Gradisca has four periods: the Venetian 15th century, the Austrian 17th century, the Habsburg 19th century and the Italian 20th century.
Conceived by the Republic of Venice as a bulwark against Turkish incursions, which were frequent and devastating in the Friuli area, it was erected by Venetian architects as a fortified village, with wide streets intersecting at right angles (in order to facilitate the maneuvers of troops), which together form a regular urban layout, subdivided into compact blocks of houses.
The 15th-century civic constructions have been lost. Of Gradisca´s oldest period remain the Venetian Casa dei Provveditori (superintendents´ palace), now home of “La Serenissima”, the Regional Wine Cellar, and the Palazzo del Fisco (tax authorities´ palace), also called Palazzo Coassini, erected between 1479 and 1483, whose façade shows recent modifications.
Palazzo Strassoldo was constructed between the second half of the 16th century and the first quarter of the 17th, the prototype of numerous other aristocratic residences erected in Gradisca in the course of the 17th and 18th centuries.
The rule of the princes of Eggenberg (1647-1717) constitutes Gradisca´s golden age, a period of remarkable economic, civil, demographic and urban development. Thus the village´s appearance changes from the construction point of view as well; its late-15th century fortified village is transformed into a residential citadel with a lordly aspect.
Between 1650 and 1750 almost all of the aristocratic palaces which still distinguish the historic center were erected. Casa de´ Portis was probably already completed by the end of the 17th century, as well as Casa de´ Salamanca, Casa Wassermann, and one of the town´s most important edifices, Palazzo de´ Comelli-Stuckenfeld, austere and massive, which borrows the structure of its façade from Palazzo Strassoldo.
In the following decades other aristocratic dwellings sprang up including Casa de´ Brumatti, Casa Spangher and Casa Ciotti: with the last two we enter the 18th century. These are all closed and compact structures, with lovely rustic portals on the façade, their style inspired by the late Mannerism of the Venetian baroque period.
However here we are in the countryside, inside a fortress: this justifies the town´s slightly austere appearance, certainly tempered by a ciàcole (chat) in the pub, and by the stylistic level that is slightly less magnificent than the Venetian-style architectural models, but without doubt still higher than the Friulian construction standards of that period.
Apart from these aristocratic palaces, two structures were erected by public initiative in the historic center during the captaincy of Francesco Ulderico della Torre (1656-95): the Loggia of the Merchants, conceived as a meeting place for the local nobility and later a reference point for the merchant class, and the Palazzo del Monte di Pietà, constructed to counter the usury then practiced by the Jews. The former is situated opposite the Palazzo dei Provveditori and on the ground floor presents a charming loggia with dressed stone arches; the latter, imposing, has an elegant portal overhung by a canopy, inside which a Baroque sculpture depicts the Pietà.
During the government of Della Torre, Palazzo Torriani (1710-30) also took shape, the Gradisca residence of this noble household, a splendid suburban villa halfway between a city palace and a country dwelling. This structure, now the Town Hall, is without doubt the most important in Gradisca: of Palladian inspiration, it can be interpreted as an outpost of Venetian culture in eastern Friuli.
Casa Toscani is also remarkable, with an imposing rustic portal slightly refined by its balcony and railing, Palazzo de Fin-Patuna, already with a slight rococo influence, but Transalpine in style, and Palazzo Lottieri, whose façade is the restoration of the preceding 15th-century structure.
In 1863, with the demolition of a tract of the defensive walls, Gradisca was opened to the green of the park, to the Friuli plain, freed of its military obsession.
The “Spianata,” center of the town´s social life, attracted foreigners during the 19th century, with Austrian mounted military parades and concerts by the Philharmonic Society. The cafés in the Habsburg tradition sprang up after the war.
Walking along the perimeter of the Venetian walls, designed by Leonardo da Vinci, the visitor can count six mighty towers and two gates: Porta Nuova and Porta del Soccorso. Inside the walls stands the Castle, whose main nucleus is comprised of the Palazzo del Capitano.
As far as religious edifices are concerned, the Duomo with its lovely Baroque façade is worth seeing, as well as the Church of the Addolorata, constructed at the end of the 15th century.
The local products
One visit to the Regional Wine Cellar “La Serenissima” is enough to appreciate the excellence of this region´s wines, already planned in the vineyard and refined in the cellar.
The town of Gradisca features the Palazzo dei Provveditori veneti (Venetian provosts), which covers an area of over 1,000 square metres. Francesco Ten, who ruled the town from 1481 to 1486, designed the bauilding. It is characterized by cross vaults and it was restored in 1989. Since 1965, it has hosted the regional wine cellar “La Serenissima”, which is managed by ERSA (the regional authority for the promotion and development of agricultural activities in Friuli Venezia Giulia). Its rooms contain frescoes by Fred Pittino depicting rural scenes, and are used for exhibitions and the tastings of many regional wines. Perfect combinations of wines, local dishes and a variety of produce is presented to the many visitors.
This wine cellar is a comprehensive and interesting shop window for those who wish to learn more about local products, their historical background, their links with tradition and the local area. A wide range of about three hundred wines is precisely selected by wine experts.
Over six hundred bottlers attend the annual competition which is named Grandi vini Noè (great wines of Noah) in honour of the biblical culture. The aim of the competition is to carefully choose the best regional wines, include them in the produce list of the wine cellar and promote them at home as well as abroad. Promotions start with the official opening of the competition during the second half of May. On this occasion many other minor exhibitions are held, for instance, the exhibition of grappa and spumante (sparkling wine), the tasting of D.O.P. (Protected Denomination of Origin) produce and of traditional produce. Rural production sites, wine cellars, vineyards and other places of local historical interest, attract visitors.
After all, there are vineyards everywhere in Friuli. And there are eateries and taverns everywhere for tasting the treasures of these lands.
This fertile plain irrigated by the Isonzo river, of which Gradisca is the center, produces wines which are part of the “Isonzo del Friuli” DOC tradition: the best is offered by the reds, such as the robust Cabernet, the fragrant Merlot and the full-bodied Refosco; the whites include the splendid Pinot.
The local dishes
Excellent cured meats and cheeses, and among the first jota, a hearty soup made from beans, potatoes, pork rind, smoked pork ribs and sauerkraut.
Among the classics isontina there are goulash, tripe, cod, and in the cold season, the sausage (which here is called “nose”) served with turnips.
The desserts in Gradisca play an important role and, above all, apple strudel and gubana.
The latter contains in a pastry case with a filling made from nuts, raisins, raisins, pine nuts, chocolate, sliced and served drizzled with brandy.
A sweet baroque, as the halls Gradisca.
Ceramic articles created in the handicraft workshop La Felce also provide a memory of Gradisca.