Historic Centre of Urbino
Historic Centre Of Urbino
Cultural Italy Europe And North America Province Of Pesaro, Marche Region

During its short cultural pre-eminence, Urbino attracted some of the most outstanding humanist scholars and artists of the Renaissance, who created there an exceptional urban complex of remarkable homogeneity, the influence of which carried far into the rest of Europe.

The 3rd- to 2nd-century BC Roman fortifications enclosed an urban area with an irregular street layout. The city remained within these limits, until it began to expand at the end of the 11th century, requiring the construction of a new system of defensive walls. In the mid-15th century Federico II da Montefeltro, under the rule of whose family the city and duchy of Urbino had passed at the end of the 12th century, undertook a radical rebuilding campaign in the city, although without disturbing its overall urban structure. The walls were rebuilt according to the designs of Leonardo da Vinci. The new Ducal Palace, the work of Luciano Laurana and Francesco di Giorgio Martini, was inserted with the minimum of disturbance, incorporating existing medieval structures. Along with the adjacent cathedral (to the designs of Francesco di Giorgio), the palace became the focus for the urban fabric and its design the model for the new buildings in Renaissance style. On the death of Duke Guidobaldo in 1508, Urbino passed to the Della Rovere family, and from 1631 to 1860 it was incorporated into the Papal States. During this period it experienced a general economic decline. However, the elevation of Gianfrancesco Albani, who was born in Urbino, to the papacy in 1700 as Clement XI saw a major campaign of restoration.

The west facade of the Ducal Palace (Palazzo Ducale) consists of two slender turrets flanking three loggias rising one above another. The main fabric is in brick, the window frames, the two upper loggias, and some decorative features being in stone. Elsewhere, the exterior is more austere, mainly in brick;on the side facing the Piazza del Risorgimento can be seen the facades of two medieval palaces skilfully incorporated by the Dalmatian architect Luciano Laurana into the Renaissance palace. The interior is more lavishly decorated, in particular the main courtyard, with its elegant arcading and carved ornamentation and inscriptions. The main floor (piano nobile ) is reached by means of a fine monumental staircase, the work of Barocci. Most of the rooms, now occupied by the National Museum, make judicious but effective use of carved and painted decoration on walls, door frames, friezes, chimney-pieces and elsewhere. The Throne Room, the largest in the palace, contains a bas-relief of the Lion of St Mark. The Room of the Angels, one of the ducal private apartments, takes its name from the dancing putti on the fine chimney-piece. Its wooden doors are decorated with trompe-l'œil marquetry inlay, designed by Sandro Botticelli, as are the walls of the Duke's Study (which has a ceiling decorated by Florentine artists). Also worthy of special mention is the Sala d'Iole in the duchess's apartments, which takes its name from the carved caryatids on the chimney-piece.

The cathedral (Duomo) was largely rebuilt in the late 18th century, during the papacy of Pius VII, completing the reconstruction left unfinished during the reign of Clement XI. The work of Giuseppe Valadier, Architect of the Holy See, it is in a restrained and elegant neoclassical style and contains some important works of art. The 14th-century Oratory of St John the Baptist has outstanding frescoes by Luca Signorelli. Also from the 14th century is the Church of San Francesco, the interior of which was redesigned in the 18th century. The Church of San Domenico is basically a 13th-century structure, but an articulated portal was added in the Renaissance period, surmounted by an oriel window, the work of Luca della Robbia. The Santa Chiara and San Bernardino monasteries are good examples of Renaissance conventual architecture.

The birthplace of Raphael is a small 14th-century building with a charming interior courtyard. What was probably the artist's first important work, a Madonna and Child, is in the first-floor room where he was born in 1483.