Gorizia and Aquileia: indissoluble bond


From Aquileia to Gorizia, from Udine to Cividale, from Gradisca to Palmanova, a Middle Ages "border", that of Friuli, almost unknown but essential for the development of Europe to come. History, culture, wars and conflicts, but also the unprecedented encounter of the three main European civilizations, the Latin, the Slavic and the Germanic, which interact here, exchanging culture and traditions, interpenetrating languages and ways of life, so much so as to become in some cities, like Gorizia, a very popular grammelot, not yet fully investigated. A territory on the extreme fringes of empires and nations, of cultures and civilizations, so much so as to develop its own unique language like Friulian.

Aquileia, founded by the Romans in 181 BC, developed over the following centuries to become one of the most important centres of the empire, a modal point of trade between Northern Europe and the Mediterranean, a meeting point of philosophies and religions of the then known world, whose fascinating and in some ways mysterious complexity is still witnessed today in the most ancient mosaics of its extraordinary Basilica, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From Aquileia Christianity spread to Eastern Europe: after the fall of the Roman Empire, the city lost its role as a commercial power to assume a new fundamental religious function: the bishops of Aquileia, together with the diocese of Milan, exercised a primacy over the Western Church, also because of the authority exercised over about twenty dioceses in Italy and about ten beyond the Alps.

As an ecclesial reality, in fact, the Patriarchate of Aquileia was the largest diocese and metropolis of the whole European Middle Ages. Until 811 its ecclesiastical province reached as far as the Danube River to the north, Lake Balaton to the east and west as far as Como and today's Canton Ticino. To the south it included Istria until 1751, the year of its suppression. In 811, the emperor Charlemagne brought the borders in the north from the Danube to the Drau river. The diocese of Aquileia was also very large. The court of the Patriarch of Aquileia included people of different language and ethnicity. He united the Latin world with the Germanic and the Slavic ones, as well as the County of Gorizia, even if with very different motivations.

The year 1001 is the year of the first mention of Gorizia (from the Slovenian Gorica) and Salcano (from the Latin Sylicanum), in an edict by Ottone Primo which foreshadows an administrative reorganization of the Empire after the devastation of the Hungarians. In the document the emperor donates half of these territories to the Carinthian family of Eppestein and half to the Patriarchs of Aquileia, creating a fundamental ambiguity that will give rise to innumerable conflicts in the following centuries. Between 1070 and 1090 the County of Gorizia was actually born, first dominated by the Eppestein family and then by the so called Ariboni from Milstatt, also from Carinthia.

The relationship of Aquileia and Gorizia with the Germanic world is absolutely relevant in the medieval period, even if from the 15th century the power relations in the Northeast of Italy changed radically.

The county of Gorizia was indisputably born as a Germanic institution on a territory where Latin and Slavic populations had lived together for centuries. In a handkerchief of land then, Gorizia, which at that time was little more than an agglomeration of hovels perched on the hill now dominated by the Castle, the three main European civilizations intersected and interacted linguistically.

The county grew larger under the dynamic action of the Mainardina dynasty (so called because of the frequency of the name Mainardo in its lineage) and, although strongly opposed by the Patriarchate of Aquileia, it developed unstoppably until it reached its maximum extension around 1320, when the Counts of Gorizia dominated over vast territories of Istria, Friuli, Carinthia, Tyrol, and present-day Slovenia, conquering even Treviso and Padua for a few years. The influence of Aquileia first of all, but also of Gorizia on central-eastern Europe is still little known today: for the part of Gorizia, we could say almost unknown, except in Austria: visible evidence, traces and finds often very interesting of this domain are now found in Italian, Austrian, Slovenian and Croatian territory (Istria) confirming the prefiguration, certainly on a smaller scale, but still with a very rich diversity of people and languages, the future Mitteleurope.

The Patriarchate of Aquileia was subjugated by the Serenissima, together with the whole of Friuli, in 1420; the Pope of Rome recognized the Patriarch who was confined to the now small town of Aquileia.

The County of Gorizia, in the terms described so far, ends in 1500, on the death of the last count, Leonardo, who was married to Paola Gonzaga who gave him no heirs. The County after various war vicissitudes between Hapsburg and Venice, with what remained of its territory and especially with its historical territorial privileges, went to enrich the nascent Empire of Maximilian the First of Hapsburg, which lasted uninterruptedly until 1918. The temporal and above all spiritual power of Aquileia and Gorizia overlapped between the 15th and 16th centuries in this hinge region of Europe. It is the opinion of many historians that the legacy of the County of Gorizia, which stretched from the mountains of Tyrol to the Adriatic Sea, was the fourth column that supported the enormous scaffolding of the nascent Empire, together with Flanders, Burgundy, Alsace. Gorizia and Lienz, the capital of the Ost Tirol, were the driving centres of this seigniory still today both in Gorizia and in Tyrol there are many interesting testimonies of the County of Gorizia, which is however paradoxically better known in Austria than in Italy. Lienz in particular preserves the imposing castle which was for centuries the second residence of the counts and houses the tombs of Leonardo and Paola Gonzaga. The spiritual influence of the Patriarchate of Aquileia still remains, even if under trace, one of the most important links between West and East Europe: it would be worth remembering a fragment of the regional history, which perhaps more than any other has determined the events in Europe: it is a little known history also in Friuli Venezia Giulia.

In fact, little remains of all this rich mass of historical events, which are absolutely important for their intrinsic, original cultural and historical interest and for the future structure of the whole of Europe. The history of the County of Gorizia remains almost unknown in Italy: in Austria, in Tyrol and in Carinthia, above all, it has certainly been more appreciated. The Patriarchate of Aquileia is still remembered - and honored - among the Balkan peoples, from Carinthia to Hungary. One of the reasons for this oblìo that we propose to correct lies undoubtedly in the official historiography of the Italic North-East (or Austrian South-West), dominated for centuries by the Serenissima, which lucidly valorised Latin Friuli at the expense of the "German", imperial and therefore Hapsburg, whose mainardine counts were without other bishops. Specularly it happened on the part of the Hapsburgs as far as Gorizia was concerned.

Yet, the history of the Middle Ages in Friuli Venezia Giulia, in the North-East of Italy, in the Eastern Alps, cannot ignore the diarchy formed by the Patriarchate of Aquileia and the County of Gorizia and their periodic and continuous conflicts for dominance over Friuli. Wars, battles, sieges, crimes, involving Udine, Cividale, Trieste, Grado marked a centuries-old rivalry that only ended when more important powers such as Venice and the Habsburg Empire burst onto the scene.

Following the serious controversies between Venice and Austria for the nomination of the metropolitans, the patriarchate was suppressed on July 6, 1751 and replaced by the archbishopric of Udine given to the last patriarch Daniele Dolfin on January 19, 1752, and that of Gorizia, where Carlo Michele d'Attems was appointed. The county of Gorizia ended its "official" life with the Victory of Italy over the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918. It should be remembered that the treasure of Aquileia was divided into equal parts between Udine and Gorizia. The treasure of Udine was stolen a few years after the donation. The one of Gorizia is intact, very precious and in the year of the Jubilee a special Museum was created in agreement between the Municipality of Gorizia and the Archiepiscopal Curia, the Museum of S. Chiara, which is still waiting to host a fundamental part of the history of our region.

Il tesoro di Aquileia