One day is not nearly enough time to spend visiting the beautiful, Renaissance stronghold of Urbino in the Italian region of Le Marche.
Still, one day was a good start.
We approached the hilltop city from the old road, apparently the route which would have been followed 500 years ago when the Duke of Urbino commissioned a great palazzo to impress foreign visitors with its beauty and grace.
It worked for me. The palazzo of Federico da Montefeltro, which he began to expand and improve upon in the mid-1450s, is stunning. From the back road, it rises out of the surrounding woods like something from the imagination of Walt Disney. From a distance you can see campanile -- bell towers -- and church domes rise all around it. So, I was predisposed to love the place.
But the Duke made us work for it. It took almost two hours for my traveling companion and me to reach Urbino for the region of Tuscany where we were staying, in an holiday home rented in the small town of Anghiari, near Arezzo.
It was a gorgeous drive, twisting up and over the Mountains of the Moon. The number of twists and turns during the steep ascent -- and descent -- made it hard to drive any faster than about 50 kilometres per hour (about 30 mph.) Still, it's so beautiful that it was worth it.
Urbino is the home town of the great Renaissance artist Raphael, but I didn’t have time in one day to make a pilgrimage to the family home. Another time.
Instead, as soon as we arrived in Urbino, I made a beeline straight up to the Palazzo Ducale and the Galleria Nazionale della Marche. There isn’t a lot of great art left in this gallery: over the centuries, it has been pretty badly pillaged. But there are some interesting pieces and the palazzo itself -- with its many rambling rooms (many frescoed), numerous large fireplaces, its nooks and cranies, turrets and all -- is stunning.
One piece I was extremely anxious to see was Piero della Francesco’s mysterious painting from about 1454, titled “Flagellation.” I say mysterious, because there are many interpretations of what the work really means. The flagellation of Christ is depicted in half of the painting, an area that is really in the background to a group of three contemporary men. Some suggest Piero’s meaning in this was political, connecting the assassination of one of these three men, to the crucifixion of Christ.
It’s a fascinating piece, and as I’ve been following the Piero della Francesca trail throughout this visit to Italy, I was extremely glad to have a chance to see this work for myself.
At the suggestion of Marian, a fellow Slow Traveller, we also visited the beautifully frescoed Oratorio Di San Giovanni Battista, with wall-to-wall paintings that explain the story of the life of John the Baptist. Well worth seeing.
At the end of the day, we had a drink with Giulia, a fellow blogger who is from Urbino and operates a very green agriturismo just outside the city. She showed us her beautiful family home inside the walls near Urbino’s university -- a fanastic palazzo, with beautiful views over the countryside.
I’m deeply envious that she gets to live in such a beautiful area. This was my first visit to Le Marche region, which struck me as being quite mountainous and much less groomed than, say, Tuscany. More like my beloved Umbria.