Key to Umbria: Gubbio

History of Gubbio

Umbria:  Home   Cities    History    Art    Hagiography    Contact 


Gubbio:  Home    History    Art    Saints   Walks    Monuments    Museums


For more details, see the page on Ikuvina: ancient Gubbio.


For more details, see the page on Iguviun: Roman Gubbio.

Early Christianity

It is likely that Gubbio was evangelised from at least the 3rd century.  A letter that Pope Innocent I wrote in 416 to Decentius, Bishop of Gubbio provides one of the earliest reliable references to an Umbrian bishop.  Since it referred to his successors, we can assume that Gubbio had already been a diocese for some decades. 

An early Christian inscription (4th or 5th century) that was found in 1785 near San Giovanni Battista (now in the sacristy of the Duomo) records that the Archdeacon Aemilianus had been responsible for the construction of the ‘basilica sanctorum apostolorum’, which could have related to the original episcopal church of the city.  This old Duomo almost certainly contained the relics of SS Marianus and James, which had probably been translated to Gubbio by Christians fleeing the Vandal invasion of Africa in ca. 500, and we might reasonably assume that its dedication was changed at this point.

Gubbio also apparently acquired the relics of St Secundus from Amelia in the early 4th century.  They were originally preserved in the ancient church of San Secondo, although some later found their way to the present Duomo and others were given to the nearby town of Pergola.


Totila destroyed Roman Iguvium in 552, after Belisarius had been called to Byzantium and before the arrival of his successor, Narses.  The city was subsequently rebuilt on the present site higher up the mountain, which was also probably the site of the original Ikuvina.


Once Byzantine rule was re-established, Gubbio, along with Urbino, Cagli and Fossombrone and Jesi formed the Pentapoli Annonaria (the five food-producing cities).  [Similarly, Pesaro, Fano Rimini, Senigallia and Ancona formed the Pentapoli Marittima (five maritime cities).]  It was also an important centre in the so-called Byzantine corridor between Rome and Ravenna.

Gubbio remained in Byzantine hands during the Lombard occupation of much of the surrounding area.  In 599, Pope Gregory I put the neighbouring diocese of Tadinum (Gualdo Tadino) under the care of Bishop Gaudiosus of Gubbio: this diocese had been without a bishop since it had been seized by the Lombard Duke Ariulf of Spoleto in 591, but the situation had improved to the extent that Gregory I could ask Gaudiosus to preside over the election of a new bishop for it.

Gubbio was one of the first cities to join the revolt against Byzantium in 726.  The city subsequently endured two periods of Lombard occupation, by Liutprand in ca. 739-41 and by Astiulf in ca. 751-6. 

When the Franks liberated central Italy from the Lombards, Gubbio was included in the Donation of Pepin (756), although papal power was nominal and peace with the Lombards by no means assured.  In 772, the Lombard King Desiderius destroyed much of the city, including its Roman theatre, before marching on Rome in his last desperate attempt to secure his kingdom against Charlemagne.


According to the 14th century  “Gesta Eugubinorum” of Greffolino di Valeriano, Charlemagne stayed in Gubbio in 774 on his return from Rome to Francia.  He apparently received a rapturous welcome and reciprocated with gifts that included important relics of saints.  (Records from the 16th century claim that these included a relic of a finger of St John the Baptist.)

It is likely that Gubbio was nominally under papal control during the subsequent period, although the Patriarch of Ravenna probably exercised greater authority in the city. 

Bishop Erfo attended a the synod in Rome convened by Leo IV in 853.

The citizens of Gubbio repelled a Saracen attack in 853, an event commemorated by the building of the first church of Santa Maria della Vittoria.   However, the city was less fortunate in the following century, when Magyars apparently destroyed it in 917. 

11th Century

The history of Gubbio in the 11th century is linked to that of the Eremo di Fonte Avellana.  The hermitage leapt to national prominence under St Peter Damian, who joined the community in 1034 and was its prior from ca. 1043 until his death in 1072.  He was an important adviser to Pope Leo IX.  Pope Stephen IX forced him to become a cardinal in 1057 and to perform as the “administrator” of Gubbio.  However, when Stephen IX died a year later, he was able to return to he beloved Fonte Avellana.  

In 1057, the widow Rozia Gabrielli and her sons Pietro, Giovanni and Rodolfo donated lands in Camporeggiano and Monte Cavallo to St Peter Damian to build a new monastery, which was dedicated as San Bartolomeo.  Giovanni and his mother moved here, while Pietro and Rodolfo joined the community at Fonte Avellana.  The future St Rodolfo was bishop of Gubbio for some time in the period 1061-6.

In 1099, under Bishop Rusticus (1097-1105), Gubbio sent a force of some 1,000 men under the command of Girolamo Gabrielli to fight in the First Crusade. 

12th Century

For more details, see the page on Gubbio in the 12th Century.

13th century

Pope Innocent III (1198-1216)

The post of Podestà was introduced at Gubbio in the early 13th century.  The post was usually filled by nobles from Gubbio until 1249 (see below).

Although Gubbio had submitted to Perugia in 1183, it soon managed to regain its former independence.

Cagli submitted to Gubbio in 1199, followed by the Castello di  Certaltro in 1203. 

The document recording the voluntary submission of Gualdo to Perugia in 1208 states that Gualdo had recently been attacked by Gubbio, and that its people had been forced to take refuge in Rocca Flea.  By handing over the Rocca Flea to Perugia and securing Perugian protection, Gualdo clearly secured its position.  However, Gubbio’s freedom of action in the region was clearly constrained.

The Blessed Villano, Bishop of Gubbio and Abbot of San Pietro, gave Santa Maria della Vittoria to the Franciscans in 1213. 

In 1216, Bishop Villano and others published the Portiuncula Indulgence. 

A dispute between Perugia and Gubbio over possession of a number of fortresses, including the Rocca Flea at Gualdo, led to outright war in 1216-7.  Gubbio counted Cagli and Città di Castello among its allies, but was nevertheless defeated.  The Roman Pandolfo di Figuera, Podestà of Perugia was called in to arbitrate in 1217, when Gubbio was forced to renounce all the castles along its border with Perugia.  The Perugians also retook Nocera at about this time.

St Francis apparently tamed a wolf at Gubbio in 1220, near Santa Maria della Vittoria. He was thereafter adopted as a patron saint of Gubbio (along with SS John the Baptist, James & Marian and Ubaldus) and the municipal statutes required shops to close on his feast day.

Emperor Frederick II (1215-50)

From 1249, the post of Podestà of Gubbio was only offered to outsiders. 

The first Capitano del Popolo was appointed in Gubbio in the mid-13th century [1258?].

The Angevins and the Papacy (1268-1305)

Charles d'Anjou entered Italy in 1263 at the invitation of Pope Urban IV.  Gubbio was by this time a Guelph city, and Urban IV confirmed its ancient privileges and the ownership of a number of disputed castles, albeit that the city was ultimately answerable to the papal vicar of Spoleto.  Charles d'Anjou also took the city under his protection. 

14th century

In May 1300, the Ghibelline forces of Uguccione della Faggiuola, Galasso and Federico da Montefeltro and Uberto Malatesta occupied Gubbio.  Pope Boniface VIII sent Cardinal Naploeone Orsini (who was papal legate to the March of Ancona in 1300-1) to Perugia to organise the response.  They drove the Ghibellines from the city and installed the prominent Guelf Cante de’ Gabrielli as Capitano del Popolo (and hence the effective ruler of Gubbio) under Perugian protection.

In 1310, Gubbio sent troops to help Perugia in the war against Ghibelline Spoleto. 

A number of Ghibellines were exiled from the city in 1315, including the artist Guiduccio Palmerucci

The Ghibelline Bosone dei Rafaelli held power in Gubbio in the period 1316-8.  (According to tradition, Dante Alighieri had stayed at Gubbio with him and also at Santa Croce di Fonte Avellana in 1314.)

Cante de’ Gabrielli became captain of the Perugian army in 1319 and led the Guelf forces against Assisi.  

The complex of the Palazzo dei Consoli and the Palazzo del Podestà in the Piazza della Signoria, conceived in 1322, is an important example of town planning from the period.  The site was chosen so that the centre of government of the city would be at the point where the four quarters met.   The original public palace, which had been built in 1302, became the Palazzo del Bargello (head of the police) at this point.

In 1323, Gubbio joined the Guelf allies in their attempt to take Città di Castello. 

The first reference to the guilds of Gubbio, which were known as the Università delle Arti e dei Mestieri, was in 1326, when they were officially incorporated.  This was confirmed in the statutes of the Commune in 1338.  These provided for the peaceful co-existence of the Guelf and Ghibelline factions.  Comparative peace lasted until the middle of the 14th century and the art and architecture of Gubbio flourished.

The Gabrielli Family

As noted above, the Perugians installed Cante de’ Gabrielli as the effective ruler of Gubbio in 1300. He was podestà of Florence on a number of occasions (1298, 1301, 1302, 1306), of Lucca (1312) and of Perugia (1322).  During his tenure as podestà of Florence in 1301 at the behest of Charles of Valois, the poet Dante Alighieri was among the politicians expelled from Florence.  He died in Gubbio in 1335.

Giacomo Gabrielli, the son of Cante, was also one of the leaders of the Guelf movement in central Italy.  He held the post of podestà in Siena in 1330 and in Florence in 1331.  Pope Benedict XII appointed him Senator of Rome (a post usually reserved for the Roman nobility) in 1337.  He was “capitano di guerra” in Florence in 1337-9.  He fought for Florence against Pisa in 1340 and was taken prisoner and held for ransom for two years. 

A number of Ghibelines were consequently exiled from Gubbio in 1341.  They again included Guiduccio Palmerucci, although he was allowed to return in the following year, on condition that he executed a number of frescoes in Palazzo dei Consoli.

Giacomo Gabrielli was appointed as papal rector of the Patrimony of St Peter in 1348.

In 1350, while Giacomo Gabrielli was away from Gubbio, his cousin Giovanni di Cantuccio Gabrielli seized power and placed the city under the protection of Archbishop Giovanni Visconti of Milan.  Giacomo Gabrielli, with the aid of Perugia and Florence laid siege to the city for a month in 1351, but withdrew when Visconti reinforcements arrived.  Giovanni Gabrielli and his Ghibelline allies went on to sack the contado of Perugia.

Cardinal Albornoz

The political situation in central Italy was transformed in 1354, when the papal legate, Cardinal Gil Albornoz defeated the Ghibelline Giovanni di Vico and reimposed papal control of the Patrimony of St Peter.  He then turned his attention to the Duchy of Spoleto and the March of Ancona.  Giacomo Gabrielli rushed to meet the legate at Orvieto and begged him to retake Gubbio. 

Albornoz sent Carlo di Dovadola to take Gubbio, and Giovanni Gabrielli judged it expedient to offer no resistance (July 1354), on the condition that Giacomo Gabrielli should be excluded from the city.  Albornoz duly agreed, and Gubbio returned to the papal fold.  Most of the other exiles were allowed back into the city, and Carlo di Dovadola was appointed as papal vicar for six months.  This was the first major success for Albornoz in the Duchy of Spoleto, and provided him with a base from which to move on the March of Ancona.

Following the Parlamento at Montefiascone in September 1354, the old form of government was restored to Gubbio under papal oversight.

Ugolino da Montemarte replaced Carlo di Dovadola as papal vicar in February 1355.  Both Giovanni and Giacomo found themselves imprisoned by Albornoz in the Rocca of Montefalco for a short period in 1355: Giovanni had refused to relinquish his fortress at Cantiano, and Giacomo had refused to provide military service when asked to do so. 

Blasco Fernández de Belvis, a cousin of Albornoz and the leader of the papal forces in the March of Ancona, was based at Gubbio in 1355, when the attack on the Malatesta of Rimini began.  When Galeotto Malatesta was defeated and captured (in April 1355), he was imprisoned at Gubbio.  The threat of his execution and defections and rebellion within the towns and cities controlled by Rimini prompted Galeotto’s older brother, Malatesta Malatesta, conceded defeat.  His formal submission took place in Gubbio in June and negotiations were completed there in July.  Malatesta was allowed to keep Rimini, Fano, Pesaro and Fossombrone, as papal vicar, and Galeotto entered papal service. 

Giovanni Gabrielli and his kinsman Carlo re-entered Gubbio in 1357, but were quickly expelled by Ugolino da Montemarte.

Blasco Fernández de Belvis was appointed vicar of Gubbio and rector of the Duchy of Spoleto in 1361.

Anti-papal Revolt

In 1370, following their defeat by Pope Urban V, Perugia renounced her claims to hegemony over Gubbio.

Gubbio shared the wide dissatisfaction over the conduct of the papal legates who ruled the city on behalf of the pope.  In 1376, the Gabrielli managed to bury their differences and lead the revolt.  Gabriele Gabrielli, a monk from Fonte Avellana became bishop in 1377 and ruled in the name of the people for three years. 

County/Duchy of Urbino

In 1380, Gabriele Gabrielli surreptitiously handed Gubbio over to Charles of Durazzo, the representative of the pope.  Gabrielli subsequently became papal legate but was expelled by the citizens and given the fortified town of Cantiano.  He died in 1383, but his brother Francesco, with the help of both Florence and the Malatesta of Rimini, kept up the pressure on Gubbio, particularly when promised reparations were not forthcoming.

In 1384, the exhausted citizens asked Antonio da Montefeltro, Count of Urbino to take over its government and 750 years of liberty came to an end.  However, all the terms of the treaty of capitulation were scrupulously observed, and Gubbio never had cause to regret its submission.  From this point, except by brief periods under Cesare Borgia (1500) and Lorenzo de’ Medici (1516), Gubbio was part of the Duchy of Urbino until the Duchy itself came to an end in 1624.

15th century

Guidantonio da Montefeltro succeeded his father in 1403.  He was in turn succeeded by his son Oddantonio da Montefeltro in 1443.  When Oddantonio was assassinated a year later, his illegitimate brother, Federico III da Montefeltro (who had been born in Gubbio) succeeded to the title.   He was created Duke of Urbino in 1474.  In the same year, he married his daughter Giovanna to Giovanni della Rovere, the nephew of Pope Sixtus IV and brother of  Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, the future Pope Julius II (below).

The young Guidobaldo da Montefeltro succeeded his father as Duke of Urbino (and hence ruler also of Gubbio) in 1482.  Six years later, he married Elisabetta Gonzaga, the daughter of Federico, Marquis of Mantua. 

Guidobaldo’s nephew Francesco Maria della Rovere, the son of his sister and Giovanni della Rovere (above) and his future successor (see below), was born in 1490.

16th and 17th centuries

Cesare Borgia (1502-3)

Guidobaldo da Montefeltro took service under Pope Alexander VI, watching helplessly as  the pope’s son, Cesare Borgia occupied neighbouring Pesaro and Rimini in 1500. 

Cesare planned the next phase of his annexation of central Italy during a stay in Rome in June 1502.  While he was thus employed, and possibly without his explicit consent, his captain Vitellozzo Vitelli seized Arezzo.  The fact that Piero de’ Medici, who had been exiled from Florence, was in Arezzo at this time underlined the threat to his native city.  Cesare quickly left Rome, apparently intent upon taking Camerino.  He asked Guidobaldo da Montefeltro for free passage through his territory if it were needed and also for reinforcements for Vitellozzo Vitelli in Tuscany.  These were duly granted, enabling Cesare to take Urbino his other territories (including Gubbio) before Guidobaldo knew what was happening.  Guidobaldo, who was lucky to escape with his life, escaped to Mantua and then to Venice. 

When Cesare’s other captains, fearing similar treatment, rebelled in late 1502, he withdrew to Imola and awaited French reinforcements.  In the lull, Guidobaldo da Montefeltro retook Gubbio with the help of Vitellozzo Vitelli, and the citizens of Urbino gladly opened the city gates for them.  They then helped Giovanni Maria da Varano to return to Camerino.  Cesare withdrew to Imola, and waited.  Unfortunately, and as Cesare had expected, the rebel alliance soon fell apart.  Guidobaldo fled again from Urbino, finally finding refuge in Città di Castello.  Only when Alexander VI died in 1503 was he able to regain his lost territory. 

Pope Julius II (1503-13)

Pope Julius II appointed his close associate, Cardinal Antonio Ferreri as bishop of Gubbio in 1504.

In 1504, the childless Guidobaldo and his wife, Elisabetta Gonzaga, adopted his nephew, Francesco Maria della Rovere (above), who was the son of his sister and Giovanni della Rovere, and hence also the nephew of Julius II.  This adoption was at the behest of Julius II.

Julius II also ensured that Francesco Maria recovered Senigallia, the city that Cesare Borgia (above) had taken from his father.

Duke Francesco Maria I (1508-38)

Pope Julius II (continued) 

Francesco Maria succeeded as Duke of Urbino in 1508, on the death of Duke Guidobaldo I.  In 1509, he strengthened his ties to the Gonzaga dynasty by marrying Eleonora Gonzaga, the daughter of Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua and niece of Elisabetta.

Unsurprisingly, Francesco Maria served as an officer in the papal army.  However, he did not enjoy the full confidence of Julius II, in part because of his links to the Gonzaga and their allies, but also because he was not a particularly effective commander.  When the French helped the Bentivoglio family to retake Bologna from the papacy in 1511, Julius blamed the failure on Francesco Maria and also on the papal legate, Cardinal Francesco Alidosi.  The latter had been a longstanding papal favourite and, perhaps as a consequence, a bitter enemy of Francesco Maria.  The two men travelled separately to Ravenna to face the papal wrath, but when they met there, Francesco Maria murdered Cardinal Alidosi in full view of witnesses.   Julius II reluctantly absolved him, and he even transferred Pesaro to him when its young ruler, Giovanni Maria Sforza, died in 1512.  However, the rift between them never healed. 

Pope Leo X (1513-21) 

Pope Leo X seized Urbino in 1516 and gave it to his nephew, Lorenzino de’ Medici, who appointed Giulio Vitelli of Città di Castello as its governor.  Francesco Maria I regained it briefly in 1517, but Leo X hired an army under Lorenzino de’ Medici to retake it.  This initiative was initially unsuccessful, but Francesco Maria I ran out of money and was forced to negotiate with Leo X.  He was allowed to retire to Mantua with all his artillery and with some of his possessions from Urbino (including part of the library that he had inherited).   Lorenzino de’ Medici held Urbino until his death in 1519.  Leo X then took direct control.  He made Gubbio the effective capital of the new papal Province of Urbino and ordered that the walls of the other main centres should be demolished.  He built a fortress near the Roman theatre: this required the demolition of the Monastero di Santa Maria del Pellagio and the transfer of its nuns to San Benedetto.

Later History

After the death of Leo X in 1521, his successor Pope Hadrian VI has little interest in temporal matters, and Francesco Maria I regained his duchy.  He moved his court to Pesaro in 1523.  Gubbio was effectively administered by Francesco Maria’s adoptive mother, Elisabetta Gonzaga (who died in 1526) and his wife, Eleonora (who, as noted above, was Elisabetta’s niece). 

Francesco Maria I arranged for his son, Guidobaldo, to marry Giulia da Varano, the 10 year old daughter of the recently-deceased Giovanni Maria da Varano, Duke of Camerino in 1533.  In 1535, he received a stern warning form Pope Paul III against the absorption of Camerino (which was part of Giulia’s dowry) into the Duchy of Urbino.

Francesco Maria I was poisoned in Pesaro in 1538.

Duke Guidobaldo II (1538-74)

On the death of his father, Guidobaldo II received a demand from Paul III for the cessation of Camerino to the Papal States.  Papal troops under Alessandro Vitelli marched on Gubbio (which had been left undefended) in December 1538.  Aquilante, the Capitano del Popolo of Gubbio, managed to hold their advance at Valfabbrica for long enough for negotiations to begin.  Guidobaldo II (acting formally on behalf of his wife) ceded Camerino to Paul III in return for a sum of money and the promise of a cardinal’s hat for his baby brother Giulio. 

Giulia da Varano died in 1547, aged only 24.  Giulio della Rovere was made a cardinal in 1547, at the age of 13.  Guidobaldo II further cemented his relations with Paul II in 1548, when he married Vittoria Farnese, the daughter of Pier Luigi Farnese, the pope’s illegitimate son. 

Duke Francesco Maria II (1574 - 1631)

Francesco Maria was raised at the court of King Philip II of Spain in 1565-8.  He was required to marry Lucrezia d’ Este in 1570 and succeeded as Duke of Urbino in 1574.  The marriage was without issue at the time of her death in 1598, and Francesco Maria II moved swiftly to marry his young cousin, Livia della Rovere. 

The much-needed heir, Federico Ubaldo, was finally born in 1605.  He was married to Claudia de’ Medici, the sister of the Grand Duke Cosimo II of Tuscany, in 1621 and Francesco Maria II abdicated in his favour soon after.  His daughter Vittoria was born in 1622 but he died two years later. 

Francesco Maria II resumed the title but ceded power to Pope Urban VIII in 1624, famously declaring “meglio scendere che cadere” (it is better to fade than to fall).  The papal nephew Taddeo Barberini formally took control of the duchy after the death of Francesco Maria II in 1631.  The nine year old Vittoria della Rovere inherited her grandfather’s property and was part of her dowry when she married the Grand Duke Ferdinando II of Tuscany in 1633.

Gubbio in the Papal States

Taddeo Barberini formally entered Gubbio on 29th April 1631, and it became part of the Province of Urbino and Pesaro.  He was soon followed by his brother, the young Cardinal Antonio Barberini, who had been appointed as papal legate.

Later History


Gubbio became part of the Napoleonic Cisalpine Republic in 1798; the Roman Republic in 1798-9); and the Kingdom of Italy in 1808-14, of the Italic Kingdom.

Revolution of 1831

A number of young Umbrians who had fought for Napoleon and suffered exile after his fall coalesced in ca. 1830 to form the Umbrian branch of “Young Italy”.   Prominent among them were Francesco Guardabassi of Perugia and  Louis Pianciani of Spoleto.  The patriots converged on Bologna in February 1831 and marched on Rome. 

Francesco Ranghiasci was sent to Bologna as the representative of Gubbio, and his wife Matilda Hobhouse presented the tricolore to the patriots when they arrived in Gubbio. The insurrection failed when Austrian forces occupied Gubbio, from whence they threatened Perugia.  Francesco Ranghiasci was among those exiled.  (He returned to Gubbio a year later, but his wife remained in England, where she died in 1853).

Unified Italy

In 1860, shortly after its annexation to the Kingdom of Italy, Gubbio was included in Umbria.

Return to the home page on Gubbio.