Southern Europe Traveller's Guide - Aquileia (Trieste)


"Aquileia omnium sub occidente urbium maxima" ("Aquileia, the greatest of all the towns in the West"). That is how the Byzantine emperor Justinian described the town in the sixth century and, though he perhaps was exaggerating a little, Aquileia could once boast to be the ninth largest city in the Roman Empire, fourth in Italy. As the capital of Regio X (the Tenth Roman Region), it was for centuries the seat of the Roman governor as well as the home of the Northern Adriatic Fleet. In the first century AD, the Roman historian and geographer Strabo described it as a "bustling trading center for Mediterranean and transalpine countries." In recognition of its impressive ruins and its important place in Roman history, Aquileia is considered a World Heritage site by the United Nations.

And in light of its significant role in early Christian history, when it was for thirteen centuries the seat of a Christian Patriarch, it was proclaimed by the Vatican City as one of the five official Jubilee cities in Italy. The city preserves both Roman and early Christian ruins, including the Roman port and forum, remains of Roman public baths and private houses with beautifully preserved mosaic floors, Roman roads with visible chariot tracks, a Roman burial ground, and the ancient Patriarchal Basilica preserving both the largest known Paleo-Christian polychrome mosaic floor in Western Europe (early fourth century), and a ninth century crypt adorned with thirteenth century frescos. 

The Romanic Basilica of Aquileia

 A regional capital of about 100,000, Aquileia never quite regained its prominence after being sacked by Attila, and gradually dwindled into a small provincial town. It has an amazing archaeological museum, and there is a walk you can take along the Via Sacra, once the principal street of Aquileia's important river-port system and now an astonishingly beautiful lane lined with cypresses, lush lawns, a canal and archaeological fragments. The floors of private Roman houses remain in a field near the Via Sacra and across the main road; these well-preserved mosaics depict animals and geometric forms that give you a sense of the domestic architecture and of the layout of a neighborhood in ancient Rome.

Any of this would be enough to merit a trip to Aquileia, even if it weren't for its real eye-popper: the patriarchal basilica, founded in the fourth century and worked on for almost a millennium, with a floor the size of a soccer field and a fourth-century pavement, more than 800 square yards, completely covered with a prodigious mosaic portraying writhing animals, faces, birds, a fight between a rooster and a turtle, a detailed and animate fishing scene. These images out of some paleo-Christian Looney Tunes assume the additional weight of being early Christian symbols. There are two crypts, one painted with 12th-century frescoes of the life of St. Hermagoras, a martyr and an early bishop of Aquileia, and another in which you can see, through a plexiglass floor, more recent excavations exposing yet more mosaics.


Archäologische Fundstätten und Basilika des Patriarchen von Adlers (Aquileia)

Einzigartig in der westlichen Welt sind die an Teppiche erinnernden Mosaikfußböden aus dem 4. Jahrhundert. Sie illustrieren Begebenheiten aus dem Neuen Testament und feiern in großer Prächtigkeit die neue Religion, die erst seit kurzem frei ausgeübt werden kann, dank des 313 erlassenen Toleranzedikts.
Die Szene mit den Aposteln beim Fischzug schildert mit vielen Details das Leben in der nahen Lagune und der Adria. Heute gehören die Stätten zum Weltkulturerbe (World Heritage List)

Nur wenige Kilometer vom Ferienrummel an der Adria entfernt: Magische Plätze, an denen das Gestern mit dem Heute verschmilzt.
Selbst in Touristenmonaten scheinen die Uhren manchmal fast still zu stehen. Dann findet man sich irgendwo zwischen Land, Meer und Himmel, in tiefen Unterwelten oder grünen Oasen. Einer dieser Orte ist Aquileia.
Die Luft flirrt in der Mittagshitze, in der das Ortsschild "Aquileia" auftaucht und eine schnelle Entscheidung fordert: schnurstracks nach Grado ans Meer weiterfahren oder die Kulturstätte, die vor zwei Jahren zum Weltkulturerbe erklärt wurde, besichtigen. Das kulturelle Gewissen gewinnt.
In der antiken Basilika umfängt einen Ruhe und Kühle. Es riecht nach Vergangenheit, und die Farben des Bodenmosaiks aus dem 4. Jh. n. Chr. leuchten über die Jahrhunderte hinweg und lassen die Gedanken weit zurückfliegen, bis in die Zeitepoche, in der Prachtbauten und riesige Plätze das Stadtbild prägten, in der Aquileia das Zentrum politischer und wirtschaftlicher Expansion des Römertums im Norden Italiens war.

Heute ist Aquileia ein kleines Städtchen, doch der 1031 erbaute Campanile hat allen Wirren der Zeit getrotzt. Und er bietet nach ausdauerndem Treppensteigen einen lohnenden Rundblick.
Ein letztes Gefühl von Eile verflüchtigt sich endgültig im Schatten der Zypressen, die den Spazierweg entlang des ehemaligen Flusshafens säumen. Der Flusshafen war wohl die herausragendste Einrichtung des antiken Aquileia. Handelskarawanen aus Norden und Osten kreuzten sich hier, Bernstein, Gold, Bergkristall und andere Rohmaterialien aus dem Norden wurden nach Osten verschifft und kamen als Luxusgüter zurück. In Anbetracht des schmalen Flüsschens, das heute entlang der Via Sacra dahintümpelt, kann man sich einen Hafen imperialer Dimension nicht mehr recht vorstellen, wären da nicht die zahlreichen steinernen Reste der antiken Bebauungen mit kunstvollen Verzierungen.

What to see
Many are the Roman ruins still visible today, among which: the Roman Forum, the Roman graveyard, the Fluvial port - where heavy cargo ships docked loaded with goods and where imposing stone blocks of its wharves can still be seen -, the streets and some Roman houses;

The splendid Basilica di S. Maria Assunta was built over a 4th-century building, and was enlarged many times in the following centuries (many of these enlargements were destroyed by the barbarian invasions). The temple still preserves, with some remodelling, the architectural lines of the rebuilding ordered in 1031 by the patriarch Popone, who also had the imposing 73-m tall bell-tower built.
The basilica preserves western world's finest and most spectacular early Christian mosaics (4th century) with varied decorative motifs which cover almost the whole floor (about 750 square metres). Attila trampled on this pavement in the year 452, but the pavement withstood his destructive passage, as its excellent state of preservation demonstrates.
Of great interest also the 12th-century Byzantine frescos in the crypt, the 11th-century frescos on the vault of the apse and a copy of the Holy Sepulchre in white marble.

Next to the basilica there is the baptistery and behind it the military cemetery where, among others, ten unknown soldiers found on the battlefields of the First World War are buried.

Myriads of finds from the Roman period (statues, mosaics, coins, glass and terracotta objects, urns, bronze objects, a boat, a museum with inscribed stone slabs, etc.) are collected in the National Archeological Museum.
Among the museums worth a visit are also the Early Christian Museum and the Civic Museum (Museo Civico).

> Visite virtuelle.



Trieste and its Riviera
Weather and Climate
Imperial Castle Miramare
Castle Duino - Rilke's Promenade
Muggia and its Castle
Grotto Gigante- Giant Grotto
Harbour of Triest
K.u.K. Trieste 1912
in the Outskirts
Cafés of Trieste
for Gourmets
Roman Forum of Aquileia
Sunny Island Grado




Triest und seine Riviera
Wetter und Klima
Kaiserl.Schloss Miramare
Schloss Duino - Rilkes Promenade
Muggia und sein Schloss
Riesengrotte - Karstplateau
Hafen vonTriest
K.u.K. Triest 1912
Ins Land einschauen
Badestrände - Fkk
Cafés von Triest
für Geniesser
Ausgrabungen von Aquileia
die Sonneninsel Grado




The most important Roman archaeological site in northern Italy, considered by UNESCO a Heritage of Mankind.

A bit of history
Founded in 181 B.C. by the Romans, because of exclusive military reasons relating to expansionist aims of Roman Empire towards central European and Balkan regions, Aquileia developed from a military outpost to the capital of the "X Regio Venetia et Histria", taking on great strategic, economic and cultural importance.

It 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, official buildings and palaces, forum at the crossing between the main cardo and decumanus. Not to forget the river port, where large cargo ships were moored.

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. With Attila's destruction in the middle of 5th century AD, there was the final economical and social collapse of Aquileia that lasted till the Medieval period. With Alboino's invasion in 571 Aquileia fell under the Langobard rule but it remained an important political and cultural centre, also during Hungarian invasions (10th century AD), notwithstanding it was a problem area of the Empire, meeting point of Latin, German and Slav civilization.

From the 6th century the prelates were qualified as patriarchs, with supremacy over other bishoprics, and from 1077 they obtained from the German Emperor the control of Friuli, with ducal prerogatives. The temporal power of the patriarchs of Aquileia continued until the Venetian conquest of Friuli in 1420. For such an important ecclesiastical city several churches were built.