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The rise of the Italian city-state during the Renaissance defines a period of paradoxical contrast. Although scourged by often tyrannical rule and frequent territorial warfare, the great ruling dynasties of the period, among them the Montefeltro, Malatesta, Sforza and Gonzaga families, enabled through their patronage a flowering of artistic, intellectual and architectural ambition that gave birth to some of the most splendid examples of art and architecture of the Renaissance period. This tour will explore the cultural flourishing of two of the most representative of Northern Italian court cities – the romantic Mantua, known by locals as La Bella Addormentata, the sleeping beauty, and the picturesque Urbino. In its island-like position in the middle of three artificial lakes, Mantua was the setting for one of the most illustrious courts of the Renaissance Italy, ruled by the Gonzaga family from 1328. In the Renaissance the Hill town Urbino, under the rule of Federico da Montefeltro, experienced a cultural flowering beyond compare. Federico’s Palazzo Ducale is widely regarded as the most beautiful of Italian Renaissance palaces. We will end the tour visiting Pesaro and the Villa Imperiale in the hills outside the city, an outstanding example of Mannerist architecture. This tour will bring to life these vibrant cities, and the fierce rivalries between their noble families which served to stimulate the urban expression of Renaissance ideals.
Morning flight at with BA from London Heathrow to Bologna. Transfer by private coach to Mantua, our base for the first three nights of the tour. Upon arrival in Mantua, enjoy an introductory walk including the 11th-century Rotonda di S. Lorenzo and the Cathedral of San Pietro. We will also visit the Christian temple of Sant’Andrea, designed by Renaissance humanist and architect Leonbattista Alberti, a ground-breaking example of Early Renaissance church architecture.
A day in Mantua on foot. The grand Piazza Sordello, Mantua’s oldest square, encapsulates the town’s history. Bordered by mediaeval palaces and towers, this square has always been the political centre of town. Next to the Episcopal palace and cathedral, a reminder of Mantua’s early history, the labyrinthine complex of the Palazzo Ducale is witness to the rise of the Gonzaga family. This monumental building with countless rooms, halls, corridors and courtyards houses an abundance of art ranging from Andrea Mantegna’s breath-taking Camera degli Sposi to Isabella d’Este’s famous grotto and studiolo. In the afternoon we visit the extraordinary Palazzo Te, a Mannerist reinterpretation of an Italian villa suburbana, created by Giulio Romano for Federico II both to meet his private passions, such as his horses (and his mistress), and to showcase his public and political aspirations.
Full-day excursion to Sabbioneta where Vespasiano Gonzaga’s architectural dream of an ideal Renaissance city became reality. As military engineer to King Philip II of Spain he paid much attention to the still surviving fortifications. In the morning, our visit will take us to the Palazzo Ducale, the Teatro all’Antica, designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi in 1588 and the church of the Incoronata. After lunch we will visit the Palazzo del Giardino and the Galleria degli Antichi before returning to Mantua for a free evening.
By coach to Cesena, where the Biblioteca Malatestiana, created for Domenico Malatesta, stands as one of the great Renaissance libraries. This unique foundation – the first civic library in Europe – has preserved its appearance and codices since its opening in 1454. Onwards to Rimini, where two Roman roads, the Via Flaminia and the Via Emilia, ended. The Roman colony’s significance manifests itself in monuments such as the Triumphal Arch of Augustus. From the 13th century, Rimini was ruled by the Malatesta until annexed by Venice in 1503 and, finally, the Papal States in 1528. Evidence of former Malatesta glory is found in the Church of San Francesco, or ‘Tempio Malatestiano’, designed by Leonbattista Alberti, with interior decorations by Agostino di Duccio and Piero della Francesca. Continue to Urbino, our base for the last three nights of this tour. After checking into our four-star hotel, a free evening for independent dinner.
A day on foot in Urbino will allow us to discover the delights of the Palazzo Ducale, one of the great buildings of the Italian Quattrocento, the work of Luciano Laurana, collaborator of Leonbattista in Mantua, and the multi-talented Sienese painter, sculptor and architect Francesco di Giorgio. The palace is home to the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, a magnificent collection of works by Paolo Uccello, Piero della Francesca and Raphael.
A short drive in the morning will take us to San Bernardino, the mausoleum of the Montefeltro dukes, situated on the outskirts of Urbino. We return to the Piazza del Mercato to walk up the steps leading to the Oratorio di San Giovanni, beautifully frescoed with narrative scenes in International Gothic Style, while the cathedral, substantially rebuilt after an earthquake in the late 18th century, houses three altarpieces by Frederico Barocci. The afternoon is free for independent visits, before a farewell dinner on our last evening.
Morning visit to Pesaro on the Adriatic coast, ruled successively by the Malatesta, the Sforza and the della Rovere. In the 1530s Duke Francesco Maria della Rovere and his wife Eleonora Gonzaga converted a 15th-century hunting lodge to become the palatial suburban Villa Imperiale, a project so ambitious it was never completed. Terraced gardens, loggias and a sunken courtyard are complemented by rooms lavishly frescoed with tromp-l’oeil views of Arcadian landscapes. After admiring the exterior of the Palazzo Ducale in Pesaro, commissioned during the 15th century by Alessando Sforza, we will stop for lunch at a seaside restaurant before travelling on to Bologna airport for an early evening flight back to London.