Acquileia, the second Rome

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Aquileia, in the province of Udine, is called "The Second Rome" for its role in antiquity and for the richness of its current archaeological evidence.

Aquileia was founded in 181BC as a military oupost against the Barbarians and became a base for Roman power in this part of Europe. The town, strategically located for military and trading purposes, grew to be one of the most important cities in Roman Italy and the capital of a large area and an important trade and commerce center. Reached its zenith under the rule Caesar Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD), becoming the capital of Regio X Venetia et Histria and speeding up the process that would have made this one of the most important cities of the Roman Empire. Hence the definition of "second Rome" associated with Aquileia. During the following centuries, internal wars, raids or reprisals external and rapid incursions threatened the city, which is involved in the wider crisis of the Empire, slowly began to acquire a new face becoming the center of diffusion of Christianity throughout the West.

The summary of the history of Aquileia is found in the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, with its mosaics that tell stories of the Testament, the Cripta degli Affreschi and the Cripta degli Scavi . The basilica alone is worth a trip to Friuli Venezia Giulia. The real gem of the Basilica is the floor mosaic which covered the two large halls of worship that were built at the beginning of the fourth century. There are two separate crypts within the basilica which you should visit; the Cripta degli Affreschi ('Fresco Crypt') is close to the altar and contains some charming faded twelfth-century frescoes. The Cripta degli Scavi ('Crypt of the Excavations') is reached through a doorway to the left as you enter the basilica. From April to September, it is possible to climb the bell tower, which is over 70 metres high and offers a view looking out over the entire city and surrounding plain as far as the sea.

The stunning archaeological heritage of the city is explorable by way also of the town’s three museums: the Museo Archeologico Nazionale (with many documents dating back to the Roman Era, artisan productions and finds from the ancient city), the Museo Paleocristiano (where the ruins of a large ecclesiastical building are preserved) and the Museo Civico del Patriarcato (protecting sacred wooden and metal reliquaries).

Today the archaeological area of Aquileia is one of the most important in Italy. Some archaeological remains are now visible outdoors with free access. These include the forum, the river port, the late antiquity markets, a necropolis area known as "sepolcreto" (burial ground) and some domus that feature remarkable mosaic fragments. Other remains, meanwhile, are contained within specific museum structures that protect the precious mosaics: the Early Christian Museum, the Crypt of Frescoes in the Basilica, the Südhalle of the Baptistery, the Episcopal Palace and Domus area.

Nowadays Aquileia, with its immense archaeological site and its Patriarchal Basilica, is an artistic and historical treasure trove. Located in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia (Udine Province), it was added to Italy’s register of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1998.

The author

Eleonora Ruzzenenti

Eleonora Ruzzenenti

I am Eleonora, from Italy. I share with you a frenetic passion for travelling and an insatiable curiosity for different cultures. On itinari, you will find my stories about Italy.

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