CIVIDALE DEL FRIULI
The city during the Longobard period
Forum Iulii (Cividale del Friuli)was one of the lesser cities founded by the Romans on the margins of the land belonging to the colony of Aquileia, originally set up during the Romans’ expansion towards the Alpine regions, the area east of the Alps towards the Balkans.
The city rises on a natural plateau overlooking the Natisone river, between the plain and the pre-alpine area, along what was already a route in protostoric times. This track reached from the basin of the Danube river to the sea and followed the course of the river Natisone, and the upper reaches of the river Isonzo.
- THE CITY DURING THE ROMAN PERIOD
- THE CITY DURING THE LONGOBARD PERIOD
- THE URBAN AND SUBURBAN NECROPOLIES
On account of its strategically important position it was probably fortified by the Romans during the late Republican period, when an imposing city wall was built, which partly survives to this day. The documentary evidence shows that the city, founded by Cesar (56-50 BC) probably enjoyed administrative autonomy as of 49 B.C. and was raised to the rank of municipium. It was enrolled within X Regio and was assigned to the Scaptia tribe.
During or shortly after the walls’ construction, a daring bridge was flung over the chasm, or forra, in which the Natisone flowed, as the river in this area had formed a deep cleft in the bank of rocky conglomerate. The bridge is aligned with the city axis running north to south, which constituted the cardo maximus, and corresponds today to via Paolino d’Aquileia and Corso Mazzini, on the route leading from Cividale to Aquileia.
The roman city’s urban layout, together with its necropolises which stretch to the south and to the north east, were revealed, albeit only in part, by extensive excavations carried out by Michele della Torre at the beginning of the 19th century, as well as by emergency excavation work of the 19th and 20th century, and by a few recent methodical research work.
To this day there are few certainties as to the location of the main public areas.
Their hypothetical location is based on the only existing epigraphical documents (i.e. bases bearing dedicatory inscriptions to Emperor Caracalla, which probably stood in the Forum, and a small altar dedicated to Jupiter now in the National Archaeological Museum).
Private buildings on the other hand are well documented: the most sumptuous boasted expensive mosaic floors while a wealthy domus was equipped with a thermal bathing complex. All of these buildings rose in the south eastern area of the city.
The northern neighbourhoods were probably those mostly given over to commercial and productive activities.
The city developed rapidly during the Late-Antique period, thanks to its strategic role in frontier defence. During the second half of the 4th century it supplanted Aquileia as seat of the Corrector, or Governor, of Italy’s North-Eastern Province. During this period, the inhabited area’s limits remained identical to those of the old municipium, as defined by the late republican walls, which were reinforced and enhanced during the 5th and the 6th centuries.
The city’s expansion during these times is proved by the development of new monumental areas, such as the religious complex of Santa Maria–today’s Duomo–with an early christian Baptistery, and important palaces. One of these, possibly belonging to the provincial Governor, has been partially revealed by excavations carried out in Piazza Paolo Diacono
In 568 the Longobards had descended into Italy and immediately took over Forum Iulii.
King Alboinus left here his nephew Gisulf, together with some of his best warriors. Gisulf governed a Duchy including four Roman municipia (Aquileia, Concordia, Iulium Carnicum and Forum Iulii), corresponding more or less to modern Friuli.
To the east it reached as far as the River Livenza, bordering with the Duchy of Ceneda, reaching to the south as far as the Adriatic coast, past which were the areas such as Grado and other islands, still under Byzantine rule.
Cividale must have appeared to the Longobards as a well-fortified castle, within the ancient walls which resisted and survived the only conquest and devastation the city experienced during Longobard domination, namely, the sack by the Avars, at the beginning of the 7th century (610), when the city was taken by means of a stratagem.
Within the enceinte the main monumental areas of the Longobard city included the following:
- the area around the Early Christian centre, called Santa Maria, which became Episcopal church with a nearby palace, certainly build towards the later phase of Longobard rule;
- the area called Valle, appointed as seat of the Gastaldaga, or seat of the Gastald – the King’s representative; here the Church of San Giovanni and the Tempietto Longobardo were built, as well as an important monastery, known as Monastero of Santa Maria in Valle, a monument erected in the last years of the Longobard Kingdom.
During the reign of Duke Pemmon and of his son Ratchis (which then become King before his brother Astulf), in the 8th century, the Cividale enjoyed a period of remarkable architectural and artistic development; moreover, Callixtus, Patriarch of Aquileia, helped by King Liutprand, transferred his seat to an imposing palace rising immediately to the north-east of the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, under the auspices of King Liutprand.
The aristocracy also contributed, by founding new worship places, of which significant sculptural artefacts survive to this day.
The traces of the Longobard period relate to the common type of domestic architecture, where older structures are routinely re-used by making wide use of economical and perishable materials. The existence of wooden huts of the kind used by Germanic cultures has been ascertained, as well as the presence of open, unoccupied spaces, which testify how some parts of the late antique city had reverted to a rural state.
The appearance of burials inside the city points to significant changes in the use of city space: single tombs, or burials grouped in more consistent and organized groups have been discovered both in close proximity to places of worship, as well as in residential areas.
A nobleman, wrongly identified as Duke Gisulf, was buried with his rich funerary apparel sometime around the middle of the 7h century AD in the area occupied by the Late Antique palace discovered in Piazza Paolo Diacono; this palace is believed to be linked to the seat of ducal power in the city.
The main Longobard necropolises rose outside the walls, mostly during the main routes which led into the city, from the very first phases of Longobard settlement.