Friuli (Friûl) is an area of Northeast Italy with its own
particular cultural and historical identity. It comprises the major part of the
autonomous region Friuli Venezia Giulia, i.e. the administrative provinces of
Udine, Pordenone, and Gorizia, excluding Trieste.
The multiethnic and subsequent multilingual tradition of Friuli means that the name of the region varies according to locality. Besides Friuli in Italian, other local Romance forms include Friûl (in the local language) and Friul (in the Venetian dialects), Friaul in German, and Furlanija in Slovene and other South Slavic languages.
The name Friuli originates from the ancient Roman town of Forum Iulii (now Cividale, the ancient Langobard capital).
Friuli is bordered on the west by the Veneto region, with the boundary running along the Livenza river to the west; on the north by the crest of the Carnic Alps between Carnia and Austria, on the east by the Julian Alps, the border with Slovenia and the Timavo river, and on the south by the Adriatic sea. The adjacent Slovene parts of the Isonzo (Soca) valley from Gorizia, up to Mt. Triglav and the Vipava valley, forming the Goriška region, may also be considered part of historic Friuli (now belonging to Slovenia).
The mountainous northern part of the region belongs to the Southern Alps, mostly calcareous in nature. From west to east, the region’s highest peaks are — in the Dolomiti Friulane — the Cima dei Preti (2,703 metres), Duranno (2,652 metres), and Cridola (2,581 metres); in the Carnic Alps, they are Peralba (2,694 metres), Monte Bivera (2,474 metres), near Sauris, and Coglians (2,780 metres); in the Julian Alps, the Jôf Fuârt (2,666 metres), the Jôf di Montasio (2,754 metres), the Mangart (2,677 metres), and Monte Canin (2,587 metres), which dominates the plains.
Rivers flowing southwards from the mountains are numerous. The Friulian mountains surround the course of the Tagliamento river, which, at the latitude of Gemona, first crosses the hills that occupy the center of Friuli, then flows into a large flood plain. This plain is commonly divided into the High Friulian plain (Alta pianura Friulana) and the Low Friulian plain (Bassa Friulana), whose boundary is the Napoleonic road (via Napoleonica) that connects the towns of Codroipo and Palmanova. To the south of this road is the risorgive zone, where water resurfaces from underground waterways in spring-fed pools throughout the area. South of the plains lie the lagoons of Marano and Grado, which are also important nature reserves. Other rivers are the Torre, Natisone, Stella, Isonzo (Soca), and Ausa.
Friuli covers an area of 8,240 square kilometres, subdivided (in order) among the provinces of Udine (4,905 square kilometres), Pordenone (2,178 square kilometres) and Gorizia (466 square kilometres). The historical capital and most important city of Friuli is Udine, which was also the capital of the medieval Patria del Friuli. Besides the two provincial cities of Pordenone and Gorizia, other important towns include Sacile, Codroipo, Palmanova, Cervignano, Cividale, Gemona, Monfalcone (at the edge of the Carso region) and Tolmezzo — the small historic capital of Carnia.
The region of Friuli Venezia Giulia shares with Veneto a section of coastline, part of that great arc formed by an almost unbroken belt of marsh and lagoon, which stretches northwards from the Po Delta to the fringes of Carso — almost to the outskirts of Trieste. To the grandeur, vastness and fame of the Venetian lagoons, Friuli hosts, by comparison, the lesser known (and less polluted) Marano and Grado lagoons, although the two systems are interrupted by the busy resort of Lignano Sabbiadoro. For birds in their millions, however, these less glamorous marsh and lagoons remain important aquatic stepping stones along the Adriatic migration route that takes them — and people alike, over the centuries — to the European heartlands.
This coastline has been sculpted by the great rivers which flow across the plains into the Adriatic: first and foremost the Tagliamento and Isonzo (Soca), which both have their sources in the Alps; the karstic rivers Livenza, Meduna and Cellina are equally important in shaping the land. Mountains enclose the region: while neighbouring Veneto hosts the most famous Dolomite ranges, Friuli picks up the thread where the Dolomites give way to the lower, narrower and comparatively wilder outlying ranges of the eastern Alps, which also include the Dolomiti Friulane. These are part of the more extensive Alpi Carniche: a wall of zig-zagging mountains which runs for some 200 km between Austria and Italy. The country’s scenic finale is the Julian Alps, with massifs as spectacular as any in the entire Alpine range.
Between the mountains and the coast of both regions lies an area that is something of a vacuum for foreign visitors. Few people have any idea quite what happens between the evocative names of Venice and Trieste. Huge tracts of flat land lie there, of which the Friuli side has been compared to the plains of the American Mid-west. Some of these plains are little-inhabited, flat expanses known locally as magredis. For the most part, these look like monotonous prairies of corn and soya, but some pockets do host an interesting, relic protected flora. These flat, gravelly expanses are interrupted only by rows of poplar, and the odd church tower.
Between the Alps and the plains, however, lies yet another area: the Pre-Alps (Prealpi Friulane), a bland name that does little justice to the gorgeous and almost entirely overlooked pockets of wilderness that can still be found there. The most notable of these are some outlying parts of Carnia, as well as the Pordenone Pre-Alps, both rippled with several mountains above 2,000 metres, and long stretches devoid of major habitations; roads meander into solitary valleys where, to this day, you will still find little (or no) traffic. See the pages on Moggio and Budoia for more information on these areas.
For the most exciting wildlife, however, you must go to the Julian Alps: places like the Valle di Resia, the Foresta di Tarvisio (Tarvisio Forest) and the jewel-like turquoise expanses of the Fusine lakes, in the farthest-flung corner of north-east Italy still contain quite a lot of relatively wild and untamed wilderness. If truth be told, the richness of flora and fauna has here less to do with Italy than with Slovenia and the Balkans, for it is from the wilderness over the border that most of the finest animals have strayed (including bear and lynx).
Something similar can be said for another area of Venezia Giulia, the Carso: this tongue of limestone connecting Trieste with the rest of Italy provides a fantastically complex habitat for flora and fauna that owe their characteristics as much to Central Europe and the Balkans as to Italy. But from an historical point of view, it must be emphasized, this is not Friuli anymore; even thought, from an administrative point of view, we are still within the Friuli Venezia Giulia region.
As well as many places of natural beauty, the region also hosts some very interesting, and sometimes quite ‘niche’, museums, connected to topics of either naturalistic or historical relevance, or both; amongst them, the Ovaro wood museum in Ovaro, the geological museum in Ampezzo and the system of museums in Sauris, all in Carnia; plus, the important ethnographic museum Case Cocjel in Fagagna is also worth a mention. The historic towns of Venzone (just north of Gemona) and Zuglio (also in Carnia), along the historic axis towards Austria, display important monuments and museums.