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Monday, May 25, 2009

Urbino or the Eyes of Raffaello

Recently I formulated a principle: when at business trip, try to visit at least one place close to the destination. After shortly consulting the Rough Guide, there was no doubt that this would be Urbino - a fantastic medieval city - one that you wouldn't expect to find so close to the mass tourism beaches of Rimini.

Urbino reminded me a lot of the Tuscany hilltop towns located between Florence and Sienna. The town is located on a top of a hill, very dense and concentrated, with an inevitable palazzo at the top.

The main man there is Federico da Montefeltro (this family is everywhere in Marche) who - instead of buying 15th century equivalents of boats and cars - supported culture and architecture.

Being a walled city, the access to Urbino is through gates. There are no giants asking visitors questions before they let them in and killing them if they don't answer right.

Urbino Gate

In such towns houses and churches are perched on one another. In this case Palazzo Ducale is on the top.

Somewhere up there

The Duomo is the main church in Urbino. It was started in the 11th and finished in the early 17th c. I have always been amazed by those monumental constructions which take many generations to complete. What was the state of mind of the builders who were fully conscious that they will never complete the church in their life time? Or was such construction divided in small sub projects lasting a life time?

The Duomo, XI - XVII c

One perspective of the Ducal Palace, always on top, overlooking the valley and the rest of the town.

View at Palazzo Ducale (Ducal Palace)

Approached from below the palace looks like a multistory building. It has a light and spacious interiour though, obviously a place where many parties took place. I had often wondered how they used to sleep in these huge roomss and wasn't it cold and uncosy. This time I got an answer as there was a beautiful wooden structure (a room in the room) in one of the rooms where the bed used to be. I guess it was easier to warm up, put candles, etc.

Palazzo Ducale

We were fortunate enough as there was a Raffaello (Raffaello Sanzio) exhibition in the palace, a dozen works by him, his father (Giovanni Santi) and some other of their contemporaries. While looking at the paintings I was thinking that it is so contradictory to dedicate 5 minutes to a work completed in months and even years, to be moved just a tiny bit by something beautiful simply because the next one is coming. Don't these paintings deserve hours of contemplation? Isn't it better to pick one and study it in detail rather than gliding on the surface of a dozen of them?

It seems to me that this is the main difference between horizontal and vertical perception of reality - people, places, art. While the former is linked with diversity, easy and constant change (a kind of zoom-out perception), the latter is more of a zoom-in, looking-deep-into-the-eyes perception. I guess the secret is finding the right balance between two of them as both extremes would lead to a kind of madness - the madness of constant change and superficial look or the obsession the depth, the danger of falling into an abyss.

This is Raffaello's famous self-portrait. Just look into his eyes. Raffaelo was an Urbino native and lived only 37 years.

Raffaello self-portrait

We were hesitating if we should go to San Marino but finally decided to spend an hour there especially having in mind that it is the oldest constitutional republic in the world with the oldest constitution (from 1600). Can one easily miss the cradle of constitutionalism and parliamentarism? I totally agree the Rough Guide which says that 'it is not an unpleasant place'. It would have been a very nice place if it was not for the hundreds of shops obviously selling stuff cheaper than in Italy because of the lower VAT. Calling it 'pleasant' would be too strong and would endorse the San Marino-mall approach, calling it 'unpleasant' would be unjust.

In San Marino I was reminded that you want to be different you'd better work on the symbols. Difference in some cases is mostly a semiotic exercise: the clothes of the policemen, their semi-dancing gestures, the way the local dialect is written and others.

San Marino Senate

This is the small and compact San Marino Church, opposite the senate.

San Marino Cathedral

This tower is located on Monte Titano where the first small church was built in 301 by Saint Marinus from nowadays Rab. It reminds me of some ancient battleship. If there is a new deluge Noah could save some wood and, embark and set sails.

Montale Tower

From San Marino we set sails (or rather pressed the gas pedal of the unfortunate, suffocating Fiat Punto) to Venice. And Venice should be drunk pure, it shouldn't be mixed with ingredients like San Marino or even Urbino.


Polly said...

Stunning photos, and Italy must be one of the most beautiful places in the world.

I remember reading a lot about Uribno in context of St Francis d'Assisi and Michelangelo, it keeps coming back in history. I've never been there, I must visit one day.

I_am_Tulsa said...

Ah, I feel like I'm traveling with you! (I wish I was traveling with you guys!) I look forward to these lessons on history, art and architecture. Thank you so much.
I'm not a big fan of tourist vending stalls but did you find anything interesting to buy?

Ruslan said...


St Francis d'Assisi and Michelangelo were operating mainly in Tuscany but who knows:-)


I am glad this is bringing you something. By the way, did you see one of my comments? I had a question on one Chinese art?

To be honest, I bought a leather wallet. Stupid, but mine was falling apart.:-)

Polly said...

I'm pretty sure one of them had something to do with Urbino... I'll investigate that ;-)

I_am_Tulsa said...

Ruslan that was YOU! I had no idea... (It said Anonymous.) Yes, I answered it in the comment section but here it is, so you don't have to go look for it:

I'm not sure if what you saw in China is the same thing as what I have heard about or seen But...I have heard of many people in China practicing calligraphy outside with water and brush.
It saves paper and ink (and you get to go outside). It may not seem very exotic but it is very ecological.

If I were to choose a philosophical reason, it would have to be shogyo mujyo = all things are transient.

I haven't seen this in Japan but my calligraphy teacher did something similar using diluted ink/water and newspaper.

I hope this helps!

Ruslan said...

Wow, Tulsa,

That's exactly what I needed. Thank you very much.

Do you have pictures of it by any chance? I can't find any pictures from China:-(

willow said...

Wonderful architecture. And there is something very compelling about Raffaello's self portrait. I can't stop looking at it!

B said...

Wonderful photos, but I keep your thoughts on looking at things vertical or horizontally, really love that.