Wonder  }  Museum

The Globes of Gerardo Mercatore

Earth and sky at your fingertips

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Where is


Corso Vittorio Emanuele, 23, 61049 Urbania PU, Italia (278m s.l.m.)


What it is and where it is

They are two spheres, one representing the earth, the other the sky. Created by one of the most famous and ingenious cartographers of the 1500s, the Flemish Gerhard Kremer, Italianized as Gerardo Mercatore, they are extremely rare objects : there are only 3 other pairs like this in Italy. They were part of the collection of the last duke of Urbino, Francesco Maria II Della Rovere, a man attentive to all the innovations of his time. Originally displayed in his study inside the library wing in the Ducal Palace of Urbania, when this was torn down in 1951 they were moved to the rooms of the present museum.

Why it is special

Rare, beautiful and useful, they were born not as mere works of art but as objects of use for studying the sky and planning trips. What makes them even more special is that they are still at home. When, in 1667, emissaries sent by Pope Alexander VII scattered across the Duchy of Urbino to bring to Rome the most important and valuable specimens of the ducal book and art collections that had not been inherited by Vittoria Della Rovere, Mercatore's globes were probably saved because they were deemed old, superfluous, and too fragile to make the long journey to Rome.

Not to be missed

Ancient globes do not just indicate places; they also tell stories of travel. So here they are populated with images of sea monsters, faithfully reproduced on the globe as witnessed by sailors returning from their long crossings, while on the celestial globe one is entertained with the search for one's zodiac sign.

A bit of history

Globes were usually commissioned in pairs; the Urbania ones were made by Mercator in 1541 (terrestrial globe) and 1551 (celestial globe). How did they end up in Urbania? Perhaps they were procured by Duke Guidubaldo II Della Rovere, a great patron of the arts and lover of letters, or purchased by his son Francesco Maria II Della Rovere, a keen student of geography and the cosmos, through his agents in Antwerp or Madrid. They were certainly one of the points of pride of the ducal collection.


In the globe the measurements of the earth, especially at the height of the equator, are very similar to those we know today thanks to the most sophisticated technologies. It is no coincidence that the method discovered by Mercator to report earth measurements on a sphere are the basis of calculations still taught in nautical schools today. The celestial globe, on the other hand, bears the names of the stars in Latin, Greek and Arabic, the three civilizations believed to be the greatest connoisseurs of the heavens...if Mercator had lived 100 years later, he probably would have added the ideograms of the South American peoples as well.

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Recommended by
Federica Mariani

One of the first exhibitions that I remember wanting to visit on my own initiative was dedicated to travel, and in the center of the large hall where it was held, stood beautiful and strutting like soldiers on guard these two globes, the earth and the sky.

SharryLand Friendly Municipality
Comune di Urbania


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