FROM ITS ORIGINS TO THE MIDDLE AGES
Due to its fortunate geographical position and above all to the presence of watercourses that made the entire region fertile, the area in which the town stands has been inhabited and visited since ancient times. Remains of ceramics, axes and stone weapons have been discovered in numerous caves around the town centre, attesting to the existence of human settlements since the Palaeolithic and the Bronze Age. In Umbria – one of the cradles of the Etruscan civilization – in the ancient settlement called Ikuvium, one of the most flourishing pre-Roman civilizations arose, revealed by one of the most prestigious archaeological discoveries ever made in central Italy: the Tavole Eugubine (Iguvine Tablets). These seven bronze tablets, dating back to the 3rd-1st century BC and now preserved in the Museo Civico-Palazzo dei Consoli, describe ceremonial rituals, daily life and prescriptions on the legal status of the city-state in the dual languages of Umbrian and Latin. The power and autonomy of the city-state is evidenced by the respect that the Romans themselves granted them during the period of their expansion in central Italy. Thus when the Etruscans, allied with the Samnites, Umbrians and Gauls entered into conflict with the nascent Roman powers, the inhabitants of Ikuvium remained neutral and, in 295 BC, stipulated a covenant of alliance with Rome itself. This political decision earned the populace some two centuries of peace and prosperity, until Roman interference in the city-state became unsustainable and forced the Umbrians to revolt, a rebellion that was severely quelled by the Romans with the inclusion of the town in the Clustumina tribe (90 BC) and proclamation of the Municipium di Eugubium (or Iguvium) in 80 BC, at the end of the civil war.
Imperial domination constituted a flourishing and profitable period for the town of Eugubium, which was embellished with imposing and elegant public and private buildings. Proof can still be seen in the grandeur of the theatre, which was designed to accommodate about seven thousand people, exceeding in size the contemporary theatre of Pompeii.
The town’s fortunes changed drastically with the fall of the empire, when in the 6th century, like all other Italian towns, it was conquered by the Goths, destroyed first by a general of Totila (552) and then rebuilt by Narsete. It subsequently fell into the hands of the Byzantines (592) then to the Lombards (772), until it was destroyed once again by the Hungarians in the 10th century, going through a period of deep crisis that finally ended around the year 1000.
THE MUNICIPAL AGE AND THE RENAISSANCE
Beginning in the 11th century, Gubbio experienced a brief period of submission to the authority of the Bishop before becoming a Free Commune. As such, it went through a period of intense military activity which led to its support for Florence in 1920 against the siege of Henry IV, and then in 1138 to defend itself from a siege ordered by Federico Barbarossa. In 1151, Gubbio won a tough battle against eleven enemy cities led by the rival town of Perugia. This victory earned Gubbio great honours and the recognition of many sovereigns of the time, among them the same Henry IV, Barbarossa and Otto IV.
It was in this period that a key figure in the history of Gubbio appeared on the scene, Ubaldo Baldassini, who became bishop in 1128 and was proclaimed a saint in 1192, some 30 years after his death in 1160. Thanks to the moral and strategic support he provided to his fellow citizens, Ubaldo was the object of unfailing veneration on such a scale that even today the bishop is still the patron saint of the town and the most important traditional folk ceremony is dedicated to him, the race of the Ceri on 15th May.
However, Gubbio’s expansionist ambitions were stopped abruptly in 1217, when it was severely defeated by a Perugian army. Despite infighting between Guelphs and Ghibellines, which raged throughout central Italy, the town experienced a period of relative splendour with a notable increase in population and the construction of important public and religious buildings, such as the Cathedral, Palazzo dei Consuli and Palazzo della Podestà. In 1262 the Guelphs managed to gain the upper hand and take control of the Commune until 1350, when the tyranny of the Ghibelline Giovanni Gabrielli began. It was Cardinal Albornoz a few years later, in 1354, who defeated the usurper, bringing the town under papal control.
The inhabitants of Gubbio must have fiercely opposed ecclesiastical rule since in 1376, they rebelled, beginning a new period of infighting that weakened the town, making it easy prey for the counts of Montefeltro. The Dukes of Urbino controlled the Commune for about three centuries, first under the Montefeltro (1384-1508) then the Della Rovere (1508-1631), who transformed Gubbio into a flourishing Renaissance hub. The beautiful Palazzo Ducale was commissioned and built by Federico di Montefeltro and then by his son Guidobaldo, with the creation of the ‘studiolo’ (private study) along the lines of the more famous model built in Urbino. It was during this period that the town developed some of the arts that still constitute its artisanal flagships, such as the crafting of ceramics, wood and wrought iron, bringing a period of wealth and prosperity that ended in the 17th century, under the rule of the Church.
THE MODERN AGE
In 1631, with the end of the Della Rovere dynasty, Gubbio again fell under the control of the papal authority, going through a phase of political and economic decline. With the arrival of Napoleonic troops in the 18th century, the town was first annexed to the Cisalpine Republic (1798) and then to the Roman Republic (1798-99) to finally pass under the rule of the Kingdom of Italy (1808-14). These military and political vicissitudes rocked the stability and prosperity of the town, which did not begin to recover until 1860 onwards, with its annexation to the nascent Italian State, when it slowly transformed itself into the beautiful cradle of traditions and lively tourist destination that it is today.