Immersed within the gently-rolling hills of The Marches, amidst the Metauro and Foglia Valleys lies Urbino, a city rich in history and art. Surrounded by an expansive city (brick and sandstone) wall, Urbino was once a simple village whose historic center became the “Cradle of the Renaissance.” Still today, it is almost as if we can breathe the scent of the 14th Century in its very air. With its Renaissance character, Urbino earned its place on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1998. For UNESCO, the city became the focal point for the most illustrious scholars and artists of the Renaissance, both Italian and foreign, that intended to create an exceptional urban complex.
Urbino's origins are ancient: its Roman name was Urvinum, a derivative from the Latin urvus (meaning the curved handle of a plough). Despite its early beginnings, the city did not attain its utmost splendor until the 15th Century. Above all, it is thanks to Federico da Montefeltro's contribution that his city obtained monumental and artistic superiority and an influence that spread throughout Europe. This great patron seemed to possess natural-born expertise when it came to transforming Urbino into a magnificent princely court, in addition to being able to draw the best of the best among Italy's Renaissance humanists to his Duchy: think Piero della Francesca, Luciano Laurana, Leon Battista Alberti, Francesco di Giorgio Martini, Girolamo Genga and Giovanni Santi, the father of Raffaello.
Strolling the steep and narrow streets, we encounter all the buildings bequeathed by Urbino's Renaissance: the former Convent of Santa Chiara, the Church of San Domenico, the Dukes' Mausoleum inside the Church of San Bernardino, Palazzo Boghi, and the majestic Ducal Palace, where Urbino's treasures were guarded, and today the seat of The Marches's National Gallery. Some of the most important maestros of the epoch were involved in the Palace's construction.Not only can visitors pay tribute to its splendid architecture and interiors, but they can experience some of art history's absolute masterpieces face to face, from Della Francesca's Flagellation of Christ and The Madonna of Senigallia, and Raffaello's The Mute Woman; to Giusto di Gand's Communion of the Apostles and Paolo Uccello's Miracle of the Host. Connected to the Palace via a spiral ramp is the Data - that is, the Duke's horse stables. Do not pass up the chance to see this fascinating aspect of the Palace.Urbino's artistic beauty is only matched by its scenic beauty: located between two hills, the city offers a panorama of decidedly-evocative churches and rooftops.
Both Bramante and Raffaello took their first artistic steps in Urbino. Raffaello grew creatively in his father's workshop, and essentially made his debut with works commissioned by the powers in the Duchy's neighboring towns. The Kite Fest of Urbino happens annually in September. Participants take this competition to see whose kite will fly the highest quite seriously. Urbino plays Jazz is a festival organized in August by the Urbino Jazz Club association and promoted by the Municipality of Urbino where young talents and established artists have the aim of spreading the tolerant culture of jazz music in the area.
Art has been created in the small laboratories of goldsmiths, cabinet-makers, potters, and artisans in the construction sector (plasterers, painters, carpenters, woodworkers) in Urbino since the 1500s. And still today, visitors can visit the bottegas of the historic center to watch ancient techniques and new creations being made up close. The court of Federico da Montefeltro, as described in Baldassarre Castiglione's The Courtier, introduced the different traits of a gentleman to Europe, a fashion that lasted up until the 1900s. Urbino is also host to one of the oldest universities, Carlo Bo, founded 1506, and the city counts more students than native residents. Urbino also boasts a famous Academy of Fine Arts, and is known as the “Capital of Books” for the presence of its Institute for Book Decoration and Illustration (founded mid-20th Century).