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It is difficult to imagine a more composite administrative territory than that of the Regione Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
The Italian Constitution assigns it the status of Region with a Special Statute, together with four other Italian regions. However, Friuli-Venezia Giulia obtained administrative autonomy and the special statute only in 1963. The reasons for this "constitutional delay" are interwoven with the international problems of the second postwar period and with those deriving from the region's "diversity" - the different historical, ethnic, and linguistic components that go to make up this area.
On the one hand lies Friuli, heir to the patriarchate of Aquileia and the Venetian Fatherland of Friuli, that goes from the Livenza to the Isonzo, including the provinces of Pordenone, Udine and part of the province of Gorizia. On the other lie the territories of Trieste and Gorizia, what is left of Venezia Giulia after the redrawing of borders after the Second World War, and which combines the Austrian influence with a past history of strong administrative and economic autonomy.
The traces of a common "Roman origin" are quite visible over all the territory, and the unifying element of the two parts is the X Regio Venetia et Histria, with its capital at Aquileia in the Augustan period. Starting from the Longobard settlements (6th century), the historical paths diverge and become particularized: Cividale del Friuli – the Roman Forum Iulii (from which the name Friuli comes) - became the capital of the first Longobard Dukedom in Italy; the Franks, arriving a couple of centuries later, favoured the growth of the church of Aquileia; the patriarchal feudal state, which was created in 1077, held both religious and temporal power and this was extended temporarily even to the east, but already in the 12th century Gorizia had actually become independent and Trieste, along with other coastal towns, organized itself as a free city-state. It was the Fatherland of Friuli that became Venetian territory in 1420, while Trieste and Gorizia remained under the Austrian Empire. Pordenone was a "corpus separatum", under Austrian influence until 1515, when it too fell under the domination of Venice. With the peace treaty of Campoformido in 1797, Venetian domination came to an end and Friuli was ceded to Austria. After the period of domination by Napoleon, which affected also Trieste and Gorizia, it again became part of the Austrian Empire and was included in the Lombard-Veneto Kingdom, while Gorizia was merged with the Illyrian Kingdom and Trieste, together with
Istria, became part of the Austrian Coastal Region. The enlightened policy of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries encouraged an extraordinary economic flourishing, making Trieste the empire's port. The fortunate outcome of the war of independence brought Friuli alone into the unified Kingdom of Italy.
After the First World War, in which this region was a main theatre of operations, and suffered very serious damage and loss of life, the fates of these border lands were again united, although Venezia Giulia, in particular, underwent very painful experiences due to the explosion of contradictions regarding the borders.
The Second World War, once again very dearly paid for, led to the Anglo-American Administration in Trieste until the border was fixed with the Memorandum of London in 1954. When Trieste was reunited with Italy, the Autonomous Region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia could finally be established.
From the sea to the mountains, from East to West, the distances - as a bird flies - do not exceed a hundred kilometres, and a modern motorway network makes it easy to cover them.
In a small space, Friuli-Venezia Giulia contains very diverse environments, landscapes, histories, art and culture, which make up a varied and complex reality.
From the circle of mountains, the ending section of the Alps, one descends to the vast piedmont and morainic hill area.
The interesting and varied geological features are accompanied by a pleasant landscape, dotted with many castles that, from the late Middle Ages on, constituted the line of defence of this area which, on account of its position, was a land of passage and often of conquest.
The upper plains, especially in western Friuli, are characterized by arid and permeable soils called "magredi", or poor soils, where even the rivers disappear and run underground to resurface farther on, in what is known as the "line of karst springs". The arid "magredi" areas are nowadays made fertile by an extensive irrigation system, and the lush area of the karst springs, with its flourishing agriculture, is characterized by natural greenery along the rivers and woods on the plains.
Finally, we move on to the sea: the wide lagoons of Marano and Grado and the mouth of the Isonzo mark out the lower western coast, while to the east the coastline becomes high and rocky, with little bays such as those of Duino and Sistiana, all the way to Trieste and Muggia.
Throughout the centuries, Friuli has developed a deeply-rooted autonomous culture; this is seen in the widespread use of a language, Friulian, of Ladino origin, as well as in the great attention paid to the many local traditions and the participation in many rites and ceremonial events, whose significance goes well beyond the aspect of mere folklore.
At Epiphany there are the bonfires (called "pignarûl" in the vernacular of Udine, "pan e vin" in the Pordenone area, to give but the most common names) intended to favour the earth's fertility. Again for Epiphany, at Cividale del Friuli, the "Messa dello Spadone" ("Broadsword Mass") is celebrated, in memory of the investiture that the patriarch received at the hands of the Emperor. During the mass the deacon greets the crowd with the sword - dating from 1366, as it belonged to the patriarch of Aquileia Marquardo of Randeck. At Gemona, the "Messa del Tallero", ("Dollar Mass") is celebrated; in it, during the offertory the mayor gives the celebrant a dollar minted in 1780 under the reign of Maria Theresa of Austria. At Pordenone (but the tradition has recently been revived also in other towns) halfway through Lent the Trial and funeral pyre of the Old Woman is celebrated; this ritual is also related to the rite of purification by fire, where an effigy of the "Old Woman" represents the evils of the year gone by. In Carnia, the rites of fire coincide with the patron saint's day, or with a day devoted to some saint near the summer solstice; the launching of "lis cidulis", flaming wheels, is accompanied by wishes for prosperity.
Some religious rites, such as the Rogations, have almost disappeared, together with the peasant civilization they were part of. But some processions have survived: for Corpus Domini and the holy days devoted to the Virgin Mary and the Saints. The Kiss of the Crosses, which takes place for Ascension in the parish church of Zuglio, in Carnia, is an important procession; the processional Crosses, all bedecked, of all the "daughter" parish churches, come together and bow down in an act of tribute to the "mother church". There are marine processions at Marano for the feast day of Saints Vito, Modesto and Crescenzio, and at Grado for the Perdòn of Barbana (the statue of the Virgin is carried from Grado to the sanctuary on the little island of Barbana, accompanied by a boat procession).
The custom of celebrating holy performances on Good Friday is becoming more and more common. Of medieval origin, these are a mixture of sacred ritual and theatre. In Friuli, the most ancient and best known is that of Erto e Casso, in the Upper Valcellina, which the whole town takes part in.
A much less religious but also very ancient event is the Sagra dei osei (Bird Festival), held in August in Sacile. Many people go there at dawn to hear the birds sing and to see the singing competitions between birds and decoy song-birds of all sorts. This event recalls the right granted to the city in 1351 by the patriarch of Aquileia to hold a market of birds caught in the nearby woods of Cansiglio.
Many of the ancient traditions, understood as ways or needs of living, are to be found not only in the festivals but also in the arts and crafts, using cloth and furniture in Carnia and wooden objects in Valcellina (the "sedòns" that the women, the "sedonère", sold around Italy and abroad), and objects and tools made of wrought iron and copper.
As regards the province of Trieste, on the Carso every year the rite of the Carsic Wedding is held, celebrated according to the old traditions.
Maybe it sounds strange to you, but the Friulian people really take a bath in the river Tagliamento. The Tagliamento... more travel advice
The Flag of Friuli is an historical flag of the region Friuli, which isn't recognized officially today. It shows a... more travel advice
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