TRIESTE PROVINCE

GORIZIA PROVINCE

UDINE PROVINCE

UDINE

CARNIA

TARVISIO

VENZONE

GEMONA

BORDANO

SAN DANIELE

CIVIDALE

VILLA MANIN

AQUILEIA

MARANO LAGUNARE

PORDENONE PROVINCE

 

photo of book cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Udine Province

Aquileia

In the marshy, coastal lowlands east of Venice lies Aquileia, a dusty, faded town with an impressive past. Founded as a Roman colony in AD 181, Aquileia soon grew to be the fourth largest city in ancient Italy. Its location along the Natissa River, just north of the port of Grado, established the town as a major crossroads between the Mediterranean and the Orient.

Theodore, one of Aquileia’s first bishops, built the city’s Basilica Patriarcale in 313, paving the floor with a decorative carpet of mosaics. The church was remodeled by Patriarch Poppone in 1031, and so these intricate works of art became concealed for nearly a millennium. At the beginning of the 20th century, the ancient mosaic pavement was discovered below the nave floor and is thought to be the earliest surviving remnant of any Christian church.

The designs incorporate both Christian and pagan symbols, including animals, birds, trees, flowers, and geometric patterns. Panels represent allegorical scenes, such as the cock fighting the tortoise, as well as portraits of religious figures. The biblical story of Jonah and the Whale is illustrated with numerous sea creatures, its fish motif alluding to the city’s proximity to the Adriatic Sea.

More mosaics were uncovered around the bell tower and are on display in the Cripta degli Scavi. Also worth noting is the Cripta degli Freschi, which contains some colorful 12th-century Byzantine-style frescoes. Across the street, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale houses numerous relics from Roman times, including portrait busts, funerary carvings, household items, glassware, bronze objects, amber and precious stones, and a large collection of coins.

Today, the mosaics of Aquileia are one of Friuli’s main attractions. It only takes a brief stroll around the city’s ancient ruins—along the aqueduct, to the mausoleum, past the forum—to sense what life may have been like in Roman times.