Art Cities: Aquileia

This is an excerpt from the book “Trieste and Friuli”. by Enrico Massetti. Get the ebook for the complete content.

Aquileia, Basilica – Interno – Foto © Giovanni Dall’Orto

The origins of Aquileia date back a long time ago. In the place where, already in the proto-historic period, it used to trade amber from the North bartering it for seaborne items arriving from the Mediterranean and the Middle East docks, the Romans founded in 181 BC a colony. From a military outpost to a capital of the “X Regio Venetia et Histria”, the city developed rapidly because of exclusive military reasons relating to expansionist aims of Roman Empire towards central European and Balkan regions.

Aquileia became flourishing and prosperous thanks to the vast trade through a functional and capillary road network. It used to have mighty defensive walls and enormous buildings such as circus, amphitheatre, theatre, thermal baths, forum at the crossing between the main cardo and decumanus. It reached its peak during Caesar ‘s empire: its inhabitans were more than 200.000 and became one of the biggest and richest city of the whole Empire.

It was the residence of many emperors, its palace was very visited, till Constantino the Great and longer. With Attila’s destruction in the middle of Vth century AD, there was the final economical and social collapse of Aquileia that lasted till the Medieval period. Aquileia remained an important political and cultural center, also during Hungarian invasions (Xth century AD), notwithstanding it was a problem area of the Empire, meeting point of Latin, German and Slav civilization.

Patriarch of Aquileia was always close and friendly to the political power even when the power became German. In 1077 emperor Henry IV granted to Sigeardo Patriarca the feudal investiture with the ducal title over the County, giving the origin of the “Stato della Patria del Friuli”.

Following the ancient Roman road “via Iulia Augusta”, which joined the Adriatic to the Norico, about ten kilometers away from the sea and in the middle of green and highly cultivated countryside, one comes upon the archaeological area of Aquileia, a town founded by the Romans in 181 B.C.

Basilica Aquileia – Photo © Redang

Aquileia at the height of its splendor under the Augustan Empire had a population of some 200,000 people, and was a first level commercial center thanks to the excellent road network which connected it to central Italy, to the East and to Norico. Nevertheless, the true heart of this merchant town was the river port, which had a dock almost 50 meters wide, that was easily reached by the flat bottomed ships coming up from the Natissa river from the sea port in Grado. Behind the port was the forum and an initial area reserved for the market place.

Over the following centuries, internal wars, raids, external reprisals and rapid incursions threatened Aquileia, which being involved in the greater crisis of the Empire, slowly began to acquire a new face, becoming the missionary and ecclesiastic organisation center with the arrival of Christianity.

Nevertheless, the decline of Aquileia came to a head in 452 A.D. when Attila the “scourge of God”, burnt the whole area to the ground, and afterwards it is traditionally said – that after doing so he went to enjoy the show of the “great Aquileia” fire, from the hills of Udine.
The city was not totally abandoned, however, above all for its value as a symbolic headquarters of the first martyred bishop, Ermacora, who was converted at the same time as the faithful deacon Fortunato, directly from Saint Mark’s sermon.
The Basilica and National Archeological Museum are of great importance.

Aquileia sepolcreto – Photo Alecobbe

Art and culture
Inside the city’s walls, the most important archeological site in northern Italy, there were houses and palaces, monumental squares, official buildings and a river port where heavy cargo ships docked loaded with goods. Many are the Roman ruins still visible today among which: the Roman Forum, the Roman graveyard, the Fluvial port, the street and some Roman houses; other places to visit: the Popone’s Basilica, its beautiful mosaic floor, campanile, baptistery and crypts; then there are also: the Archeological Museum, the Early Christian Museum and the Civic Museum (Museo Civico).
Among its environmental properties there is a beautiful naturalistic trail “Anello Pineta di San Marco – Belvedere – Boscat”.

Information on art and culture from: “Guida Artistica del Friuli Venezia Giulia” by Giuseppe Bergamini

Where to stay in Aquileia

There are numerous high quality hotels, villas, apartments and agriturismi (Farm stays) available, check them out and make a reservation here.

For information:
IAT Aquileia
tel. 0431 919491
Courtesy of Turismo Friuli Venezia Giulia

This is an excerpt from the book “Trieste and Friuli”. Get the ebook for the complete content.