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After a few minutes walk along Via della Cattedrale the outer buildings of Palazzo Ducale come into sight, some of which are partly still damaged from 1997’s earthquake. The entrance to the palazzo areal easy to see: the portcullis is open. Some fascinating frescoes, albeit partly damaged or otherwise gone, are inside the archway. And there is also a hole in the wall at a bit higher level (maybe from the earthquake) where the wooden beams and part of the wall construction can be seen. When I stepped out onto the terrace (photo 2) for the first time in April 2008 I found a magnificent view over Gubbio’s houses and the surroundings. Palazzo dei Consoli and its bell tower stick out like the symbol of the town. The small kiosk offers life saving snacks and caffè, but that is a story for the restaurant section.
On the way further uphill (only a few metres though) I saw the fascinating façade of Palazzo Ducale, realised in a kind of illusion painting, suggesting “diamonds” (photo 3). The palace can be visited, and only in August 2010 I managed to do just this, with a special guide: Marcello Minelli, patriarch of the Minelli family, who have a restoration business in Gubbio and who have made the replica of Federico da Montefeltro’s Studiolo. This magnificent wood inlay work was made for Palazzo Ducale in Gubbio in 15th century but was stolen in 18th century and was in private hands for a long time. Metropolitan Museum in New York purchased it 1939 and it is now on display there. In 2000, with the help of funds and organisations in Gubbio, the Minelli family begun with the reconstruction of Studiolo. In October 2009 the work was finished and Gubbio’s Studiolo officially opened for the public. So it was fascinating to walk into the room with Marcello and listen to his explanations of how difficult it was to find wood old enough for this work and how they created the three dimensional illusions, this work is so famous for. Photography isn’t allowed inside the palazzo, and even if I was allowed to take photos, I promised the staff not to publish these. But then, on the Met’s website the original Studiolo is described in many photos. And, local Danae Film Production made a short video Studiolo in Gubbio and a slightly longer explanatory video about Studiolo.
Update, Feb 2013: I just discovered that Minelli family has an own Youtube channel and has made a fantastic video about the studiolo and ist reproduction => here
But it is not only the Studiolo what makes a visit to Palazzo Ducale a must in Gubbio. It is their huge collection of artwork of Mastro Giorgio, the local ceramic artist who became famous for having invented the lustre technology. When I was in the Palazzo in August 2010, they also had a fascinating exhibition about Dante and his Divina Commedia. Again it was also Minelli family who made the showcase woodwork with amazing inlay work for the printed versions of Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. In addition, as permanent exhibition or rather illusion: holographic techniques by Paolo Buroni bring Federico da Montefeltro back to his Palazzo in Gubbio. He talks to an angel and there is a holographic puzzle on the floor which is being activated when people walk over this part of the floor. To my delight I found that there is a short video about Famtasma di Montefeltro on youtube.
So yes, it is well worth to visit Palazzo Ducale and I am a bit ashamed that it took me two years to do this. On the other hand, I could not have had a better guide than Marcello Minelli. Grazie mille Marcello for your time and explanations!!
The Palazzo’s website (see website section) is still under construction in parts. But it already gives a good overview on their photo collection (Galleria), and also has some sketches of the palazzo’s architecture.
Opening hours, Palazzo Ducale:
Tuesday to Sunday, 8:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Entrance fee: 2 € for adults, 1 € for students (18-25 years), free for kids until 18 and adults over 65.
Palazzo Ducale on Google Maps
© Ingrid D., February 2009, complete revamp and photo exchange, December 2010 (just in case, RickS or others come along and think they can steal texts).
continue with next review => short stop for caffè at the snack bar
Updated Feb 25, 2013
Address: Gubbio, Palazzo Ducale
Phone: +39 - 075 - 927 58 72
The small Piazza del Bargello is located a little downhill from the Piazza Grande, on the Via del Consoli. It is dominated on one side by the Palazzo of the same name. I was in here only briefly, on the morning of the Palio della Balestre, when it acted as the base for the Societá dei Balestrieri. Here the participants in the procession gathered and donned their various costumes – we were able that morning to get a close look at some of these. But we didn’t get the chance to look around properly, and the next day when we returned it was, like many museums in Italy on a Monday, closed. This will have to remain on my “must see” list for a future visit to Gubbio as, from the brief glimpses I had and all that Ingrid has told me (and describes in her tip) it has a fascinating collection, especially for anyone who has attended the Palio. For it is here that the traditions of the balestrieri are explained and the instruments of their skill displayed – antique crossbows and arrows. You can also see many of the banners (the banner is the “Palio” that gives the tournament its name) from the years when Gubbio won and thus was awarded this trophy. I would particularly have liked a closer look at these, as each is unique and beautifully sewn in silks and other richly coloured fabrics – you can see Ingrid in costume outside the Palazzo with this year’s in photo 3.
On the piazza outside is the Fontana dei Matti. This is interesting for its design, with the symbol of Gubbio, the Cinque Colli or Five Hills at its centre. But it also has a legend attached to it, which is that if a visitor runs around it three times he will have won the right to be a little “crazy” or ”matto”, just as the locals consider themselves to be when they carry the heavy ceri up the steep hill to the basilica of Sant’ Ubaldo during the Festa dei Ceri. I confess I didn’t put this legend to the test!
By the way, look closely at my photo of the Palazzo del Bargello. As well as the main door on the right, you can see a second a little higher on the left. Some guidebooks will tell you that this is the ”porta dei morti” or “door of the dead”, reserved to be used only for funerals, by which the body would leave the home for the last time. Most now regard this as unlikely to be true but the story persists. More likely is that these doors offered the householder a safer way of opening when they were unsure who was outside, as they would be in a dominant position, or that they had something do with the houses’ dual purpose as home and place of business, necessitating two separate entrances.
~~ next tip: Gubbio’s saints
Updated Jul 4, 2012
While the Palazzo dei Consoli dominates the centre of Gubbio and can be seen from all over the town, it is the Basilica of Sant’ Ubaldo, which sits high above on Monte Ingino, which is the true reference point for views of the city. It is also in the perfect location; Sant’ Ubaldo is the patron saint of Gubbio, and from where better could he watch over his people?
Ubaldo Baldassini (1080 – 1160) was the son of a noble Gubbio family who became first a monk and later a prior in the cathedral monastery here and, eventually (after refusing the position several times), a bishop. In 1551 the nobles of Perugia formed an alliance with eleven other confederated cities with the intent to destroy Gubbio and its people. Inspired, it is said, by Ubaldo, the people were able not only to withstand the attack but to fight back and claim an unlikely victory. They believed that it was by miraculous intervention that their city had been saved from destruction.
A few years later, when Ubaldo was by now older and quite ill, the city was threatened again. Frederik I, Barbarossa, set out to subdue those cities who didn’t accept his role. He destroyed Spoleto and planned to subordinate Gubbio too. But then he met the sick and elderly bishop, it is said, and was overwhelmed by his pacific qualities. As a result he gave Gubbio the rights of a free commune rather than destroy the city. No wonder that when Ubaldo died he was venerated by local people; they petitioned the then pope, Pope Celestine III, to canonise him, which he did in 1192. As a result, his body (which had originally been buried in the cathedral) was exhumed to be removed to what was then just a small chapel at the top of the hill. The body was found to have remained uncorrupted by death and decay – further evidence for the church that he merited sainthood.
Later the chapel was expanded to become a church worthy to hold these relics, and became a place of pilgrimage for all who have a devotion to the saint. This includes more or less everyone in Gubbio, where the veneration of Sant’ Ubaldo is at the heart of the Festa dei Ceri and for many also part of daily life. His name is everywhere – many boys are baptised Ubaldo, local businesses such as restaurants or shops use his name, and you also see his image on pictures and in statues.
Whatever your own beliefs, a visit to his resting place is a special experience. Firstly you have to climb the mountain, which you can do on foot (following in the footsteps of the ceraioli who carry the heavy ceri and their saints up here at speed) or by funicular. We chose the latter, and if not afraid of heights, it’s a great way to travel, floating peacefully over the scented pines to arrive at the shrine.
The basilica once reached is beautiful, with a tranquil courtyard in front complete with friendly black cat) and inside some lovely modern stained glass windows showing scenes from his life (see photo 3). One sight not to be missed, unless you are here between 1st and 15th May, are the three huge ceri, stored in the right-hand aisle for most of the year (during the fortnight running up to the Festa dei Ceri they are moved to the Palazzo dei Consoli). Getting a close-up look like this really helps you appreciate the strength and skill of those ceraioli.
The other important sight, of course, is the relics of Sant’ Ubaldo, lying in a glass casket on the main altar. As with other saints similarly miraculously preserved (known as “incorruptible” – read more here), the body has undergone examination by scientists who are unable to explain the phenomenon. No techniques have been employed to preserve it (this is not a mummy) and it remains undecayed even though occasionally removed from the casket for special festivals. Ingrid has found an excellent video of one such occasion, which marked the 850th anniversary of his death.
While you’re up here on Monte Ingino do take the time to relax and enjoy the landscape and views, which are fantastic. There are a couple of cafés for refreshments too, so all in all it’s a lovely mini-excursion.
~~ next tip: a delicious local treat
Updated Jul 4, 2012
San Francesco della Pace is a small church on Via XX Settembre, and is also often called the Chiesa dei Muratori or Stonemasons' church, having been built by that guild in the first half of the 17th century. It would be easy to pass it by, although in May the banner hung from its small balcony makes it stand out. It is closed to the public, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of notice. Two things make it so.
Firstly, there is the story behind its construction, which is linked to the story of St Francis and the wolf. Most people know that St Francis was said to have tamed a wolf that was terrorising the countryside and local people, and that once tamed it lived peacefully among them. Many believe the story to be symbolic, the wolf a symbol of evil and the saint overcoming it not through aggression but through gentleness and faith. If there really was a wolf, it was here in the area of Gubbio that it lived, and here it was tamed. And this church is said to have been built on the spot where the wolf eventually died. It is almost certainly just a story – but when the church was renovated in the 19th century a wolf skeleton was found here under a stone. That skeleton is now preserved in the church, and the stone serves as altar. Gubbio’s town website also claims that it was on this stone that the pact between saint and wolf was made.
The second thing that makes this church noteworthy is its deep connection to the Festa dei Ceri. The statues of the three saints that take their places on the top of the ceri are kept here, and can be seen by peering through the window. And on the evening of the festival the saints are brought back to the church in solemn procession and a mass held here in their honour.
The banner in my main photo is only hung during the festival month of May. It displays the colours (rather faded now) of the three saints – blue for San Giorgio, yellow for Sant’ Ubaldo and black for Sant’ Antonio. In the centre of the banner are the symbols of the stonemasons.
~~ next tip: San Marziale
Updated Jul 4, 2012
The heart of Gubbio is the Piazza Grande, and also I believe its soul. It is a truly awe-inspiring space, with its brick floor worn by the footsteps of centuries and the imposing structures of the Palazzo dei Consoli and the Palazzo del Podesta at each end. These date from the 14th century and were originally intended to be a symmetrical pair, facing each other across the expanse of the piazza, but the latter was never finished.
The piazza covers a total of 2230 square metres and would be an impressive space even in a relatively flat town. But here in hilly Gubbio it is an amazing achievement of construction for its time. On the lower side of the hill it has to be supported by a massive stone construction, cut through with deep arches to spread the load, which can best be appreciated from the Via Baldassini (have a look at the second photo in this tip by Ingrid). These Medieval architects knew what they were doing! The square is thought to be the biggest “hanging square” in the world. But why build it in such a challenging spot? Well, it is here that the four quarters of Gubbio meet, so it was considered the most appropriate place for the most important public buildings and the civic square to be located.
Back on the piazza, climb the steps of the Palazzo dei Consoli in order to look out across the space and understand its scale. Then descend and head over to the balustrade. Half of Gubbio (the lower half) is below you, with the wonderful traditional tiled roofs. In the foreground is the church of San Giovanni, beyond it the loggias that run along one side of the Piazza 40 Martiri and beyond them the large church of San Francisco. This is a great spot from which to start to understand the way Gubbio’s streets and houses have been built to accommodate this hilly landscape. The balustrade itself is interesting too as it is ornamented with the symbol of Gubbio, the Cinque Colli (Five Hills), carved from stone (see photo 3).
The piazza is, as I have said, the heart of Gubbio, and it is only natural that its people congregate here. They celebrate the great festivals such as the Palio della Balestra and the Fest dei Ceri, using the great space much as the original town planners must have envisaged, for civic pride and ceremony. I thrilled to the electric atmosphere here when the Palio was at its height. But I think I loved the piazza most when I visited it alone on the last evening of my stay in Gubbio. It was almost deserted; only a young couple strolled by the balustrade admiring the view, and three girls sat on the steps of the Palazzo dei Consoli to gossip over an ice cream. This was my opportunity to really appreciate the vastness of this space – the still-beating heart of Gubbio.
~~ next tip: Palazzo dei Consoli
Written Jul 3, 2012
By far the most imposing and impressive building in Gubbio is this, the Palace of the Consuls. It can be seen from all over the town, whether glimpsed above the roof-tops of the lower streets or looked down on from the heights of Monte Ingenio.
It was built between 1332 and 1338 and is an amazing feat of construction for its time. As you look at it from the Piazza Grande you are aware that on its left side it stands many metres taller (from ground level) than on its right, because of the steep slope of the hillside. Like the piazza on which it stands, it is buttressed from below (see photo five), and further strengthened by the loggia and narrow wing that supports it, which were a later addition.
The entrance is reached by an elegant fan-shaped staircase that would grace the interior of any grand house. Once inside, you find yourself in a vast hall, the Sala Maggiore or Sala dell’Arengo. The ceiling is far above you and the huge windows, with what look like window seats for giants, throw their light across a wide expanse of floor.
To go any further you will have to pay for entry to the civic museum housed here (€5 in May 2012), and it is well worth doing so, as there is plenty to be seen and you also have an opportunity to explore the interior of the palace more thoroughly. This first hall is used for changing exhibitions, and also houses the Ceri for the two weeks leading up to the Festa dei Ceri. When we visited that festival had come and gone, but the Ceri Piccolo, or children’s Ceri, was imminent, so the smaller ceri which they carry were here – and still an impressive size for such young participants. There were also a number of archaeological finds from the area around Gubbio. No photos are allowed inside however, so I have none of the exhibits or of the interior of the building, unfortunately. I did think it would be good idea for those running the museum to allow (non-flash) photography on payment of an extra fee, at least in this Sala Maggiore. I (and I am sure many others) would have willingly paid for the privilege and it would bring extra income to the museum while also pleasing visitors.
A room that leads off this hall will take you to the most important items in the collection, the Iguvine Tables, as they are called. These are seven ancient bronze tablets, dating back to between 300 and 100 BC, that were found by a local farmer while he was ploughing his fields in 1444; the city convinced him to sell them for 2 years' worth of grazing rights. These bronze tablets preserve the most extensive example of the Umbrian language, and like the (later-dated) Rosetta Stone, they have provided an important clue to the unlocking of ancient texts. This is because the Umbri apparently had no alphabet of their own, so they used first Etruscan and later Latin characters which they adapted to spell Umbrian words phonetically. This has enabled scholars who speak the latter to decipher the former. The tablets have thus been translated; they describe Gubbio's ancient territory and enemies, but mainly detail the finer points of religious divination; they are priestly textbooks to help find the will of the gods through animal sacrifice and watching the flight patterns of birds (a system known as augury). These are the most detailed set of religious instructions and explanations that survive from any ancient culture and are of immense value. They have also enabled the translation of other records written in the same language, hence the similarities to the Rosetta Stone.
From the Sala Maggiore a long stone staircase leads up to the first floor – and bear in mind that the first floor here is way higher than in a “normal” building. Anyone who has difficulty walking would find it hard to get around in here and would be advised to give the museum a miss. But for those who can explore further, there are many treats. When you reach the upper floor, turn right to see the museums’ collection of majolica and lusterware, and ceramics dating from the 14th to 19th centuries. Here I especially liked the displays that showed “before and after” photographs of the restoration process – it was lovely to see how the once dulled colours had been brought back to life. It s from here too that you can gain access to the loggia, with stunning views over Gubbio (see photo three – this is one place where photos are allowed).
Back inside, visit the main upper room, the Pinacoteca Civica, which has some beautiful old wooden furniture, including a massive carved table from a nearby monastery. But most impressive here are the paintings – religious art from Gubbio and the surrounding region dating from the late 13th to the 19th century. I found there was too much to take in on a single visit, and I got more out of spending time really looking at just a few of them. I especially liked a Madonna and child, painted by an unknown local artist in the 14th century, and the huge “Madonna della Misericordia” by Sinibaldo Ibi (1503), with an arc of angels (each with unique and rather human faces) watching over her. This forms one side of a processional banner (the other shows Sant’ Ubaldo) about which I found the following information:
”The Commune [I assume of Gubbio] commissioned it and entrusted it to the Augustinians of Santo Spirito. On the feast day of Sant’ Ubaldo, the Confraternita dei Bianchi carried it in procession from Santo Spirito to the Duomo, where it stayed on the high altar for the octave of the feast. The banner was enclosed in its gilded wooden frame in 1833 and transferred “permanently” to the Duomo, although it continued to be used in processions.”
You can read more about Sinibaldo and see this and others of his works (including one that is still in Gubbio’s cathedral) on this website.
We also had some fun here reviving our rusty schoolgirl Latin to translate some of the inscriptions! Before leaving we walked along the small (and easy to miss) corridor, the corridoro segreto, where you can see a Medieval toilet!
The museum is open almost every day (unlike many museums here, which close on a Monday) but closes for the weekend of the Festa dei Ceri and for Christmas. The hours vary according to the time of year but are basically 10.00 – 13..00 (or 13.30) and 15.00 (or 14.30) to 18.00. The shorter lunch break applies during summer months, when the museum also sometimes stays open to 18.30 or even 19.00.
~~ next tip: Palazzo del Podesta
Updated Jul 3, 2012
Facing the Palazzo dei Consoli across the Piazza Grande is its intended “twin”, the Palazzo del Podesta. I say intended, because although originally intended to form a matching pair, the Palazzo del Podestà was never finished. This can be seen at the outer walls, which look clearly unfinished, with bricks protruding from the side walls (see photo 2). But nevertheless it makes a grand backdrop to the view from the Palazzo dei Consoli and to the activity on the piazza, whether day-to-day comings and goings or the spectacle of one of Gubbio’s festivals. It is on the wall of Palazzo del Podesta, for instance, that the target hangs during the Palio della Balestra, and you can see the palazzo in the background of photo 3 with the sbandieratori of Sansepolcro performing in front of it.
Today the Palazzo del Podesta is used as the town hall (the Comune) and as such not a visitor attraction.
~~ next tip: Palazzo del Bargello
Updated Jul 3, 2012
I have read on some websites that this church isn’t open to the public, but we were able to visit, although the hours do seem a little erratic and there’s a small fee (€2 in May 2012) to pay. If you do find it open, it’s well worth this amount.
The church was built in the first half of the 14th century, and belonged to the Confraternita di Santa Maria del Mercato (Confraternity of Our Lady of the Market). It gets its alternative name, Our Lady of the Laity, because it belonged to the lay confraternity of the Disciplinati Bianchi (“White Disciples”), and for the same reason is also sometimes known as Santa Maria dei Bianchi. The porch has some interesting carvings but it is inside that the real treasures lie.
It has been altered several times, and the current appearance dates mainly from the 17th century. There are paintings from this period by Gubbio artist Francesco Allegrini (the “Glory of the Paradise and Sybils”, on the vaulted apse) and Federico Barocci of nearby Urbino (“The Annunciation” above a side altar), among others.
That 17th century restoration, while providing the church with these masterpieces, resulted in others being hidden, as the earlier frescoed walls were largely covered with lime. But some have since been exposed again, especially those of the crypt, which can be viewed through an opening in the floor in the centre of the aisle. These date back to the 13th – 15th centuries and although not in great condition are still wonderful to see. They have been damaged by the damp conditions, and many transferred to the Diocesan Museum at the cathedral, which we didn’t find time (on this visit) to see.
Disappointingly, no photos are allowed inside even without flash, but I bought and scanned this postcard (photo 2) which shows the apse with the painting by Allegrini, the High Altar by Paolo and Bartolomeo Zaffini, and a 17th century of Our Lady. The statues of the prophets on either side of the altar are also (late) 17th century: from left to right, David, Jonathan, Daniel and Isaiah.
~~ next tip: San Giovanni, my “next door neighbour”
Written Jul 3, 2012
The church of San Giovanni Battista was my “next door neighbour” in Gubbio – so close to the room where I stayed that I could hear Mass being said through my open bathroom window on the first morning! Consequently I became quite fond of it and would look for its campanile whenever I was at a good viewpoint (of which there are plenty here).
The church was built in the 13th century (I have also read 14th so maybe over quite a period?) on the site of a former ancient baptistery. The façade and the bell tower are in the Romanesque style. Inside there is a single nave with the roof being supported by huge cross-sectional arches, and the columns are decorated with carved floral motifs. I also found this fragment of a frieze tucked into one corner but haven’t been able to find out anything about it – it appears to show a Madonna and Child, and another figure to the left of them.
Ingrid writes in her tip how this church features in an Italian TV series, Don Matteo, which stars Terence Hill (a former star of the famous so-called “spaghetti westerns”). Have a look at her tip to see a photo of him filming here!
The piazza in front of the church, Piazza San Giovanni, has been laid out it quite a modern style with stone benches and small trees. In the evenings it seems to be a popular spot for local people to meet and chat in the cool fresh air. One evening I watched a group of small children playing at “cleaning house”, sweeping the twigs and scraps of litter into little piles. On another, a band of young drummers had their practice here. It’s also a nice spot (I can speak from experience!) in which to enjoy a delicious gelato from the gelateria just round the corner in Via della Republica.
~~ next tip: the Stonemasons’ church
Written Jul 3, 2012
This church was first documented in the 12th century but is said to date back even further, to around 1000 AD, and as such is the oldest church in Gubbio. It was originally dedicated to Sant’ Andrea and is the main church of the quarter that bears that name, but in 1533 it was incorporated into the monastery of San Marziale and took that name instead. One reason the monastery took this name is apparently that it was built on the ruins of a Roman temple dedicated to Mars, but the name is not unique in Italy (there is a San Marziale in Venice). San Marziale was a saint of Roman times, who along with his six older brothers was martyred by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius for holding to his Christian beliefs. A website about Isca Sullo Ionio describes his martyrdom vividly:
"Marziale watches his brothers being butchered and while aware of his imminent death, boldly denies for the last time, the Pagan Gods. Ready to die, he solemnly proclaims the name of Christ our Lord. Felicita, blessing her son, cries to the Emperor, begging him to spare her little one. Marziale implored God to forgive his assassins and to pray for his mother, while giving his head to the executioner, who with shaking hands, thrusts the sword that severs Marziale's head. The
earth trembled, as fear overcame the Emperor, who looks up to the Heavens and proclaims: "You have won God and you Marziale, like a God, will be sanctified and honoured by posterity."
I really liked this little church. Its exterior is very plain, with only the fan-like staircase giving any sense of grandeur to what might otherwise be almost taken for a jail! Inside the layout is also simple, although it was difficult to look round properly as most of the body of the church was inaccessible behind a locked wrought iron screen. A shame, as there are apparently some noteworthy paintings including a Madonna col Bambino e Santi (“Madonna and Child with Saints”) by Benedetto Nucci (1553). But we could admire a lovely statue of the Madonna (photo 2) and the overall cool and restrained style of architecture.
~~ next tip: Sant’ Agostino’s presepe
Updated Jul 3, 2012
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