Along the eastern coast of the Italian Peninsula, east of Florence (but over the Apennine mountains) is the hill town of Urbino. It's not easy to get to as one has to take the train to Pesaro (home of the composer Rossini) and then take a bus for an hour into the foothills. However, once you get there, you are rewarded with a beautiful setting and a buzzing University town. Urbino was the home of Fedrico de Montefeltro, who in the 15th century was the Duke of Urbino and because of his great leadership and treatment of his soldiers he gained great wealth and success as a mercenary army. It's what he did with that money that is his lasting legacy. Even though he made his money in war, he spent it on cultivating and patronizing art and architecture. He created, at its time, the largest collection of books outside of the Vatican. Urbino, also the birthplace of Raphael, was independent until the 1650's when it was incorporated into the Papal States and then eventually passed into being a part of the Italian Republic during the Risorgimento of 1861.
You all recognize this famous portrait of Montefeltrano by Piero della Francesca. It's actually housed in the Uffizi in Florence.
The view up into the countryside and mountains outside Urbino.
The skyline of Urbino. The Ducal Palace of Urbino is that large building to the right of the Duomo.
Need a city wall? Just build it straight up the hillside.
The tower of Urbino marks the center of town, Piazza della Repubblica.
The city cemetery and Montefeltro's tomb is on a hill off in the distance. This hill is also home to a famous kite festival the first Sunday every September.
"FED VX" is Montefeltro's stamp.
Inside the Ducal Palace is the National Gallery of Le Marche (the latter being the region of Italy in which Urbino now lies. From this frieze above the door to the palace apartment, you can see the Duke had a sense of humor.
Wandering through the gallery, I saw this and wondered, is the baby giving us the finger?
This is probably the most famous painting in the gallery, "Flagellation of Christ" by Piero della Francesca. The painting is done on wood of all things, and the wood is bowing. In addition, I have to say that I really like della Francesca's style of painting. It's clean and simple and easy to read.
"The Ideal City" by another painter
The absolute highlight of the palace is the Duke's study. It is completely inlaid with wood.
This closeup of a parrot shows how each piece was cut and placed on the wall individually.
The subject matter of the whole room is items referring to the liberal arts. Books, scientific and musical instruments, etc. The Duke was definitely a man of the Renaissance.
This inlaid door shows the two major parts of the Duke's life, the fortress representing war and the palace representing his love of the arts and his patronage of it. Note how the "FED VX" is only on the palace. A sign of where his true interests lie. I have to give credit for this interpretation to the Rick Steves' guide book.