History of Urbino


See Urbino guide for highlights and historic monuments

We know that Urbino has very ancient origins, since it was referred to by Servius, in his "Commentary of the 'Aeneid'" (5, 755), written 2500 years ago.

Origins of the name Urbino

It seems that "Urvus" has its roots in the Etruscan word "Uruvo", which means "limit" or "border" and as such comes from the Greek "Ouros" (“border”). Furthermore, we have other important evidence about "Urvus", where Servius:

"[...] gives us the etymology of 'urbs' ( 'city') from 'urvus' and 'curvus', curvature of the plough [which traces the boundaries of the city] ... so that once was used [the] word 'urvare' (“to surround”) and also 'oburvare' [...]" [1].

History of Urbino in Roman times

In Roman times Urbino was a city of great strategic, commercial and religious importance. "Urvinus Mataurense" was situated in an important agricultural district and, for the Romans, "Urvinum" was the:

"[...] administrative center of these lands, in times of peace, but originally a checkpoint, defended by nature and mighty walls [...]".

From a religious perspective, at "Urvinum" we find the presence of various "Pontifices," or priests, who enjoyed great prestige and importance among the Romans because the "Pontifex":

"[...] represents the 'hierarchical apex of Roman religious offices and he was involved ... supervision of the state cult and adjust the performance of sacrifices and to connected games [“ludi”], caring relationships between the Gods and  community [...]".

Urbino from the Middle Ages

The end of the Roman Empire and the wars between the Goths and Byzantines put in crisis the city, which later began its illustrious history from the 12th century through the Montefeltro dynasty.The golden age of Urbino was the Renaissance, when the city was ruled by the family of Montefeltro. Federico III da Montefeltro was the most illustrious of the family and held the city's history up to its reputation, ruling Urbino from 1444 to 1482.

An illustrious political and munificent patron, Frederick called to Urbino the most prominent figures of the Italian culture of Renaissance, Piero della Francesca (1416-1492), Luciano Laurana (1420-1479), Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72), Francesco di Giorgio Martini (1439-1501). Next to these important figures we should also mention Raffaello Sanzio (1483-1520), born in Urbino.

We recall that in Florence, in the "Galleria degli Uffizi", there are portraits of Duke Federico da Montefeltro and his wife Battista Sforza (1446-1472). These portraits, works by Piero della Francesca and probably made around 1465, were located in the Palazzo Ducale.

In 1508 the duchy passed to the Della Rovere, who continued to gather around them musicians and set designers, artists and writers; however, the court moved its head office to Pesaro, and Urbino became marginalised to the coastal centres.

After the great age of the Renaissance, the city had a time of crisis, coinciding with the transition to the Chiesa in1631, but it also had a rapid recovery in the early 18th century, following the election to the papacy of Clement XI (1649-1721), son of the princely Albani family. This enlightened patronage with its associated civil and religious buildings, helped to give a new look to Urbino.

Changes in the 19th century, which in other cities often created serious damage to the artistic heritage, were carried out in a very careful and prudent manner, with the utmost respect for an urban fabric that remains virtually intact today, making it a tourist and  university town of great international reputation, especially in the field of Arts.

see the Urbino travel guide.

References

1. See “Giornale Arcadico di scienze Lettere ed Arti” [the “Arcadian Journal of Sciences, Letters and Arts”], 1864, Volume 188, p. 45