Posted by: Debra Kolkka | October 13, 2020

Urbino, perfect Renaissance city

This year, 2020, on April 6th, the city of Urbino celebrated the 500th anniversary of the death of its most famous citizen. Raffaello was born in Urbino and lived only 37 years, but became known as one of the great artists of the Renaissance. A good enough reason to visit this gorgeous Renaissance city.

We stayed the night in the Albergo San Domenico, which was perfect as it is opposite the Palazzo Ducale, right in the heart of the city. Best of all it has parking in its courtyard which meant we could drive in.

The Duke of Montefeltro held court in the golden age of the Renaissance. Federico da Montefeltro began as a mercenary at age 16. He was the illegitimate son of the lord of Urbino. He was well educated in music, mathematics, astronomy, geometry, Latin and the arts. He was very successful and became wealthy. He became Duke of Urbino when he was 22 and was in power for 38 years. He used his wealth and power to turn Urbino into an important city.

The famous portrait of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino was painted by Piero della Francesca around 1472. It now hangs in the Uffizzi in Florence.

Urbino is a small town, but there is much to enjoy. The cheerful hotel receptionist described it as “piccola ma carina”, small but charming. As soon as we had parked the car we set off explore. We walked past the Palazzo Ducale. We had a booking to see it later in the day. These days you need to book ahead to enter many sites in Italy.

Beside the palace is the Duomo di Urbino, dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta. It was built on the site of the 1021 cathedral. It was rebuilt in the 15th century and completed in 1604. Major renovation is happening inside so we could not go in, but managed a photo through the barricades.

On from the Duomo the road narrows.

Between buildings there are glimpses of the beautiful countryside below Urbino.

A little further on is the central piazza which was pleasantly busy. Urbino is a university town, so it is lively and vibrant.

From the piazza the streets radiate out through the rest of the town, either uphill or down hill. Urbino is built on top of a ridge.



Our first booking was the house where Rafaello was born, but we had some time to spare so we wandered a little, first downhill towards the botanical gardens which were established in 1806 and are maintained by the university of Urbino.

The gardens were not open…another day.

Then it was uphill towards one of the entrances to the city.

…and uphill again to a park at the top of the city for some excellent views.

With stops along the way for more glimpses between buildings.

…at the top.

There were some lovely houses at the top.

…back down the steep steps to Raffaello’s birthplace. He was born March 28, 1483 into a wealthy family. The house is large, with a workshop onto the street. This is where Raffaello learned the first elements of drawing and painting.

The rooms are spacious and comfortable with some interesting quirks.

There is art from the era.

Several sculptures of Raffaello are dotted about.

Best of all is a fresco attributed to the young artist. It was originally said to be the work of his father, Giovanni, portraying his wife and the newborn Raffaello, but later believed to be painted by the young Raffaello under the supervision of his father. Giovanni Sanzio was an artist in the court of Federico da Montefeltro.

In an internal courtyard in the house was a tool from the workshop used to grind colours for the artists.

Then it was back up lots of steps to see the Oratorio di San Giuseppe constructed between 1503 and 1515. It was later decorated in Baroque style.

It was a short walk to our next stop with more of Urbino appearing between buildings.

The Oratorio di San Giovanni Battista (St John the Baptist),is a 14th century chapel with stunning Gothic style frescoes painted by the brothers Lorenzo and Jacopo Salimbeni in 1416. The theme of the frescoes is mostly religious.


I like the street scenes. It is great to see the fashions of the day and if you look closely you can spot some every day things, like children fighting, a dog scratching and a mother with a tantrum throwing child.

I think it is incredible that these frescoes have survived so well and we can see a little of what life was like centuries ago.

The wooden ceiling was incredible too.

I will show you some of the magnificent Palazzo Ducale in the following post.



  1. Thanks for the tour with such gorgeous photos!

    • Urbino is a beautiful city. I will return and stay longer.

  2. Thanks Deb. Through your blogs I can experience a little of Italy as quite impossible to visit at the moment.

    • Italy is full of delightful places.

  3. Excellent post Debra, I really enjoyed Urbino a few years ago but did not get to see it thoroughly.
    We were staying nearby in Mercatello . Great photo tour and thanks for the continued virtuality of your experiences in Italia. My first time in 9 years I’m not there ! Stay safe and well.

    • We had booked to stay in Urbino in spring to see the frog race festival in nearby Fermignano but covid put paid to that…maybe next year.

  4. Good to see the frescoes we’re out !!!

    • Indeed. That one never get old.

  5. Debra, thanks to you, I am virtually in Italy a lot and recognize so many places I have been when I lived In Germany.

    • I feel very lucky to be here and able to travel to see these wonderful places.

  6. Fabulous frescoes, vivid colours, they are amazing.

    • It is an incredible place, I loved it.

  7. Urbano is a wonderful city with lots of character.

    • It is a gorgeous city, so well preserved and still so liveable.

  8. You must be having a wonderful time Debra. I smile the whole time while I peruse your blog.
    I spoke to you at your Pop Up in West End just before you flew to Helsinki. It must be amazing to think you have been “caught” in Italy all this time.
    I send this on to many of my friends who are, like me, happy to be travelling via your beautifully photographed travel descriptions.
    I have just finished reading the book Botticelli’s Secret, so I have had another avenue for imagining we are travelling to many of the places we have been and many extras.
    It is very exciting to receive your latest updates and and as a visual person, I really appreciate your fabulous camera work.

    • I have now been here for 8 months and it looks as though I will be here for another 8. Apart from the 3 months I was isolated on a mountain during lockdown I have tried to get out and about to see as much as I can while I am here. If you have to be stuck somewhere, Italy is a good choice.

  9. Wow, I didn’t know Urbino was this fascinating! Thanks for the visual tour, Debra. This is something we all need when traveling to other parts of the world is almost impossible, a hope that when this pandemic is over we’ll be able to travel to such interesting places again.

    • Urbino was a big surprise to me. It is stunning. Exploring the city revealed treasures everywhere. A return visit is needed. I hope we can all resume our travels next year.

  10. Deb It was interesting following you on your walk around Urbino, the frescoes are unbelievable with such colours & stories. Have never been there but it is fortunate you will be able to return & see more.(That is one benefit for you during this strange time & Italy has so many fabulous places to explore.). Amazing to think how these places were built on top of ridges – all those narrow walkways & stairs. We used to say “no wonder Italian girls have long slim legs – it must be from walking all those stairs. Love this Post & look forward to more. Grazie

    • The city is stunning and my friends and I were delighted by our visit there. It was amazing to see those frescoes still so vibrant centuries after they were painted, showing us a glimpse of life back then. We are lucky they still exist.

  11. Thank you for the tour Debra! As we aren’t able to travel this is the next best thing 🙂

    • I feel very lucky to be able to travel in Italy.

  12. Brava Debra, a lovely stroll and I loved Rafael’s house! Fascinating. I only did a day trip to Urbino but feel it is definitely worthy of a revisit. I may have missed it in your blog but how many days did you visit and did you feel it was adequate? Looking forward to connecting! V.

    • Urbino is gorgeous. We stayed just 1 night, but I would happily go back and spend more time there.

  13. […] Urbino, perfect Renaissance city […]

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