Monday, April 12, 2010

Off the Beaten Trail: Palazzo ducale

Il Palazzo ducale

"Non siete mai stati a Urbino? Se continuerete a rispondere di no, dovrete sentirvi in colpa, perché vi mancherà una dimensione della civiltà italiana. E questo lo si dice non soltanto per quello che è il suo patrimonio artistico, no, lo si dice per quella che è la fisionomia stessa della città, per la sua aria, per la straordinaria bellezza della sua terra.

Urbino è un paessaggio incantato." ~ Carlo Bo

 Translation: You haven't been to Urbino? If you continue to say no, you should feel guilty because you are missing a dimension of Italian civilization. And this is not only said of its artistic heritage, no, it is said for that of the same physiognomy of the town, for its ambiance, for the extraordinary beauty of its terrain.

Urbino is an enchanting landscape."


Il Palazzo ducale has been mentioned very often throughout my blog. But what is so special about this unique building? For one, it housed one of the Renaissance's most influential people, Federico da Montefeltro, the duke of Urbino from 1444 to 1482, who was a patron of the arts and of Humanism. He was also the owner of one of the greatest libraries in the 15th century, owning well over 1,000 manuscripts and a wide range of books that contained studies in astrology, geography, history, poetry, theology, and even writings in various languages. You just may be familiar with this guy. His profile is very well-known, and can be seen all over, especially throughout Urbino, from posters adorning shops in town, to postcards you can purchase in the tabbacheria, the tobacco shop.

The Palazzo, or palace, was built in the fifteenth century, and has since become the National Museum of Le Marche. It is said that it contains three hundred sixty-five room, and for each night of the year, the duke stayed in a different room. (This story seems to be quite familiar throughout history.) Unfortunately, I won't be able to provide you with any photographic evidence of the inside of the palazzo. It is prohibited to photograph inside. I have seen photographs online of the inside of the palace, but I must tell you that the woman who was our guide, made sure we did not bring out cameras. I was, however, able to buy postcards of what I found to be the highlights of the palazzo. Oh, and there are pictures of the courtyard, which I was able to take.

There was no grand entrance, coming down an enormous staircase, but instead out group entered in through a side door near the Duomo. Upon entering through the door, we came into a courtyard. The courtyard must truly be beautiful after a good rain, as the center of it captures any rainfall, creating a pool. After crossing the courtyard, we came to a fairly large room within the palazzo, where they now have a locker room. We were required to keep our belongings here.

The most fascinating parts of our guided tour were the Alcova del duca, and the Studiolo del Duca Federico. These two rooms were part of what was known as the appartamento del Duca, the Duke's apartment. The Alcova del duca looks like a small wooden room constructed within the camera da letto, bedroom, and it is within this wooden structure that the Duke slept in. I must say that the Studiolo was my favorite room in the entire palace. It was a room intended for all sorts of activities, like receiving visitors or examining papers. The tiny room creates an illusion, or a trompe l'oeil, (in French meaning 'the trick of the eye') of mutliple cabinets and benches made by wooden inlays. These cabinets showed 3-D pictures of musical and scientific instruments, as well as books which the Duke was well-known to have loved. The technique is known as intarsia. You can see a more in-depth look at the intarsia of the room below in a video from YouTube, which was reconstructed virtually.

The views from the balcony, (which can be seen in the first picture of this post, if you can see the two balcones between the two turrets at the front of the palace), are incredible. They allow one to see the valley stretching out below the little town, and the tops of the quaint buildings down below.

If you ever visit Urbino, it is highly recommended that you take a tour of this spectacular gem. Here is also a great video of Urbino, which has views within the palace walls.

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