Traditions and curiosities:

and curiosities

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In Urbania traditional and popular customs are still alive. One of the oldest of them is Segalavecchia, propitiatory rite of mid-Lent which features a rag-doll loaded down with cakes; the Madonna del Giro and of the Corpus Domini processions, ornate with flowers and May’s broom; the harvest festival and lastly the Rincorrenza del Patrono.

The patron saint San Cristoforo and the blessing of automobiles

San Cristoforo has been the patron saint of Urbania since its very foundation. In fact the first inhabited nucleus of old Casteldurante which then became Urbania sprang up around the abbatial church of “San Cristoforo del ponte” which was already in existence in the 9th century. This patron is a singular figure, a sort of Christian Hercules, protector of travellers and today of car drivers. In Urbania, 24th July remains as an anthem to the saint and the 25th as the festival of the saint’s day (Festa del Patrono) with a solemn evening procession. The following Sunday (a custom that began in the ‘20s) the traditional blessing of cars is repeated with the reliquary of the shoulder bone of the saint conserved in the cathedral in the urn attributed to Pollaiolo (1472). The legend tells that Cristoforo carried baby Jesus across the impetuous waters of a river.

La pirla

A hand-made hard wooden spinning top, etched with small grooves and with a steel tip, or possibly more tapered, with which people in Urbania have competed for their local streets and piazzette up until the early 1980s (they are still made by enthusiasts). The contests were very heated and aggressive. The “pirla” was made to spin like an ordinary top, either throwing it with the help of a cord wound around it, or rolling it in the street by hitting it with a whip. For this the longer shaped pirla was used.


In Urbania the “Segalavecchia” is celebrated half way through Lent, using a life sized doll decorated with necklaces of lupins, dried figs, winter cakes and buns. To the sound of band music and with a “good glass” of wine, the cakes are offered to those present.
It is an old ritual, propitious for an abundant season and diffuse in a vast area of pagan-Celtic influence, more common in nearby Romagna in the province of Forli.
The Segalavecchia occurs at the most adverse time of the year, with all the symbols of carnival culture: the doll was filled with delicacies, then cut in half and the contents were distributed to all; then the old woman was burned on a big bonfire. In Urbania the doll is neither cut open nor burned.

Snails of Urbania! Without bells or canons!

The inhabitants of Urbania are called Urbaniesi or Durantini (from Casteldurante, a term which is still used today). Their typical nickname is LUMACONI (big snails) meant in the sense of “eaters of snails” which in Urbania are much appreciated.
A curious tradition explains the term quite differently, however.
During the presence of Napoleon’s soldiers in Italy, after the sacking of the nearby town of Fossombrone (February 1797) the Urbaniesi, frightened, reinforced the gates and walls and even made nine canons by melting the bronze of the church bells. The canons (the pride of the town) remained however unused and some years later the French command removed them from Urbania to furnish the bastions of Urbino. The Urbinati (inhabitants of Urbino), derided their slow neighbours, calling them “the snails of Urbania! Without bells or canons!”
(Enrico Liburdi: “come nascono i proverbi” (How proverbs originate) bulletin of the Reale Provveditorato agli Studi di Ancona N° 5-7, 1925 and in “Urbania in the Unity of Italy 1861-1961”, by Enrico Liburdi, Vittorio Giampaoli, Corrado Leonardi 1961)

The Golden Snail

The 4 streets of the town (Ponte Vecchio, Porta Nuova, Porta Parco, Porta Celle) used to compete for the Golden Snail between 1964-1968 with theatrical performances, and a very closely followed show at the Teatro Bramante. It was a fierce competition that involved the entire town. The“golden snail” a ceramic work by Federico Mellis 1964 is now conserved in the Civic Museum.

The fair of San Luca and Ladies’ Fair

A historical October market of merchandise and livestock has always attracted people from the local area. Women with money from the harvest would buy clothes and necessities for the house. The streets of lovely Casteldurante were often a place for courtship and even today the fair teems with women who take by storm… the hundreds of stands.

The curious story of Michelangelo and the Casciotta d’Urbino

Michelangelo could be called the most illustrious “taster” of agricultural products of the area. It is well-known that Buonarroti’s closest collaborator was Francesco Amatori from Casteldurante, called the “Urbino man”. He was godfather to Amatori’s two children and became their tutor upon the death of their father. There is evidence that Michelangelo fed himself almost exclusively upon “Casciotta d’Urbino”, a typical local cheese which Amatori procured for him. In fact the artist acquired from the Urbino man (Francesco Amatori) a series of plots of land in the Durantino area, which still exist with the same names “detti de Colonello, delli Campiresi, de Ca la Riccia from which one attempts to reserve the right to the Durantino cheese…” which he had sent to him in Rome, (a notarial deed of Benedetto Perugini, 12 February 1554)… the very Casciotta d’Urbino (that is Amatori).
The great Michelangelo clearly preferred our cheese to the Tuscan marzolino which was well known in those days throughout Europe, and we are left with the curious story of how Casciotta d’Urbino got its name. (Mario Carnali, Corrado Leonardi, in “L’Agricultura marchigiana nella comunità economica Europea” 1972).

Famous durantini

Cipriano Piccolpasso, the great didactic of ceramics was from Urbania, as Raphael was from Urbino, Rossini from Pesaro, the famous architect Bramante (disputed between Fermignano and Urbania). Cipriano was born at Casteldurante in 1524 and when he was 24 he wrote the “Li tre libri dell’arte del vasaio”, which is the “Bible” for ceramists and is still used today. We know he travelled extensively, is the author of three other minor works among which are drawings of city plans, he supervised fortification works; that he died in 1579 and is buried in the church of San Francesco in Urbania. His treatise, today conserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London is a truly exceptional document which reveals that eclectic world which was the art of ceramics in the 1500s, which was the progeny of the ideal man of the Renaissance.

Trento Cionini, the master of the banknote (Urbania 1919, Rome 2005) is considered a leader in microengraving and in the history of the Lire in Italy. Trained at the Scuola del Libro in Urbino, Trento produced paper money for many foreign countries and trained pupils for many central banks, distinguishing himself with his mastery and undoubted artistic excellence. Cionini produced since 1957 almost all the banknotes in circulation for the Bank of Italy (among which were the 1000, 5000 and 100 000 Lire notes), until his masterpiece in 1997, the 500 000 Lire banknote dedicated to Raphael. He also produced 60 other stamps for the Italian Post Office, the Vatican and San Marino, and tens of banknotes for countries such as Morocco, India, Germany, Turkey, Brazil, Venezuela, Canada and many others. He was from Urbania and was a master of our time.

Other Urbaniesi in recent years have also pursued the artistic tradition and have become famous; among them the painters Augusto Ranocchi and Piero Cicoli, scenographer Egidio Spugnini, writer of musical texts Maurizio Spaccazzocchi, and photographer Samuele Galeotti and Daniele Letizi.