Urbino’s palace culture gave rise to the first-ever painted images of utopian cities in the form of a trio of intriguing panels, all now known as “The Ideal City,” one of which remained in Urbino, the other two are in Baltimore and Berlin.

Years ago, I spent part of my junior-year at the Universita per Stranieri in Perugia. At that time Perugia was this sleepy, Umbrian hill-town in the middle of Italy. We lived with the locals. And Corso Vannucci – the main thorough-fare was full of local vendors who tolerated us. There was this great bakery/cafe that had the best pastries. The owner was this very masculine looking woman who ran the register. And after having our espresso or a granita-di-cafe, we had to get up the courage to go up and pay hoping that the she wouldn’t insult or berate us. (For the longest time, I pretended to not speak Italian because I didn’t want her telling me that I had a Calabrian accent. Il Mezzogiorno – the provinces south of Naples – were in great disfavor and looked down upon. I certainly didn’t want to be associated with them people.)

Perugia has changed radically since those long-ago days. All the local vendors are gone from Corso Vannucci. Guess Jeans, Armani, Starbucks and McDonalds now rent the store fronts.Urbino never went through this type of transformation. Instead it managed its transition into the modern world keeping the old centro in tack and economically viable for local vendors; its suburbs orderly; its new construction architecturally cohesive; and its university for Italians. It bills itself as la citta ideale – the ideal city.

Everywhere in Urbino is an energy that you find in all growing, vibrant cities. The streets are free of filth; the medieval walls are pointed and cleaned; the old city is full of people; the cafes and bars cater to the locals rather than the tourists.

The above tag is from an exhibit – La città ideale, l’utopia del Rinascimento a Urbino tra Piero della Francesca e Raffaello – The ideal city. The Renaissance utopia in Urbino from the time of Piero della Francesca to Raphael.