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!