Cividale: Historic
‘Longobard’ Town with Wild Surroundings in Eastern Friuli.

The National Archaeological Museum in Cividale del Friuli.

The National Archaeological Museum in Cividale del Friuli, since 1990, is hosted in the 16th Century Palazzo dei Provveditori Veneti, which became the seat of a museum after long restoration works commissioned by the “Ministero dei Beni e delle Attivita’ Culturali e del Turismo” (Ministry of Culture and Tourism). The rich archaeological collections date back to the period 1817-26, thanks to the excavations — both in town and its surroundings — sponsored by the Austrian Emperor and supervised by Michele della Torre Valsassina. Later on, the collection grew thanks to donations and fortuitous findings, such as the discovery, in 1874, of the so-called Tomb of Duke Gisulfo (‘Tomba del Duca Gisolfo’).

Until the end of the 19th Century, the Museum venue was in the Palazzo de’ Nordis, and Alvise Zorzi, director of the institution at that time, defined the first coherent setting of the exhibitions. The Museum changed its name from Royal to State Museum, and increased its collections by adding archaeological items coming from the region as well as historical documents and art objects.

Since 2001, the Museum is under the responsibility of the “Sopraintendenza per i Beni Archeologici del Friuli-Venezia Giulia” (the regional authority for archaeology), and its core mission is collecting archaeological material with particular attention to the Longobard period, for which this Museum is one of the most important in Italy.

The current set-up presents an exposition — at the ground floor and in the backyard — mostly based on lapidary objects, describing the history of Cividale from the Roman age through to the Patriarchal age; at the first floor visitors may see the Early Middle Ages funerary objects coming from the territory of the first Italian Longobard Duchy. The top floor hosts the archives and the library.    

The Palazzo dei Provveditori Veneti — the Archaeological Area under the Museum.
These remains, together with other buildings of the Episcopal complex and the Gastaldiga, form the Cividale site of the Italia Langobardorum network, which since 2011 is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. In the Museum basement and in the nearby archaeological area, it is possible to see the structural phases of the Palazzo Patriarcale, and some residences from the Late Roman-Early Middle Ages, surrounded by tombs.     

The consultation of sheets illustrating six thematic itineraries and a multimedia installation allow visitors to deepen their knowledge of the Roman town.

Roman Cividale.

Informations about the history, administrative life and organisation of Forum Iulii, one of the four Roman towns of Friuli-Venezia Giulia (and Cividale’s Roman name), may be obtained mainly by the epigraphical Roman documents in the Museum’s Lapidarium. Cividale was a municipium since the forties of the first century BC, and the dimensions of its territory are still under discussion. During the late period of the Roman Empire, because of the danger coming from the barbaric invasions, the strategic importance of the town grew up.

Forum Iulii was part of the Sub-Alpine defensive system, and after the descent of Attila (mid-5th Century), it probably became the seat of the Corrector (Governor) of Venetia et Histria; for this important role, it was chosen as the capital of the first Longobard Duchy in Italy, after the descent of the Longobard to Italy in 568. Information on the urban organisation of the settlement is rather scarce: the location of the main pubic buildings is in fact still uncertain.

The archaeological finds were discovered in the early 19th century and then moved into the Museum. They are mainly relative to private houses (fine mosaic floors, dating back to the first Imperial age), necropolis (burial monuments, urns and other objects) and sacred buildings (inscriptions and dedications to Jupiter and to Fortuna Augusta). Inscriptions, bronze statues and a thesaurus lid are all related to the cult of Hercules, venerated in a sanctuary located on a hilltop just south of town and probably founded in pre-Roman times.

The fragments of sculptures and the liturgical objects shown in the second part of the lapidary section  together with the masterpieces of the Museo Cristiano, the Duomo and the so-called Tempietto Longobardo  prove the richness of the architectural decoration of places of worship in Cividale between the 6th and 9th century AD.

The informative set-up allows the choice of three thematic itineraries: Function and Symbolism; Evolution of Sculpture; Places of Worship.

Byzantine, Longobard, Carolingian Cividale.

These are mainly items from the Presbitery: capitals and columns, arches from pergulae, tabernacles, teguri of the baptismal fonts, parapets and pilasters from the precincts. The collection includes decorative motifs derived from Late Antiquity, often deeply modified over time (rosettes, spindle whorls, racemes), and innovative patterns largely influenced by Germanic and Oriental decoration (plants, S-patterns, geometric patterns). Some of them are related to Early Christian age, many others are related to an early Middle Age phase corresponding to precise moments of liturgical renovation of the apparatus: the ‘Renaissance’ of Liutprandus and the Callixtus age (712-756), the age of Sigualdus (756-787), the Carolingian age (late 8th - early 9th Century).

From the High Middle Ages to the 15th century, Cividale (then renamed Civitas Austriae) has been the residence of the Patriarch (except for some periods), who was at the same time the Metropolitan of Aquileia and vassal of the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Cividale thus became one of the most important towns in the Patriarchal State of Aquileia.

Cividale of the Patriarchs.

The sculptures in the third section of the Lapidary should be referred to the building decoration of this period. Most of them are patere and panels, mainly with zoomorphic decoration, plus some pillars of the type “a colonnine” (with small columns), arc corbels, friezes and architectural frames, in some cases still bearing traces of the original polychrome decoration. The largest group includes reliefs commonly called “Venetian-Byzantine”, belonging to a production developed between the beginning of the 11th and the 14th centuries AD, which were probably part of the decoration of the Patriarchal Palace and of other buildings of the Episcopal complex.              

This is the period when the presence of Jewish families is first recorded in Cividale: numerous tombstones with inscriptions, some certainly dating to the Late Middle Ages, come from the cemetery located in the area formerly known as Giudaica, out of the north-eastern town walls.  

The Bronze Statues from Zuglio.

Some of the decorative bronze elements coming from the Forum of Iulium Carnicum (Zuglio in Carnia) were added to the Museum collections in the beginning of the 19th century. Iulium Carnicum was a town located on the Roman road towards the Noricum (now part of Austria) and it was the administrative centre of a large Alpine territory during the Roman age. In 1939 the collections increased, with the Bronze portrait and the other decorative elements found under the Basilica, where they were stocked to be recast.

Restoration work and intensive studies have allowed to understand the meaning of these important finds, which were exhibited in 1994. The current exhibition includes: two inscriptions probably from the base of one or two statues erected in honour of Gaius Baebius Atticus, who had important positions under Claudius (41-54 AD); an extraordinary bronze clipeus representing a vir togatus (man with a toga); fragments of two more shields and other decorative elements from the Forum; the well-known portrait of an illustrious person from Iulium Carnicum, whose chronology is still debated. The overall complex constitutes an exceptional compound, which represents a unicum in the artistic heritage of Roman age art.   

Longobard Funerary Archaeology.

The Necropolis on the San Mauro Hill

The exhibition is introduced by panels illustrating the route of the Longobards all the way from Scandinavia to Italy, and the historical and geographical context in which occurred the great movements of barbarians after the end of the Western Roman Empire. In the rooms 1 - 7 one can see — with some modifications — the same set-up created for the major international exhibition on the Longobards (‘I Longobardi’), held in 1990. Here one can follow the evolution of burial customs and handicrafts in Cividale and in the Longobard Duchy of Friuli for more than two centuries: from the arrival in 568 AD of the Germanic population in Forum Iulii  which then became the first Duchy of Italy  to the elaboration of the typical Longobard art of Italy, and its evolution during the Carolingian age.

The first section of the main hall is the exhibition inaugurated in 2012 and dedicated to the necropolis of San Mauro hill; the northernmost of those that ring Cividale. The sector displaying the tombs excavated between 1994 and 1998 has been recreated in the museum. The clothing objects and the offerings coming from ten tombs are placed on silhouettes in the position they were found in, oriented east-west. The graphic reconstruction on the panels allows visitors to interpret the grave goods exhibited and to recognise the gender, age and role of the deceased, as well as the period.

The funerary equipments, characteristic of the Longobard cultural model, and dated to their first period of settlement in Italy, are for the most part of exceptional richness and testify to the high social level of the group buried there. They include warriors of the upper class with their entire military equipment; upper class ladies with ornamental objects in gold, silver and semi-precious stones typical of the traditional customs, already seen in Pannonia; children with grave goods including also traditional weapons and jewels.     

The social and cultural evolution of the Longobards in Cividale and the development of the goldsmiths’ arts are readable in the extraordinary funerary objects coming from other necropolis located outside the city walls: Cella - San Giovanni, Gallo, S. Stefano in Pertica, Ferrovia — all being the result of partial excavations.

The Sanctuary of Castelmonte.

The History

The Sanctuary of Castelmonte is located on the top of a hill whose peak reaches 618 m. It is considered to be one of the oldest sanctuaries in Italy,and certainly one of the most popular in Friuli. Its origins, in fact, date back to the late Roman period. Originally, a Roman military outpost was probably located in the place where the sanctuary is today  as some remains kept in the crypt would testify. The crypt is dedicated to the archangel Michael. Nevertheless, the first written document that mentions the sanctuary as a prosperous community only dates back to 1175. In 1469 a raging wildfire destroyed a significant part of the church, which was immediately reconstructed.

The image of the Virgin Mary with the Child is without any doubt the heart of the sanctuary, and of the life of the hamlet. It is made of painted calcareous stone and dates back to the middle of the 15th century. The dark complexion of the Madonna and Child is very particular, and the pleasantness of the expression on Mary’s face is striking. This image attracts pilgrims from far and wide — both from Friuli as well as from nearby Slovenia, where the stanctuary is known as Stara Gora (Holy Mountain).

Over the centuries, the sanctuary has undergone various reconstructions and extensions. The main altar and side-altars from 1684-87 are the work of Venetian masters. Most of the votive offerings (‘ex-voto’) which cover the walls of the church and the crypt are very old (some of them are quite valuable too). When the French arrived in 1797, the sanctuary was stripped bare of its valuable possessions and treasures. From 1913 onwards, the Capuchin-Franciscan brothers have been in charge of managing the sanctuary. In 1943 the bombing of the building by the German artillery caused only little damage to the church and adjacent dwellings. At the beginning of the 1960s the crypt was enlarged to the same length of the church.     

Return from Cividale to Friuli

Return from Cividale to Italy-Tours-in-Nature

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