Visit Urbino: A Town Untouched By Modernity

Sitting quietly and tucked between hills of central Italy, Urbino is one of the most ancient places in Italy that has gone untouched by many tourists. A city that still remains exactly as it was during its time in the Renaissance era.

The same beige bricked buildings, street roads made for horse-carts, old stairways, houses, walls, and windows that were built in the 15th century is the one that residents live in and occupy today. The only modern appearence the city has are its people, dressed in today’s clothes and driving cars instead of riding horses.

15-century buildings of Urbino
Photo credit: Anguskirk via Flickr

Though Urbino might be one of the most underrated places in Italy now, it was once a powerhouse of the Renaissance. Let’s read on to find out why and what makes Urbino worth your travel.

A Fascinating Location

600 years later, Urbino remains identical and stays unchanged from its Renaissance beauty and the biggest attribute that preserved the city completely in this manner is its location.

It’s tucked between two hills and cut off from main roads with no access from trains or bus stations, which is very unlike Italy. The nearest train station is 45 minutes away at Pesaro and the nearest airport is 1 and a half hours away from Ancona.

The only way to reach the place is by car and outsiders are not allowed to park inside the city. Travelers have to park outside the city walls and climb the hill to Urbino, which means that navigating the hills on snow days can be tricky and an experience that might take you 600 years back.

Hills surrounding Urbino

This lack of access means Urbino was excluded from all types of development, even the 18th, and 19th-century ones, and remains untouched today to the point that modern repairs of any buildings in the city use Renaissance-era methods to preserve its time.

Another reason for the city’s preservation is that its ruling royal clan, Montefeltro, died out in the 16th century, making Urbino stuck in its time, leaving it exactly as the Montefeltro left it. Another factor is its income. The town relies on its universities and students for a steady economy. Without a need for tourism, it didn’t bend to modern demands.

Urbino sitting atop hills

Because of the city’s exceptional preservation, it was given a UNESCO World Heritage tag and described to be “preserved in its Renaissance appearance to a remarkable extent”, as reported by CNN.

A City for Historical Lovers

Urbino came to be what it is today because of Federica da Montefeltro, the ruler of the city during its Renaissance era. Federico was said to be Urbino’s most powerful leader and it was his vision that made the city a cultural hub then and now.

Under Federico’s rule, famous artists of the 15th century like Piero Della Francesca, Paolo Uccello, and Botticelli came to work for him. But it wasn’t just artists. Federico also invited engineers and scientists of the Renaissance such as Francesco di Giorgio Martini who built Federico’s fortress.

A view of the towers in Urbino

Others who also paid visits to the city and were hosted by Federico were mathematicians, astronomers, astrologers as well as humanists, authors, and architects like Leon Battista Alberti, who designed the Santa Maria Novella church in Florence.

But the number one thing Urbino takes pride in wasn’t the brilliant minds from outside, but the ones born inside the city gates.

Raphael, one of the most famous Renaissance artists, was born in Urbino. In fact, his birthplace still stands today and travelers can visit his home.  Donato Bramante, who designed St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, was also born in Urbino.

Things to Do in Urbino

While this Renaissance city is fun to experience just by walking around and seeing the gorgeous Urbino architecture that stands from the 15th century, there are a certain number of things that you can see here that will make you live in the Renaissance era.

Visit Raphael’s home – As mentioned above, Raphael’s home still exists today and it’s every bit worth your visit. A fresco painted by a teenage Raphael is still preserved in his bedroom and you can also look out through the kitchen window to see exactly what Rapahel saw as he grew up.

The Palazzo Ducale – Home of Federico and the 28th most visited museum in Italy, the Palace Ducale is a National Gallery of the Marche region. Paintings commissioned by Federico and done by Raphael, Giovanni Santi, Titian, Paolo Uccello, and Piero della Francesca hangs on the walls.

Paintings displayed in Palazzo Ducale in Urbino

The palace floors, Botticelli-designed doors, and ceramics made by Florentine della Robbia were built during Federico’s time and remain after centuries of use. The fireplace and doorways still have Federico’s initials carved into them.

Climb the towers – To see the magnificent site of nature surrounding Urbino and the entire city, climb one of the towers. The view from these towers is like an Assassin’s Creed’s real-life locations and standing in these towers could make you feel like Ezzio Auditore who is about to explore the old streets.

One of the towers in Urbino

Library – See how an old library was 6 centuries ago with travertine marbles that used to decorate the palace exterior.

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