A Tour of the Marvelous Friulian City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
This is a treasure chest of history and beauty in Friuli Venezia Giulia, in the province of Udine. Traces of the magnificent Roman Empire are here in Aquileia, a bulwark against invasion by barbarian people, starting point for expeditions and military conquests and large trading hub. Just think - it became the capital of the Augustan region X Regio Venetia et Histria under the dominion of Caesar Augustus, as it was the fourth largest city on the peninsula for number of inhabitants.
The ancient cardo (north-south oriented street), forum ruins, civilian basilica, mausoleum, thermal baths and city walls make Aquileia one of the most important existing testimonials of ancient Roman grandeur. Indeed, the city was one of the largest and most prosperous political and administrative towns in the Empire and in light of its state of conservation, is still a very important example of that civilization in the Mediterranean - so much so that it was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1998 (and also because of the decisive role it played in spreading the Catholic religion). This little town located on the banks of the Naissa River (once used to transport exotic goods) was built up along the lagoon section west of Trieste. It was founded by the Romans in 181 BC as a defence against threats by the Gauls. The ruins of its Roman river port are amazing and include a quay that is 400 metres long, with two docking levels and landing stages with steps (1st century AD). Aquileia owes its good fortune to the numerous roads linking its port with a rich and vast hinterland. This marvellous place and city has a significant archaeological heritage, which can be explored in the town’s 3 museums: Museo Archeologico Nazionale (with many documents dating back to the Roman Era, productions by craftsmen and finds from the ancient city), Museo Paleocristiano (where the ruins of a large ecclesiastical building are kept) and Museo Civico del Patriarcato (which protects sacred wooden and metal reliquaries). The Basilica Patriarcale is of significant artistic and cultural importance. It is not quite in the centre of town, but rather is to the side of Via Sacra, overlooking Piazza del Capitolo together with its baptistery and majestic bell tower. The oldest nucleus is formed by the Aule Paleocristiane (Early Christian rooms), which were built in the 4th century AD by Bishop Teodoro with the support of Emperor Constantine. They are the lasting proof of the decisive role the city played in spreading the Christian religion of the early Middle Ages. The floor mosaics both inside and outside the basilica are magnificent. The basilica also provides access to the Cripta degli Affreschi (crypt of the frescoes) decorated with rare Byzantine frescoes.Damage caused by the earthquake in 988 forced the then Patriarch Poppone to carry out radical restorations in 1031 in Roman style, with Carolingian-Ottonian influences, which culminated with the construction of the great Palazzo Patriarcale (later destroyed) and the majestic bell tower, which is over 70 meters high and dominates the Friulian countryside. After further restorations following the earthquake in 1348, the last significant work on the basilica was carried out in the 16th century when Venetian craftsmen and carpenters were called to make the impressive wooden ceiling that can still be admired today. Lastly, any visit should include a tour of the cemetery of the soldiers who fell in WWI, which is located just behind the basilica.
The A tavola con gli antichi romani food event takes places between August and September and allows participants to fully enjoy typical dishes from ancient Roman gastronomy. While participants are tasting the food, a guide illustrates the various recipes and analyzes Roman traditions and customs.
HOW TO GET THERE
By car: Take motorway A4 Venezia - Trieste or motorway A23 Tarvisio - Udine. Exit at the Palmanova tollgate, which is 17 km from Aquileia.
By train: The closest train station is Cervignano del Friuli on the Venezia - Trieste line. It’s 8 km from Aquileia, which can be reached by coaches that are always available.
By plane: Trieste’s Ronchi dei Legionari airport is 50 km from Aquileia, which can be reached by coach. Venice’s Marco Polo airport is 120 km from Aquileia, which can be reached by coach or train.
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