Urbino, Italy - Photo: Asgeir Pedersen
Urbino - Photo: Asgeir Pedersen, Heredajo

Urbino has been a university town since the early 16th century

In the hilly Le Marche region (the Marches) in Italy, about an hour from the city of Pesaro on the Adriatic coast, lies a small and very special town of medieval origin. Urbino is listed as a World Heritage Site, mainly due to its well-preserved Renaissance architecture. It is also the home of the famous Renaissance painter Raphael as well as another master from the same era, Piero della Francesca, who lived and worked here. Both artist are featured in the National Museum’s collection of Renaissance art in Palazzo Ducale.

Piazza della Repubblica
Piazza della Repubblica

Urbino has been a university town since the early 16th century, currently with 10 faculties and about 17,000 students, making it a lively little town teeming with students on their way to one of the faculties, or chilling in the main square during lunch breaks, on lazy afternoons or late nights out.


The cathedral

The bell tower and cupola of Duomo di Urbino blend in with the adjacent Palazzo Ducale and the surrounding buildings but the façade is a glowing white stone from Furlo. The interior is a beauty of neoclassical elegance. The original cathedral dates from 1021. In 1789, the entire cupola collapsed after a powerful earthquake smashing the altar and the oratorio in the crypt (grotto) below on its way down. The people of Urbino decided to reconstruct the duomo, completed in 1801 in the neoclassical style.

Duomo di Urbino
Duomo di Urbino

Steep cobblestone streets

Uphill in Urbino
Uphill in Urbino

The town is enclosed by walls with access through the old gate near the big parking lot if you arrive by car or bus. Entry into the town by car seems to be limited to those with special permission only.

Its location on a hill means that you get to exercise quite a bit as you move around town, up or down the steep cobblestone streets.

Renaissance Art

Art in Urbino means above all a visit to Palazzo Ducale and the Galleria Museo Nazionale delle Marche to see the great collection of Renaissance artworks and paintings there, among them works by Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio), Piero della Francesca, Paolo Uccello and Federico Barocci.

Raphael’s father, the painter and poet Giovanni Santi, studied under Piero della Francesca. Santi worked as a court painter for the duke and art patron Federico II da Montefeltro, whom had Palazzo Ducale built and who is considered the founder of Renaissance Urbino.

In Raphael Santi’s native home in Urbino
In Raphael Santi’s native home in Urbino

There is a Raphael monument in the park on top of Urbino, at the end of the street named after him, Via Raffaello. The monument is flanked by a series of busts of famous Italian artists, among them his father Giovanni Santi and Bramante.

While you are here, a visit to the Oratorio San Giovanni is highly recommended.

Oratorio San Giovanni (detail),
Oratorio San Giovanni (detail)


All photos © Asgeir Pedersen, Heredajo
This article was first published September 8, 2013.