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Urbania is culturally very much alive; in this valley language courses, literary prizes and, following an old tradition, even a Ladies Fair are organized. This small town, situated in the high Metauro valley, owes its name to pope Urban VIII, who elevated it to its status as a town in 1635: it had been called Castel delle Ripe and then Castel Durante in previous centuries. Urbania has been a the heart of a flourishing ceramics producing centre since the Middle Ages: in the 16th century, Castel Durante majolica, obtained with the clay soil from the banks of the Metauro river, reached a peak of refinement which has never been equalled since in Italy. The towns artisans and potters still carry on this ancient artistic tradition with equal skill today. In a beautiful bend of the Metauro river the unmistakable proportions of the Ducal Palace stand guard, built by Francesco di Giorgio Martini for Federico da Montefeltro and trasformed in the 16th century by Genga.
The spacious rooms that sorround the Courtyard of Honour was the customary dwelling of the Dukes and confirm the important role played by Casteldurante in the Renaissance. Today the Ducal Palace hosts, besides a pecious library, a museum and art gallery. But there are other examples that are worthy of note, the first of which is the Chiesa dei Morti with its characteristic gothic portal which hosts inside the Cemetery of Mummies. Then there is the Cathedral, with the adjacent Palazzo Vescovile that houses the Diocesan Museum. The Church of San Francesco, the Oratory of Corpus Domini and the convent of Santa Chiara and Santa Maria Maddalena are an ideal journey through the religious architecture over the centuries. Outside Urbania's fortified wall is the Barco", residence and hunting retreat of the Dukes of Urbino. It is a grand villa started by Francesco di Giorgio and continued by the architect Genga.
The ceramics of Casteldurante was already present in the medieval period. In the XVIth century reached a very high qualitative fluorishing level, increased by "Raphaelism" and by the influence of painters, poets, and humanists of the Renaissance Court, Casteldurante also benefitted from the affluent conditions of the Duchy of Urbino during the domination of the Montefeltros and the Della Roveres. At about the middle of XVIth century, Casteldurance together with Urbino, Pesaro and other centres of the "metaurense" area in the Marches, produced some of the most beautiful majolicas of the Renaissance distinguishable from those of Faenza and others Italian places of majolica by the invention of typical decorations and the refinement of the narrative pictorial genre called "istoriata" (decorated with scenes). At this time, in Casteldurante, which lies on the banks of the Metauro river, over 40 klins were working for all the Eurapean Courts, and in the census were included 150 makers of majolica ware, among which there were turners and painters of extraordinary ability in decoration and drawings (Zoan Maria, Simone da Colonello, the Dolcis, the Fontanas, etc.). At the same time several masters left their town, taking their art to other parts of Italy, Northen Europe and abroad. About 1540, the "durantino" (inhabitant of Casteldurante) Cipriano Piccolpasso, the unique master of Italian Renaissance ceramics, wrote his treatise "The three books of the potter's art" in which he taught the secrets and the rules of making ceramics (today the volume is preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum of London). The heritage of knowledge of the ancient masters has been handed down during the centuries: today, we can find skillful ceramists, both professional and amateur, working in Urbania and in their workshops the colours, the techniques and the extraordinary richness of the vases and "istoriato" plates of the past, still live on.
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