Urbino's Ducal Palace, or Palazzo Ducale, was the first ducal palace to be built in Italy. It was constructed in the 15th century by Duke Federico da Montefeltro. It was often called a town in the shape of a palace because of its large size, with 500 - 600 inhabitants, including the many servants needed to run it. The extensive underground rooms where the servants worked and lived have been renovated and opened to the public. Under the palace were stables, kitchens, laundry rooms, the ice room used for refrigeration, and the Duke's baths, similar to Roman baths.
Duke Federico was a patron of the arts and was dedicated to the study of literature and humanities. Unfortunately his huge collection of books and illuminated manuscripts was taken to the Vatican Museums in the 18th century. Although none of the original furniture and very little of the wall decor remains, a highlight of a visit is the Duke's original small study whose walls are covered with inlaid wood scenes depicting books, musical instruments and scores, scientific instruments, weapons, and historical people including Greek philosophers and Biblical people. Near the study are two small chapels, the Temple of the Muses, painted by Santi who was Raffaello's father, and Temple of Forgiveness.
National Gallery of the Marche Renaissance Art Collection
Since 1912 the Palazzo Ducale has been the home to the National Gallery of the Marche, housing one of the world's most important collections of Renaissance paintings in 80 of the palace's renovated rooms. Many 15th century art works that were originally in churches throughout the Marche are displayed in the gallery. There are two works by Piero della Francesca - the Flagellation and Madonna di Senigallia.
The Renaissance painter Raphael (Raffaello) was from Urbino and several of his works are found in the gallery. 17th century tapestries in the large room depict scenes drawn by Raphael. You can also visit his house in town, now a museum.
Other art works include crucifixes made by students of Giotto and a room of 17th century Baroque paintings.
Palazzo Ducale Visiting Information
Hours: Monday 8:30 - 14:00, Tuesday - Sunday 8.30 - 19.15 (check updated hours)
Closed Christmas and New Year's Day
Allow at least 1 -2 hours for your visit
Admission: 5 euro as of 2013 - check current prices
Guided Tours: Information in Italian but you'll find a phone number and email address. Tours are available in English.
More About Urbino
The Renaissance city of Urbino, a walled hill town in central Italy's Marche region (see Marche map for location), is well worth a visit. In the 15th century Urbino attracted top artists and scholars and had a university in 1506. Urbino also became an important center for quality majolica and you'll find lots of it in shops around town. Urbino's historic center is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Find out more about visiting and what to see and do in our Urbino Travel Guide.
The Duke also had a summer palace, a short distance from Urbino in Urbania, also worth a visit.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with free admission and guided tour for the purpose of this article, arranged by Luisa Donati of Palazzo Donati. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. See our ethics policy.