Urbino – The Marches, Italy

A Perfect Expression of the Early Renaissance

If Urbino’s National Gallery of the Marches (Galleria Nazionale delle Marche) were located in a city like Florence, there would be lines across the piazza waiting to get in. But this small, proud town of 15,000 people is an underrated tourist destination, with a prodigious art collection that includes works by Raphael (a native son), Piero della Francesca (including The Flagellation of Christ, which Piero considered his finest work), Paolo Uccello, and Luca Signorelli.

All the better for the few who do drop in to explore this country town, which could easily share the spotlight for its history, art, architec­ture, and gastronomy with Italy’s better- known places.

Sitting   atop a steep hill, Urbino is the strongest magnet of Le Marche region. The 500-year-old uni­versity is one of Europe’s oldest, and Urbino is home to one of Italy’s greatest treasures, the Palazzo Ducale, which houses the National Gallery.

During the second half of the 15th century, Urbino was one of the most prestigious courts, almost without peer in all Europe, under the visionary direction of Federico da Montefeltro. He commissioned the finest artists and architects to build and embellish his immense home.

The result, the Palazzo Ducale, is con­sidered the perfect expression of the early Renaissance. The courtier Baldassare Castiglione called this imperious fortress “a city in the shape of a palace.”

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