The beauties of FVG
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The story

Of Roman origin, Grado (gradus, port of call) was founded in the 2nd century A.D. as a fishing village and, later, a port for the ships that went up the course of the Natissa river towards Aquileia, then the Augustan capital of the X Regio "Venetia et Istria", patriarchal seat from the 11th to the 15th century and today the most important archaeological site in northern Italy as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Grado developed around the middle of the 5th century A.D., when many inhabitants took refuge on the island to escape first from the devastating hordes of the Visigoths of Alaric (in 401) and then from those of the Huns led by Attila, who destroyed nearby Aquileia in 452 A.D., as did the Lombards a hundred years later. In that tormented period, the Patriarch of Aquileia moved to Grado, proclaiming himself Patriarch also of this locality. So, in fact, Grado was an autonomous patriarchal seat until 1451 even if, starting from the middle of the 12th century, the same patriarch moved his residence to the basilica of San Pietro di Castello, in Venice.

Grado thus returned to being a fishing village, and remained so in the following centuries, under the dominion of the Serenissima Republic of Venice which, in addition to its patriarchal title, also recovered its devotion to St. Mark's. With the Treaty of Campoformido (1797) it became part of the dominions of the House of Austria (until 1918) and, almost a century later, in 1892, the Austro-Hungarian State set up a tourist company in Grado to promote the seaside resort and the therapeutic virtues of its "strong sea steam". In the same year, the first European sandblasting establishment was set up.

But, in truth, the island was already known as a "tourist" destination. In the summer of 1856, for example, the writer Ippolito Nievo stayed there for a couple of weeks. The memories of those days gave life to a delightful novel entitled: "The Wizards of Grado" where, among other things, these words are published: "...But I do not think that anyone would not want to look for those shores as much as I found them, but I am sure that the pleasantness of the stay, the comfort of the bathrooms, and the courtesy of the inhabitants will come back to them". In 1873, the Florentine paediatrician, Giuseppe Barellai (1813-1884), had founded the Marine Hospice for the treatment of respiratory diseases, which is still operational today but with rehabilitative purposes. The Rose Park, commissioned by Biagio Marin, then director of the Tourist Board, is dated 1924. In 1935-36 Grado was definitively connected to the mainland with a road embankment and a revolving bridge that put an end to its centuries-old isolation.

The traces

As evidence of the ancient and important history of the city, today you can still admire three well-preserved jewels: the Basilica of Santa Eufemia (the Duomo), the elegant Baptistery and the Basilica of Santa Maria delle Grazie. In particular, the Basilica of Santa Eufemia (in beautiful red bricks) preserves the testimony of fourteen centuries of history: the Roman ambo, the great fourteenth-century Venetian altarpiece, in silver, the admirable floor mosaic and the apse with the Gothic fresco of Christ in glory. On the south side of the Basilica stands the medieval brick bell tower on the top of which stands the unmistakable angel marker (l'anzolo), almost three meters high, a Venetian gift and today a symbol of the whole community of Grado. Leaving the eastern side you pass through a garden bordered by a long portico in which the epigraphs, sarcophagi and sculptures that make up the Lapidarium have been placed. On the northern side of the Duomo stands the Baptistery, dating back to the second half of the 6th century A.D., with an octagonal plan and hexagonal basin. On the Campo dei Patriarchi there is also the second early Christian church of Grado: Santa Maria delle Grazie, with its characteristic rectangular base and beautiful double level mosaic floors. [...]

The harbour

Behind the old town is the port, an ideal link between the past and the present of a community that, for many centuries, has found its main source of survival in fishing (Grado still has a fleet of about seventy fishing boats). Built in the shape of an inverted Y, it is one of the most important public works carried out by the Austrians, who arrived in Grado in 1815 and immediately became the "economic centre" of the fishing village. Even today, only a part is dedicated to pleasure boats, while the southern head and the entire canal that flows into the lagoon (mandracchio) is the "working land" of fishing boats.

The port is also the gateway to the lagoon, a natural setting of exceptional charm in every season, a source of inspiration for artists of all times. The natural richness, the spontaneous architecture of the casoni (the traditional fishermen's houses), the evocative combination of lights, reflections and colours of extraordinary intensity, the peace and quiet that one breathes there, together with the perception of the extremely balanced and respectful relationship that the people of Grado have been able to maintain in these places, are elements that do not fail to enchant visitors.

The Sanctuary of Barbana

According to tradition, the birth of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Barbana, built on the island of the same name, dates back to 582 when a violent sea storm threatened the city of Grado. At the end of the storm an image of Mary, carried by the waters, was found at the foot of an elm tree, near the huts of two hermits of Treviso origin: Barbano and Tarilesso. The place was, then, relatively far from the coastline and the Patriarch of Grado, Elijah, as thanks to Our Lady for saving the city from the storm, had a first church built. Around Barbana (the name derives from that of the hermit) a first community of monks was formed that would hold the sanctuary for the next four centuries. The church was probably rebuilt several times and the image of the Madonna was lost.

Around the year one thousand the Benedictines took over the sanctuary for 500 years. The plague that struck Grado in 1237 and the origin of the annual pilgrimage of the perdòn date back to this period. From 1450 the Franciscan monks replaced the Benedictines and in 1738 they built a new church with three naves. They remained on the island until 1769, when the Republic of Venice suppressed the monastery. The ties of Venice with the sanctuary, however, were always intense, as is testified by the testamentary bequests of the Doges and by the existence, in the past, of a special confraternity of gondoliers (the "Brotherhood of the Blessed Virgin of Barbana"). The same bas-relief of the high altar of the church of Barbana represents, not by chance, a gondola in the lagoon.

From 1924 to 2019, the sanctuary was ruled by the Franciscans who built the house of spiritual exercises "Domus Mariae" (1959) and the more recent "Casa del Pellegrino" (1980) and "Cappella della Riconciliazione" (1989).

The church, clearly visible even from far away, has some references to oriental architecture, is in neo-Romanesque style and is of relatively recent construction (the work was completed in 1924). The structure culminates with a large dome. The interior has a nave and two aisles, with a ship's hull ceiling, and presents elements of considerable interest in the high altar of 1706 and, above all, in the life-size wooden statue of the Madonna and Child, a work of the Friulian school at the end of the 15th century. The two side altars, in Renaissance-Baroque style, are of the Venetian school and are dedicated to Saint Francis (1763) and Saint Anthony (1749). Of the school of Tintoretto is, instead, the painting of the gondoliers on pilgrimage (1771) kept in the sacristy, where you can also admire a Madonna and Child, dated 1734, by an unknown author. The frescoes in the dome (over 500 square metres) are the work of Tiburzio Donadon (1940). The stained glass windows of the church represent some mysteries of the rosary. The bell tower, 47.8 metres high, was inaugurated in 1929: the four current bells, as an invitation to peace, were made from the metal of German cannons from the Second World War.

The small Chapel of Reconciliation, to the right of the high altar, preserves a statue of the Virgin of 1700, made of Aurisina stone. The continuous action of the lagoon has prevented the conservation of significant traces of the oldest sanctuaries. Among the remains that have come down to us, it is possible to remember a funerary bas-relief representing an apparition of the Risen Christ (10th-11th century), a fragment of the tree where, according to tradition, the image of the Madonna was found, a leather and gold altar covering (17th century) and two columns with Corinthian capitals placed in front of the bell tower. The chapel of the "Domus Mariae" houses the statue of the so-called "Madonna mora", venerated in the sanctuary from the 11th to the 16th century. The work, in painted wood, has been recently restored: curiously, the Madonna holds the child by her feet. A painting of the praying Madonna dating back to 1500 can be admired in the friars' table.

Of the first church built by the Franciscans (18th century) there are numerous traces left, both in the interior furnishings and in iconographic material (paintings, photographs, bas-reliefs).

Not far from the church, on the place where, according to tradition, the image of the Madonna ran aground, stands the chapel of the apparition, built in 1854 to celebrate the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The building, octagonal in shape, was decorated in 1860 by the painter Rocco Pitacco from Udine and is surrounded by a small cemetery.