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Aquileia

Aquileia archaeological sites

Aquileia

Archaeological area and the Patriarchal Basilica of Aquileia

Aquileia (in Friuli-Venezia Giulia), one of the largest and wealthiest cities of the Early Roman Empire, was destroyed by Attila in the mid-5th century. Most of it still lies unexcavated beneath the fields, and as such it constitutes the greatest archaeological reserve of its kind. The patriarchal basilica, an outstanding building with an exceptional mosaic pavement, played a key role in the evangelization of a large region of central Europe.

Justification for Inscription

Criterion III: Aquileia was one of the largest and most wealthy cities of the Early Roman Empire.

Criterion IV: By virtue of the fact that most of ancient Aquileia survives intact and unexcavated, it is the most complete example of an Early Roman city in the Mediterranean world.

Criterion VI: The Patriarchal Basilican Complex in Aquileia played a decisive role in the spread of Christianity into central Europe in the early Middle Ages.

Long Description

By virtue of the fact that most of ancient Aquileia, one of the largest and most wealthy cities of the early Roman Empire, survives intact and unexcavated, it is the most complete example of an early Roman city in the Mediterranean world. The Patriarchal Basilican Complex in Aquileia played a decisive role in the spread of Christianity into central Europe in the early Middle Ages.

Aquileia was founded by the Romans as a Latin colony in 181 BC in the north-eastern corner of the plain of the Po as an outpost against Gallic and Istrian barbarians. It quickly became a major trading centre, linking central Europe with the Mediterranean. By 90 BC it had been elevated to the status of municipium and its citizens were accorded full rights of Roman citizenship. Its wealth resulted in the town being endowed with many magnificent public buildings, and the private residences of its rich merchants were opulently decorated. During the 4th century imperial residences were built in Aquileia, and it was the seat of the Imperial Mint between AD 284 and AD 425. Of particular importance was the construction in the second decade of the 4th century of a basilica, following the sanctioning of public worship by the Edict of Milan in 313. All this was to come to a violent end in 452, when Aquileia was sacked by the Huns led by Attila. Its mercantile role was assumed later by Venice. However, Aquileia retained its spiritual significance, becoming the seat of a patriarchate which survived until 1751, and played a key role in the evangelization of this region.

Excavations have revealed part of the forum and its Roman basilica, the Republican macellum , one of the sets of baths, and two luxurious residential complexes. Outside the late city walls, a cemetery with some impressive funerary monuments, the amphitheatre and the circus have been revealed. The most striking remains of the Roman city are those of the port installations, a row of warehouses and quays that stretch a long distance along the bank of the river.

The dominant feature of Aquileia is the basilica. Bishop Theodorus constructed a horseshoe-shaped complex of three main halls, but this proved inadequate to house the worshippers and pilgrims and so in 345 a vast structure replaced the northern arm. This was destroyed by the Huns, along with the entire complex, and never rebuilt. When the survivors returned they concentrated on the ruins of the southern hall, which was restored. After a period of neglect, work was begun in the 9th century by Bishop Maxentius, with financial support from Charlemagne. Despite severe damage during the 10th-century Magyar invasions and an earthquake in 988, the work was completed in 1031. The basilica is essentially Romanesque, although there are some Gothic features resulting from reconstruction after an earthquake in 1348. The most striking feature of the interior is the huge mosaic in the southern hall of the 4th-century structure, not revealed until the 11th-century clay floor was removed in 1909. The subjects depicted include symbolic subjects, portraits of donors, scenes from the Gospels and dedicatory inscriptions. At the eastern end is a sea scene with twelve fishermen, representing the Apostles, along with the story of the prophet Jonah. At the east end the crypt of the frescoes, dating from the 6th or 7th centuries, was constructed to house relics of martyrs.

A door at the east end of the basilica gives access to the Crypt of the Excavations, revealed during the early decades of the 20th century. Here are preserved mosaics from the 1st-century suburban villa selected as the site of the basilica in the 4th century, and the foundations of the transverse and north halls of the complex not rebuilt after destruction by Attila. The mosaics are enigmatic in subject matter, full of references to esoteric cults. The west entrance to the basilica is sheltered by a portico built in the early 9th century, which gives access to the contemporary baptistry. This is typically octagonal in plan and encloses a hexagonal baptismal pool, reproducing the Chi-Rho monogram of Christ. This is surrounded by a colonnade supporting an ambulatory. The final component of the complex is the bell tower, a massive structure that has survived unscathed since it was built in 1031. There is a second basilical complex at Monastero, now serving as the Palaeo-Christian Museum. This equally imposing 4th-century structure also houses a remarkable floor mosaic.

Historical Description

Aquileia was founded by the Romans as a Latin colony in 181 BC in the north-eastern corner of the plain of the Po at the northern end of the Adriatic. It communicated with the sea by means of the Natissa (Natiso) river. Originally conceived as an outpost against Gallic and Istrian barbarians, it quickly became a major trading centre, linking central Europe with the Mediterranean. Among the goods that it traded through its great river port were wine, oil, furs, iron, and slaves. It was also the southern terminus of the amber route, dating from prehistory, and this prized product from the Baltic was worked by Aquileian craftsmen for sale throughout the Empire. High-quality glassware became an important manufacture following the establishment of a workshop there in the 1st century AD by the celebrated Phoenician craftsman Ennion.

By 90 BC it had been elevated to the status of municipium and its citizens were accorded full rights of Roman citizenship. Its wealth resulted in the town being endowed with many magnificent public buildings, and the private residences of its rich merchants were opulently decorated. It is estimated that its population had reached over 200,000 by the end of the 1st century BC. During the 4th century Imperial residences were built in Aquileia, and it was the seat of an Imperial mint between 284 and 425 AD. Of especial importance was the construction in the second decade of the 4th century of a basilica by Bishop Theodorus, following the sanctioning of public worship by the Edict of Milan in 313.

All this was to come to a violent end in 452, when Aquileia was sacked by the Huns led by Attila. The survivors clustered in a drastically reduced settlement around the Basilica, in the area of the small present-day town, which occupies only a fraction of the Roman city. Its mercantile role was assumed later by Venice, which provided a similar trading link between central Europe and the Mediterranean. However, Aquileia retained its spiritual significance, becoming the seat of a patriarchate whose territory extended westwards as far as Como and embraced a large area of modern Austria, Slovenia, and Croatia. The Patriarchate of Aquileia, which survived until 1751, played a key role in the evangelization of this region and the great Basilican Complex still serves as its spiritual centre.

How to get:

Railroad: Train Station Cervignano – Aquileia – Grado (7 km) connected by bus from all incoming trains.
Highway: A4 Venice – Trieste exit Palmanova (km15)
Airplane: Regional airport Friuli-Venezia-Giulia Ronchi dei Legionari (14 km)
Bicycle path along the Alpe-Adria (www.offertacicloturismo.com)

Opening period:

From April to September

Basilica, the Crypt of the frescoes and the Crypt of the excavations
Mon – Sun: 9:00 to 19:00 – closed boxes 18.45
March and October: 9:00 to 18:00 -closing crates 17.45 suspended visits: Sundays from 10.00 to 11.30 and Saturdays from 17.30 to 18.45

From November to March

Basilica, the Crypt of the frescoes and the Crypt of the excavations
Mon ~ Fri: 9:00 to 16:30, closing crates 16.15
Sat – Sun: 9:00 to 17:00 closing crates 16.45
Holidays: 9:00 to 17:00 closing crates 16.45 Sundays from 10.00 to 11.30 visits suspended.

Visit the Bell: Closed from November to March
National Archaeological Museum: closed Mondays, Tuesdays – Sundays 8:30 to 19:30 Admission: € 4.00
Early Christian Museum: Thursday 8:45 to 13:30 Admission: Free
Archaeological Area: Every day: 8.30 to one hour before sunset Entrance: free.

Entrance fee:

Entrance to the Basilica:

Free

Admission to the two crypts:

Full price: € 3.00
Reduced: 2.50 (groups min. 15 people); school groups 1.00 (middle and high schools, min. 15 persons)
Children under 10 years free.

Entrance to the Campanile

Full price: € 2.00
Reduced: 1.00 (for groups min.15 people)
.

Entrance to the Baptistery and Sudhalle:

Full price: € 3.00
Reduced: 2.50 (groups min. 15 people); schoolchildren 2.00 (middle and high schools, min. 15 persons)
Children under 10 years free
.

Overall ticket Basilicale (crypts, baptistery and sudhalle, bell):

Full price: € 6.00
Reduced: € 7.00 (groups min. 15 persons)
Children under 10 years free
.

Tourist information office:

Mail: info.aquileia@turismo.fvg.it
La Basililica di Aquileia: +39043191067
Museo Paleocristiano: +39043191035
Museo Archeologico Nazionale: +39043191016
Museo Civico del Patriarcato: +390431919451

Tourist guide:

www.guideturistichefvg.com

 

3 August 2015