Friday, 7 September 2012


The Duomo

Last September we started the Piero della Francesca trail, which took us to Arezzo, San Sepolcro and Monterchi. We had ideas of also going to Urbino, but eventually realised it would be too much. We resolved to come back this year. Yesterday, we went round the main sights: the Ducal Palace, Raphael's House, some of the churches. Today we are doing a walk around the walls.

We started at our hotel, the San Domenico, which is magnificently located (on the right in the photo below) in the Piazza Rinascimento (Renaissance Square) facing the Ducal Palace.

We turned right, at the church of San Domenico, with its exquisite porch ...

... and the cathedral on the left. Although spectacular from the outside, the cathedral has a much less interesting, in fact rather soulless, baroque interior.

We made our way towards the Porta San Bartolo, the southernmost gate, walking down a typical steep Urbino side street.

As we emerged onto the via della Mura, there was a fine view to the south towards the church of San Bernadino which houses the mausoleum of the Dukes of Urbino.

Here is our first proper view of the wall, looking west. We had consulted the Tourist Office before we started the walk and the very pleasant and helpful girl there has told us there wasn't much to see along this section. How wrong she was and how glad we were that we had trusted our own instincts. Maybe the locals are least well placed to advise the visitors!

We followed the walls past several bastions and round to the north west corner, where there were substantial fortifications, none of which lent themselves to a photo unfortunately. I had to content myself with another view of the surrounding hills.

Soon however, we arrived at the Ducal Palace - the symbol of Urbino - and things looked up dramatically. The Palace was built for Duke Federico da Monfeltro by the Dalmation architect Luciano Laurana in the mid-15th century and is a truly wonderful Renaissance building. It now houses an art gallery, where yesterday we saw two of Pierro's works: the Senigallia Madonna and the astonishing Flagellation. Raphael's La Muta, the silent one, also made a big impression.

Opposite the palace is the Teatro Sanzio, named for Raphael. I thought it had an almost art deco character and was perhaps built by Mussolini, but in fact it dates from 1845-53.

We dropped down into the Borgo Mercantile, a vast square housing the bus station, and walked through the handsome Porta Valbona of 1681.

We followed the busy via Mazzini for a while, then turned left to make our way to the oratory of San Giovanni (St John the Baptist).

Inside, this small church is entirely covered in wonderful frescos painted in 1416 by the Saltimbeni brothers.

We now climbed up to the Parco della Resistanza, which surrounds the Albornoz Fortress. It was built in the second half of the fourteenth century by the Cardinal Egidio Alvarez de Albornoz, who was in charge of reorganising the territories owned by the Church. No, I am not sure exactly what that means either. As with all such fortresses, there were many later changes, but all that now remains is the  imposing walls and some small towers.

The park does however offer a fantastic view over the city, with the Cathedral on the left and the Ducal Palace on the right.

We walked down to the Piazzale Roma, with its 19th century statue of Raphael. The house where he was born is just down the hill - naturally enough in Via Raffaello. You can see a fresco he painted while still a young man.

The route becomes rather messy here, but we eventually made our way down to the Porta Santa Lucia and walked outside the walls down to Porta Lavagine, where there is a little chapel built into the walls.

We now followed the Via della Mura again to complete the circuit.

Conditions: Hot, some clouds.

Distance: about 3 miles.

Rating: five stars. Just wonderful! All the better for having to work it out for ourselves, rather than follow a leaflet.

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