The Piazza’s the Place

A day in the life of Urbino’s town square.

Early one recent morning in June, just after the sun has risen, three old men gather in Urbino’s town square, the Piazza della Repubblica. They talk about current events. They laugh. Delivery trucks come and go. Birds sing, and church bells ring every quarter of an hour. The aroma of coffee fills the air outside of Caffè Basili, the piazza’s biggest cafe.

In the afternoon, everyone is at the piazza to eat lunch and take a break from work and school during “pausa,” a time when shops close and the people in town relax. Nearly every seat outside of every cafe is filled. Servers rush between tables with plates of pasta or glasses of beer. Young people sit at the fountain as pigeons wait close by for food to drop.

Around the fountain in Piazza della Repubblica

Around the fountain in Piazza della Repubblica.

In the evening, when the sun is starting to set, more young people are out. Two girls play tag, chasing each other around the fountain. Teenagers standing in a circle kick a soccer ball back and forth. An eccentric old woman walks back and forth with her two dogs. She yells about how the police wronged her in a trial long ago. She is a regular at the piazza.

At night, the scene changes dramatically—especially on Thursday night, when Urbino’s four-day week of university classes comes to an end and hundreds of people fill the Piazza della Repubblica. Some drink wine at the central fountain, some head to the pubs to drink beer and play foosball, and some pass through on the way to the disco to dance.

“Here on Thursday night, everyone comes to meet his or her friends,” says Irene Baffioni, a 21 year old student from Sassocorvaro. She often goes to the piazza while waiting for the results of her exams. “It really brings everyone in the town together.”

Lele Gimondo, 26, is another student who appreciates the piazza. Born in Locri, in southern Italy, he moved to Urbino in September 2013 to attend the university.

“I go from here (the dorms), and walk to the square. I’m happy. I can do everything,” Lele says. “Usually I go there and sit and rest and just smoke a cigarette. If somebody brings a ball, maybe I’ll play. Sometimes they make some kind of market—you know, Saturday market. They sell homemade stuff. People also like to go there to drink some beer on the stairs. Others stay there to wait for the bus.”

Francesco De Angelis, 40, was born and raised in Urbino. As the chef at Il Buco, a small pizzeria on an adjacent street corner, he spends most of his time working in the piazza, not relaxing. But he gets a firsthand look every day.

The piazza is the core of every city in Italy. Without it, things would be very different. It just wouldn’t be an Italian city.

“The piazza is the core of every city in Italy,” Francesco explains. “Without it, things would be very different. It just wouldn’t be an Italian city.”
In the summer months, civic events, traditional celebrations, and even bike races bring an extra surge of energy to the piazza.

“Often there is a historical reenactment,” says Irene, referring to the A.R.S. Ducale, a group of performers who dress in Renaissance clothing to celebrate the heritage of Urbino’s Duke Federico da Montefeltro. On June 20, the group took to the streets to mark the Urbino Press Awards, which this year honored CNN anchorman Wolf Blitzer. They paraded through town in full costume, portraying Federico and his wife, among others, accompanied by a horse and drummers. The procession started, of course, in the Piazza della Repubblica.

Piazza della Repubblica

Piazza della Repubblica

Anyone visiting Urbino toward the end of June will quickly realize that the piazza is also the place where university students celebrate their graduation. Graduates come to the piazza accompanied by friends and family who chant an Italian graduation song. Most grads usually wear wreaths on their heads but many also show up in unexpected costumes.

At three o’clock on a Friday afternoon in late June, a young women parades around the piazza wearing a white bathing suit signed by friends, a pink cape, and a swim cap. She puts on children’s inflatable water wings, jumps into the fountain, and swims around as friends sing and take pictures. “It’s illegal,” says one onlooker with a smile. “But every year they do it anyway.”

Above all, Urbino’s Piazza della Repubblica is a place for new experiences and forming friendships. You can easily start a conversation with someone you’ve never met, and see things you’ve never seen before.

“You know the Harlem Shake?” asks Lele. “We did that once. The square was so full of guys. American ones from Texas, too.”

He flails his arms to demonstrate, declaring “Everybody was shaking!”

Multimedia – Piazza Time Lapse

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About Stephanie Tormey

My experience in Urbino has been about more than just learning about a new language and culture. I have learned more about myself and feel more confident to go out into the world as a photographer and as an artist. I came into this program with no experience in journalism, and it was not easy, but in the end I learned more than I ever thought I would. This quaint little town of Urbino with its cobblestone hills and intriguing history and architecture has given me memories that I will someday tell my children about, and a lifetime of friendships. I will be back one day, just wait!