Renaissance Wonder – Urbino

More than twelve months ago we booked the most amazing and extensive holiday of our lives; five days in Dubai, two days in Venice, then a further twenty-one days aboard the MV Aegean Odyssey, followed by two days in Saville. That meant visiting 20 destinations, each with at least one guided tour and some with multiple tours. It was exhausting just thinking about it.

I had some prior knowledge of Dubai and Venice, but many other destinations were unknown to me. Fortunately we would be provided with knowledgeable tour guides, at least one page of information for each excursion by Voyages to Antiquity in their “Shore Excursions” booklet, plus an on onboard excursion briefing the evening prior to arriving at each destination.

Still, in the pre-holiday period the magnitude of this trip caused me a mini crisis of confidence – I wanted to create a photo blog of each location, but could I capture anything that had not already been done or add any new perspective? Probably not!

I decided to let go of all that tension and resolved to enjoy and appreciate what we were about to do and see, then attempt to express my feelings about each experience through photos and commentary.

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Docked at Cruise Terminal – Port of Ancona, capital of Marche region, east coast of Italy

On a wet Friday 7th October our ship, MV Aegean Odyssey arrived in the port of Ancona after a 13 hour overnight cruise from Venice. The days excursion was to Urbino, an ancient walled city, 1 hour 20 minutes by coach to the north-west of Ancona. We were very excited about what we might find there.

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North is to the right on this map
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Rear view of Cathedral Duomo, Bell Tower and Palazzo Ducale – from outside the city wall, near bus “drop off” point

While Urbino had strategic military importance to the Romans in the 6th century and to subsequent conquerors (who were numerous), it is now best known for its contribution to the Renaissance, especially under the patronage of Duke Federico da Montefeltro (1444 – 1482) and is listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO.

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Walking up Via G. Mazzini with our tour group (approx 30 people)

After entering Urbino through the south-west gate we climbed the hill towards the main city square, Piazza delle Republica, and a short orientation briefing from our guide.

The first major attraction was the Palazzo Ducale (Duke’s Palace), built around a rectangular courtyard.

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Courtyard of Palazzo Ducale

According to Wikipedia, Palazzo Ducale houses one of the most important collections of Renaissance art in the world. Unfortunately Maggie and I saw only a part of this collection, due to our impatience with the long queues in the Palazzo while standing in damp clothes and feeling cold.

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“Crocifisso” by Pietro da Rimini – 14th Century

It was difficult not to include some fellow travellers in photos, as there was so much to see and not a lot of time to spend at each point of interest. So we all vied for position. Hence, the back of my head may have been one of the most photographed subjects of the entire cruise. (I may need to apologise to my  travelling companions).

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Piero della Francesca’s “Ideal City” circa 1470 (one of three works on this subject)

The “Ideal City” demonstrates the new “Renaissance” understanding of perspective in paining and drawing. (Please forgive the slight distortion I introduced in my photograph). Perspective in art is something we now take for granted. But this was a big deal in the 15th century. It resonated with me immediately because I’d been studying the use of perspective in photography prior to this trip.

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“The Flagellation of Christ” by Piero dell Francesca, 1445 – 1450 (again demonstrating perspective)

I just had to snap the uniqueness and beauty of the following interiors in the Palazzo.

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Acute angled alcove

The corner of the above room was a very complex structure and difficult to capture in one photograph. It included a lot of techniques intended to deceive “the eye”.

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Vautled ceiling and ornamentation
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Ornate architrave
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Palazzo walls, overlooked by the Duomo Dome

Urbino’s cathedral, the Duomo was first built in 1021, then rebuilt in 1500s and again in 1801 following an earthquake in 1789.

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Duomo’s Neoclassical interior

The clean lines, subtle colours and controlled use of ornamentation appeal to me.

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Duomo’s Alter
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Duomo’s Dome
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Dome and vaulted ceiling in the Chapel of Immaculate Conception

The creators of the chapel certainly didn’t hold back on ornamentation.

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Duomo’s front facade

Across the road from the Duomo and continuing to the southern end of the city is the University of Urbino, founded in 1506. It is one of the most popular universities in Italy with around 20,000 students currently enrolled. This was orientation week for new students and although not many appear in the next photo, they were everywhere.

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Entrance stairs to Duomo, Palazzo walls to right, University to left and into the background
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Part view of Piazza delle Republica from Via Vittorio Veneto

Having investigated the southern end of the city we headed north, through Piazza delle Republica (the main square) and up the opposite hill on Via Raffaello for a visit to the house where the artist Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino was born in 1483.

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Street entrance to Raffaello’s birth place

Our tour group was identified by the colour “Orange”. The lady with the orange paddle was our Urbino guide. In addition we had a specialist guide for the Palazzo.

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Raffaello Dining Room – notice how low the door arch (and ceiling) is

One of our travelling companions, Ian is around 6 foot tall and just fits under the lintel. The furniture is not original, however is representative of the period.

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An upstairs room

I decided not to take photos of the paintings as the light was far from ideal and I believed better reproductions would be already available on many websites. Note the window seats and the tiled floors in this house.

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Via C. Bastisti – looking east off Piazza delle Republica

We enjoyed a simple fresh lunch in the Piazza cafe (to the immediate right in the above photo) and indulged in one of our favourite excursion activities – watching the passing parade of locals and visitors.

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Wending our way towards the northern gate on Via Bramante

Having exhausted our time (and energy) in Urbino, we dragged our feet up to one of Urbino’s highest points, emerged through the gate, crossed the road and then inexplicably, descended 8 floors (on escalators) to board our bus. It wasn’t a big deal, just seemed unusual at the time.

There was a good reason for it. The “drop off” point did not offer sufficient parking for all the tour buses that arrive on a daily basis (9 from our ship alone that day). So after “disgorging” passengers, tour buses must be moved to the underground bus parking station and remain there until all passengers are aboard for the return journey to…..

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In case you haven’t realised already, the ancient walled section of Urbino is rather small. Yet we saw only a part of the many riches it preserves. I would definitely recommend Urbino as a place worth exploring further.

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COMING UP … A Roman Emperor’s Palace in Croatia?  Really?

Let’s check it out together
in the next, almost wonderfully indescribable episode of

Voyage to Antiquity by

alistairstravel

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