The Winged Guardians of Urbino

By Denise Harroff, Co-Editor

Perched atop the Porta Valbona, two eagle statues stand watch at the entrance of the city center of Urbino. Their bodies face outside of the city and their heads turn inward toward one another. Each eagle is about 5 feet tall and looms directly above the stone arch where many visitors and residents enter the city on foot.

While walking underneath the stone arch, one can’t help but look up and meet the eyes of the stern eagles. Their wings are not placed against their body nor completely outstretched, but they are slightly open, exposing the eagles’ chests. Manuela Palmucci, an Urbino tour guide, explained these eagles are said to be the guardians of the city.

More engravings and paintings of eagles can be found within the Palazzo Ducale, the Ducal Palace. The palace was once home to the famous Duke Frederico da Montefeltro, who oversaw the palace construction and was a patron of artists. Within the magnificent, four-story palace that he left behind after death in 1482, his royal seal can be found in nearly every room. The center of this seal is a large, open-winged eagle.

The eagle is usually found on the palace walls and ceilings with a crown on its head, full and open wings, an open beak and large, spread talons. Many of these royal eagles can be seen above doorways, carved into wooden doors and engraved in stone throughout the luxurious and ancient home. Various artworks within the palace also depict two black eagles on black and yellow shields. Even above the palace, between the peaks of two famous towers that are landmarks of Urbino, a white stone eagle sits and watches over the people.

According to Hall of Names: Heraldry Symbols & What They Mean, a website specializing in the research of different coat of arms and surname history, the depiction of an eagle symbolizes “a noble nature from its strength and aristocratic appearance.” It also states that “the wings signify protection, and the talons symbolize ruin to evildoers.”

Such protection is easily illustrated in the facial expressions and postures of the eagles throughout the Ducal Palace and over city center’s wall. These eagles are sometimes aggressive-looking, prepared to guard and fight for the city that they call home.

The winged guardians can be found throughout the city of Urbino. Photo by Denise Harroff
The winged guardians can be found throughout the city of Urbino.
Photo by Denise Harroff

Eagles can also be found throughout the chapels within the Urbino city center. Most of these eagles are pictured with a book, outstretched or relaxed wings, a closed beak and a much softer expression. They do not portray the royal attributes of the eagles within the palace nor the hard, intimidating characteristics of the eagles above the porta.

According to Catholic Online, a website focused on the teachings of Catholicism, the eagle within chapels most often represents Saint John, the “patron of love, loyalty and friendship” and “the apostle of charity.” It also explains that he is represented by an eagle because of “the height he rose to in his gospel.”

These paintings and engravings within the Urbino chapels add to the variety of guardian eagles found throughout Urbino. The birds of prey are a part of the history of the town, and through thick and thin, they stand as symbols of strength for their people.

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