If you have never heard of Urbino then put it on your list of Italian cities to visit. It is a Renaissance city on par with the greats of Florence & Rome & Siena but without the tourist scrum. Firstly Frederico da Montefeltro, who was lord of the place during the Renaissance, 13th century for those of you who are a bit unclear on history started the trend. He attracted the greatest men and artist’s of the time to turn his palace into the cultural centre of Europe. Raphael took his first painting steps here.
The next period of splendour came in the beginning of the 18th century when Clement XI became pope and his family began a programme of construction of civil and religious buildings.
What you get is a real mixture: a wide main street lined by the huge grand palace, the imposing, towering cathedral, lording churches, tall & elegant buildings housing apartments and businesses. Narrow streets lead up & down off the ridge to create a grid pattern of bricked splendour and clay-tiled grace.
Arriving at 11 the carpark is half empty and the rear walls of the city stretch high up above. Oh, lord. How many steps to reach the top and in this heat! My heart falls. Bt HEY, this is Italy. There, over by the shadow of the wall is the entrance to…… the lift. 50 cents takes one person up 4 floors to the main promenade around the ramparts. BRILLIANT.
So, into the bright sun, a coffee to prepare the soul for the tourist trap that awaits. Up the medieval tiled steps, around the corner to the top of the main street…. there is no one there, well almost no one. Down the bottom there is a group of about 16, waiting outside the church. Sadly, the only thing to let the place down is the arrival of an incongruous, red and white plastic tourist choo-choo train . The queue quickly climbs aboard and off it goes, taking them off in its 3 x 21st century carriages to circumnavigate this wonderful classic city, never to be seen again.
And I do mean enjoy this place ‘without the tourists’. No bustling crowds, only one hawker selling religious books, no queues to get into any museum, civilised wanderings in palaces and streets, tables available in cafes & restaurants for lunch, gelatos on demand.
Many of the sights of Urbino are around on the streets both in terms of locals and wonderful architecture.
Sadly the cathedral is closed following the earthquake.
The Palazzo Ducale di Urbino, Frederico’s place is worth a visit. Not only the building itself, dating from the 13th century, but also the range of paintings by artists like Raphael, Bocatti & Alberti da Ferrara amongst others, sounding a bit like models Italian motorbikes. I have to pinch myself. Most of these many, many pieces date from around 1400. Many are painted onto wooden panels, doors, straight onto walls as frescoes and woven into huge tapestries tho cover the walls. Carvings abound around gargantuan fireplaces, doorframes & cornices. All slightly overawing.
Easily spent 5 hours there, wandering the streets and popping into churches and gardens and piazzas before descending in the lift for the short journey down the coast and home.
Put Urbina on your list.