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Urbino is a walled city in the Marche region in Italymarker, south-west of Pesaromarker, a World Heritage Site notable for a remarkable historical legacy of independent Renaissance culture, especially under the patronage of Federico da Montefeltro, duke of Urbino from 1444 to 1482. The town, nestled on a high sloping hillside, retains much of its picturesque medieval aspect, only slightly marred by the large car parks below the town. It hosts the University of Urbino, founded in 1506, and is the seat of the Archbishop of Urbino (see below). Its best-known architectural piece is the Palazzo Ducalemarker, rebuilt by Luciano Laurana.


Antique plan of Urbino (1689) by Tommaso Luci

The modest Roman town of Urvinum Mataurense ("the little city on the river Mataurus") became an important strategic stronghold in the Gothic Wars of the 6th century, captured in 538 from the Ostrogoths by the Roman general Belisarius, and frequently mentioned by the historian Procopius.

Though Pippin presented Urbino to the Papacy, independent traditions were expressed in its commune, until, around 1200, it came into the possession of the House of Montefeltro. Although these noblemen had no direct authority over the commune, they could pressure it to elect them to the position of podestà, a title that Bonconte di Montefeltro managed to obtain in 1213, with the result that Urbino's population rebelled and formed an alliance with the independent commune of Riminimarker (1228), finally regaining control of the town in 1234. Eventually, though, the Montefeltro noblemen took control once more, and held it until 1508. In the struggles between the Guelphs and Ghibellines (factions supporting, respectively, the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire), associated with individual families and cities, rather than the struggle between Hohenstaufen emperors and the Papacy as they had been, the 13th and 14th century Montefeltro lords of Urbino were leaders of the Ghibellines of the Marche and in the Romagnamarker region.

The most famous member of the Montefeltro was Federico III , Duke of Urbino from 1444 to 1482, a very successful condottiere, 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 standards of what was to characterize a modern European "gentleman" for centuries to come.

In 1502, Cesare Borgia, with the connivance of his Papal father, Alexander VI, dispossessed Duke Guidobaldo and Elisabetta Gonzaga. They returned in 1503, after Alexander had died. After the Medici pope Leo X's brief attempt to establish a young Medici as duke, thwarted by the early death of Lorenzo II de' Medici in 1519, Urbino was ruled by the dynasty of Della Rovere dukes (see also War of Urbino).

In 1626, Pope Urban VIII definitively incorporated the Duchy into the papal dominions, the gift of the last Della Rovere duke, in retirement after the assassination of his heir, to be governed by the archbishop. Its great library was removed to Rome and added to the Vatican Librarymarker in 1657. The later history of Urbino is part of the history of the Papal Statesmarker and, after 1861, of the Kingdom of Italy.

See also: Dukes of Urbino

Archbishops of Urbino

The first known bishop in Urbino was Leontius, made Bishop of Rimini by Gregory the Great in 592. The cathedral was not permitted within the walls by the independent-spirited commune until 1021, under Bishop Theodoricus. Among a long list of bishops of interest within the Roman Catholic Church, Oddone Colonna (1380), later reigned as Pope Martin V. In 1563 Pius IV made the see metropolitan, independent of Rimini, with its own suffragans: Cagli, Senigallia, Pesaro, Fossombrone, Montefeltro, and Gubbio. In 2000, Urbino lost its status as metropolitan see, while remaining an archdiocese.


The clay earth of Urbino, which still supports industrial brickworks, supplied a cluster of earthenware manufactories (botteghe) making the tin-glazed pottery known as maiolica. Simple local wares were being made in the 15th century at Urbino, but after 1520 the Della Rovere dukes, Francesco Maria I della Rovere and his successor Guidobaldo II, encouraged the industry, which exported wares throughout Italy, first in a manner called istoriato using engravings after Mannerist painters, then in a style of light arabesques and grottesche after the manner of Raphael's stanzi at the Vatican. Other centers of 16th century wares in the Duchy of Urbino were at Gubbiomarker and Castel Durantemarker. The great name in Urbino majolica was that of Nicolo Pillipario's son Guido Fontana.

Main sights

Palaces and public edifices

View of the Duomo.

  • The main attraction of Urbino is the Palazzo Ducalemarker, begun in the second half of the 15th century by Federico II da Montefeltro. It houses the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, one of the most important collections of Renaissance paintings in the world.
  • Other interesting buildings include Palazzo Albani (17th century), Palazzo Odasi and Palazzo Passionei.
  • The Albornoz Fortress (known locally as La Fortezza), built by the eponymous Papal legate in the 14th century. In 1507-1511, when the Della Rovere added a new series of walls to the city, the rock was enclosed in them. It is now a public park.
  • Raphael's house and monument (1897).


  • The Duomo (cathedral) is a church founded in 1021 over a 6th century religious edifice. The 12th century plan was turned 90 degrees from the current one, which is a new construction also started by Federico II and commissioned to Francesco di Giorgio Martini, author of the Ducal Palace. Finished only in 1604, the Duomo had a simple plan with a nave and two aisles, and was destroyed by an earthquake in 1789. The church was again rebuilt by the Roman architect Giuseppe Valadier, the works lasting until 1801. The new church has a typical neo-classicist appearance, with a majestic dome. It houses a San Sebastian from 1557, an Assumption by Carlo Maratta (1701) and the famous Last Supper by Federico Barocci (1603-1608).
  • The church of San Giovanni Battista, with frescoes by Lorenzo Salimbeni da Sanseverino
  • Sant'Agostino, built in Romanesque style in the 13th century, but largely modified in the following centuries. The façade has a late-14th century almond portal in Gothic-Romanesuqe style, while the interior is greatly decorated. It houses a precious carved choir from the 6th century, manufactured for the marriage of Costanzo Sforza and Camilla of Aragona. The bell tower is from the 15th century.
  • San Francesco (14th century), originally a Gothic-Romanesque edifice of which an 18th century restoration has left only the portico and the bell tower. The interior has a nave and two aisles, and houses the Pardon of St. Francis, a 15th century work by Barocci.
  • The Oratory of San Giuseppe (early 16th century), composed of two chapels: one of which contains a 16th century presepio or Nativity scene by Federico Brandani, the stucco figures are lifesize and highly naturalistic.

Outside the city is the Church of San Bernardino, housing the tombs of the Dukes of Urbino.

Other points of interest

People from Urbino

Others notable people from Urbino include:


External links


  1. Catholic Hierarchy page
  2. According to other sources, the castle was instead built by Albornoz's successor as legate in Urbino, Anglico Grimoard (1367-1371)[1]

Images of Urbino Architecture and Townscape:

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