Urbino is a beautiful walled city in the Marche region of Italy which was a creative hub during the Renaissance. Nestled on a high and sloping hillside, Urbino was first a Roman then medieval town, eventually becoming the seat of the Archbishop of Urbino. Since 1998, the historic centre of Urbino has been a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Urbino began as a modest Roman settlement known as Urbinum Mataurense meaning ‘the little city on the River Mataurus’. This small Roman settlement became an important strategic stronghold during the Gothic Wars of the 6th century, eventually captured by the Byzantine general Belisarius.
However it was during the 15th century, particularly during the time of Duke Federico II da Montefeltro, that Urbino flourished, playing host to intellectuals and artists from around the country. Federico went on to reorganise the state, including restructuring the city in a more modern style, making it more efficient and beautiful.
Much of the Renaissance architecture of Urbino was influenced by some of the biggest names of the time. For example, its walls followed the designs of Leonardo Da Vinci. Notably, it was also the birthplace of the painter Raphael, the site of which is now a museum. It was under the portico of Raphael’s childhood home that the last of the papal army resisted Italian unification in September 1860.
Today, much of Urbino is charmingly frozen in its cultural heyday, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in this period. The city is home to numerous palaces, the most famous of which is Palazzo Ducale, a turreted fairytale-esque structure begun in the 15th century which is now home to a national art museum.
Whilst in Urbino do not forget to also visit its cathedral or ‘Duomo’ and the 14th century Albornoz Fortress.
Getting to Urbino
For those driving, Urbino is found along the E78 and SS73bis motorway between Arezzo and Fano on the eastern coast, about a 3 hour drive from Florence or 2 hours from Bologna. A great way to get around Urbino is by renting an e-bike or hopping onto one of the 3, 9, 11, 13, 17 or 18 buses.