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Urbino History


A short history of Urbino

The city began life as a modest Roman town called Urvinum Mataurense ("the little city on the river Mataurus"). It soon became an important strategic stronghold in the Gothic Wars, which took place in the 6th century. It was then captured in the year 538 from the Ostrogoths by the Roman general Belisarius and was frequently mentioned in the works of the historian Procopius.

Around the beginning of the 13th century, the city fell under the dominion of the nobles of the nearby Montefeltro. These noblemen had no direct authority over the community, but could pressure the locals to elect them as “podestà”, a title which was awarded to Bonconte di Montefeltro in 1213. This resulted in a rebellion of the Urbino people, who subsequently in 1228 formed and alliance with the independent community of Rimini and in 1234 retook control of their city. This did not last long, however and the Montefeltro soon took over the running of the city, which they carried on until 1508 – it was during this period that the city’s symbolic walls were built. Their most famous member was Federico da Montefeltro, who was duke of Urbino from 1444 to 1482. He was a successful diplomat and a huge enthusiast and patron of the arts and literature. He inherited the power as the heir of Guidantonio and soon started taking care of the troubled political situation. He also began the reorganisation of the state, which included an important restructuring of the city, trying to make it a modern, comfortable, rational and beautiful place. In the nearly 40 years of his government, his vision of the city became a reality, thanks to his extraordinary ambition and his considerable fortune. At his court, many important writings were made, including those by the father of Raphael, Giovanni Santi, who wrote a poetical account of the chief artists of the time. The descriptions of Baldassare Castiglione in "The Book of the Courtier" of Federicos great court, set standards for centuries to come of what an epitome of a modern European "gentleman" was to be.

However, in 1523 the court was transferred to Pesaro and Urbino began a slow decline, which would last all the way until the end of the 17th century. In 1631, after the death of the last duke of Della Rovere, who had no heirs, Pope Urban VIII incorporated the territory into the Papal States, at its height, comprising most of the modern-day regions of Romagna, Marche, Umbria and Lazio, as per the last wishes of the duke. As a result, the city’s celebrated library was then fully absorbed into the Vatican Library in 1657. The city was a part of this regime until the unification of Italy in 1861.

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