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Discovering the Ducal Palace of Gubbio

Monday 06 november 2017

One of the Montefeltro's favourite places, a fragment of the Renaissance in the medieval city par excellence, is the Ducal Palace of Gubbio.

Discovering the Ducal Palace of Gubbio

Not everyone knows that Gubbio, a city famous in the world for its incomparable medieval appearance, preserves in its upper part an exceptional fragment of the Renaissance: it is the Ducal Palace.

The elegant building, also called Corte Nuova, was commissioned by Federico da Montefeltro and built on pre-existing buildings between 1474 and 1482. Everything was built following the design of the Sienese Francesco di Giorgio Martini, who certainly took into account the ideas of his predecessor at the court in Urbino: the Dalmatian Luciano Laurana.

The eyes tell of the Ducal Palace of Gubbio

Unlike the Ducal Palace of Urbino, the Ducal Palace in Gubbio does not seem to symbolize the greatness of a man or his family, it is not directed outside, to the world; on the contrary, it is embedded between the houses and the narrow streets of the city, and the Duomo seems almost to want to be on it from one moment to the next. We are facing, here in Gubbio, something more intimate, a summer residence whose function is not to appear, but to be practical and beautiful. Of a beauty, however, completely private. Remarkable is the difference between the amazing interior and the almost anonymous exterior.

The Ducal Palace of Gubbio consists of two buildings, one overlooking the mountain above and the other the roofs of the city, which are joined in the beautiful central courtyard where wonderful is the play of color that comes from the combination of stone and brick, as well as enchanting are the slender columns that end in finely worked capitals.

Part of the building, the one obtained by renovating a 12th century building, rises above a really characteristic gallery (called Voltone) made of formidable pylons and cross vaults: it is from here that you can access the enchanting hanging garden wanted by Francesco Maria II Della Rovere (last Lord of Urbino), from where the whole view overlooks Gubbio. The view alone is enough to justify the (actually quite contained) cost of the ticket.

The halls of the Palace today are rather bare. Furniture and paintings, over the years, have been sold or stolen, but the charm remains: it is hidden in the fine architecture, friezes and decorations of portals and fireplaces. Even the wooden appliances of the studiolo (very similar to the one in Urbino) made by the Florentine Giuliano da Maiano to a design by Francesco di Giorgio, have been dismantled and taken away, finished after several changes of hand from the parts of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Since 2009, the Palazzo Ducale eugubino has been equipped with a replica of the same, a rather faithful reproduction of the original.

Why a Ducal Palace in Gubbio?

The main problems of the ancient Duchy of Urbino were the lack of land and the small number of inhabitants. In these conditions, losing a battle could easily turn into losing everything. Federico da Montefeltro, however, had an intuition, an idea judged by his contemporaries to be at the limit of utopia, but which, with the help of his people and thanks to an outsized tenacity, he managed to transform into reality. He had to succeed in giving the opportunity to a few to defend themselves against many. How? By fortifying every corner of the land. We are not talking about normal fortifications for the time, but about avant-garde and impregnable fortresses: it is no coincidence that it was the small Duchy of Urbino that boasted the first fortresses resistant to firearms.

All this, however, had an exorbitant cost, especially for a small state like the one governed by the Montefeltro. So why spend resources on a domestic palace, a building so unskilled at war? Certainly Federico had Gubbio in his heart since, like his son Guidubaldo, he had found his birthplace there. Moreover, the city of Gubbio was, together with Urbino, the most populous of its entire domain. The construction of the Ducal Palace of Gubbio is perhaps also explained by the sovereign's desire to make himself feel close to the local people and thus obtain their loyalty.

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