especially the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche (National Gallery of Marche.) Which is yet another reason I want to visit: the museum contains some very important paintings by Piero della Francesca. This puts Urbino squarely on the Piero della Francesca art trail, which I intend to follow during this trip. After all, I'll be staying practically right on top of the PDF trail, in Anghiari, right between the Tuscan towns of Arezzo and Sanselpolcro.

I'm sure there's much more to see and do in Urbino. I'm now scouting out restaurant reviews and other information, in hopes that my friend PM will be as interested in Urbino as I am. Or at least willing to fake it. This "cooperation" with a traveling companion is quite new to me; usually, I travel alone, happily. But I think PM will be easy to travel with. Whether I will be is another matter. But, I'll certainly try!

Comments (10)

cool - you can visit the home turf of the Duke of Urbino - inspiration for Shapespeare's Hamlet (his father suffered a similar fate in the plate as the Duke of Urbino in the 1500s.


Yikes! Jerry, I hadn't realized that Shakespeare had been inspired by the murder of the Duke (who, it seems, was killed by his barber rubbing poison in his ears.)


I love the abbreviation "PDF" in this context. I will think of one of my favorite artists every time I have to download a PDF at work and mysteriously smile. :)

Barb Cabot:

I love this self portrait of Raphael. Such a delicate and beautiful rendering.

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Sandra, how exciting to be a month away and counting. Your plans for Urbino sounds wonderful. I love visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites too.

In 2005 I traveled with my good friend and although it is different than traveling solo since you have to make sure they are okay with the plans too :), the one thing I loved about it was having someone to share the experiences with while on the road.

I'm looking forward to hearing more about your plans.

These are the very best kind of dilemmas - how to spend the day in a town in Italy! And only a month away...lucky you!


Vicky, thinking of Piero DOES make PDFs seem more interesting! I'm determined to follow the PDF trail on this trip...

Barb, it really is a delicate work, isn't it? I read that it now hangs in Oxford.

Hi Kathy, I think that it will be a lovely change, to have someone to share travel experiences with. P. is a very nice guy, very easy-going -- and he can drive a manual (which I can't) so that's an advantage. And I think we'll both want plenty of time to do our own, individual things.

Annie, I'm starting to count the days. And I'll be keeping an eye out for interesting shrines and maybe a miracle-working Madonna along the way!

Hi Sandra,

No doubt, during your usual, thorough research and preparation for your trip, you have come across the Oratorio di San Giovanni Battista with its outstanding fresco cycles of the Salimbeni brothers. It is one of my favorite places, beyond, of course, the magnificent Palazzo Ducale.

Mar and I love Urbino. It is a place where every summer Mar expresses a desire to return.


Hello Mary, I have just recently read a bit about the Oratorio, but I must do more research. It sounds wonderful!

I have wanted to see Urbino for years, and I'm really excited to finally be able to visit there.

I have always wanted to go to Urbino. Can't wait to learn more about this interesting place through your travels. Sounds like a great daytrip.

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