History in brief

Recent archaeological discoveries have found a large proto-historic settlement (ninth century BC) on the edge of what was to be a major river that the Romans in the second century BC regimented and made navigable, creating one of the most important ports of the time.
With the founding of the Roman colony in 181 BC, all previous realities were cleared to make way for the great resettlement work of lands, roads and river transport making possible both the fortification of the new Aquileia and the planning and centuriation of Aquileia's lands.
In the Tavola Peutingeriana (end of fourth century BC) Aquileia is represented as a city well protected by massive towers and walls, with several roads connecting it to Italy and Central Europe (Via Annia, via Postumia, via Gemina, etc.) and positioned in the vicinity of the Adriatic.
The quadrilateral structure, to the right of Aquileia, is the Roman thermal centre on the river Timavo, located between Aquileia and Trieste (Tergeste). Until the first half of the fourth century A.C., the waters of the Isonzo, Torre and Natisone rivers lapped the eastern part of Aquileia, where, with the appropriate and imposing hydraulic and structural works the great Roman harbour was later built, 48 meters wide and more than 400 long, making Aquileia thriving and prosperous, at the same level of Milan, Capua and Pompei. Aquileia became the capital of the Xth region of the Roman Empire: the Venetia et Histria.
All communication roads out of Aquileia were defended by adequate towers and gates: to the south the city was connected to the seaport of Grado; to the West there were the Via Annia and Via Postumia linking Aquileia to Italy; to the North there was the connection to Cividale (Forum Iulii) or to Noricum (Austria); to the East there was a road going to Trieste (Tergeste) or to the Isonzo near Gorizia and then continuing towards Ljubljana.
The period of greatest splendour for Aquileia was the fourth century, marked by the construction of the great Christian church of Theodore.
Aquileia as a military, commercial and religious centre, had become one of the main towns of the Roman Empire, after Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, Milan, Pompei.
Its century-old importance came to an end with the invasion of the Huns in 452. We know very little about Aquileia in the sixth, seventh and eighth century. After the invasion of the Huns, the town was halved: the entire northern sector was no longer used except as a deposit of valuable material to be recycled.
In 568 the Lombards also conquered Friuli and moved the capital of their first duchy to Cividale: Aquileia was too close to Grado and the Adriatic coast, a territory then subject to Ravenna. Grado became an Episcopal seat antithetical to Aquileia.
In the second half of the eighth century the Franks, succeeded to the Lombards and developed a policy of religious and political restructuring, where the role of patriarch Paulinus of Aquileia (787-802) was very important also for the Friulian city with the restatement of the boundaries of the Diocese of Aquileia. It wasn’t until Patriarch Massenzio (beginning of ninth century) that a political, economic and religious rebirth of the city of Aquileia was seen, also thanks to the copious territorial donations from the emperor to the patriarch. This fast evolving new reality was suddenly blocked by the Hungarian invasions of the ninth century, which ravaged and depopulated the entire Middle Friuli.
The rebirth of Aquileia became a reality with patriarch Popone, Minister of Conrad II (early XIth century): he restored the defensive walls, the streets, the churches, the river port, etc. Aquileia became the noble centre of the whole Friulian territory. Next to the duly rebuilt and embellished basilica, the patriarch prepared his residence: the patriarchal palace.
In 1077 Henry IV granted patriarch Sigeardo with the feudal investiture over the entire Friulian territory: this was the birth of the patriarchal state as part of the imperial political and military system.
Outside the walls, in the north east, the female Benedictine monastery acquired further strength. Probably of early Christian origins, the convent continued to exist until the end of the eighteenth century; while another Benedictine convent, for males, "San Martino della Beligna" developed south of Aquileia and was closed in the mid-fifteenth century, when the Serenissima occupied the entire Friuli and caused the end of the patriarchal state.
It is interesting to note that in the Middle Ages Aquileia was divided into three zones from the jurisdictional standpoint,: the northern one, subject to the abbess of the Benedictine Monastery, the western one that hosted the municipal seat and where the Mayor had jurisdiction and the eastern one, called "Pala Crucis" or "Pala de Crôs", under the Patriarch (through the Chapter). All three of these ancient "villages" had their own parish church. At the end of the eighteenth century, under an edict of Joseph II, Emperor of Austria, the community of Aquileia had to choose to keep only one church: they decided for the current one.
With the end of the Patriarchal state (1421), the Friulian territory became subject to Venice, while Aquileia, S. Daniele, San Vito al Tagliamento remained Austrian imperial territories. Aquileia, in particular, remained Austrian until the end of WWI.
Although Aquileia was Austrian territory, the appointment of the Patriarch was, in fact, under venetian jurisdiction. A conflict situation that in 1751 the Pope, with a Salomon verdict, decided to end with the suppression of the ancient Diocese of Aquileia and the subsequent erection of two new archdioceses: Gorizia, for the Austrian Friuli area and Udine, for the area subject to Venice.
Also the patriarchal treasure and the relics were taken from Aquileia and split up between the two new ecclesiastical institutions.
Aquileia was, in fact, abandoned to its fate and the paludification of the territory, the exasperated landlordism and poverty did the rest for all the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The house of Austria tried in various ways to revitalise Aquileia: first with a series of reclamations of wetlands (under Maria Theresa of Austria, in the eighteen century) then with the construction of a new river port on the Natissa (half of the nineteenth century). But to no avail: many Aquileia citizens looked for better situations even overseas.
The outbreak of World War I worsened the already serious social and economic situation of Aquileia, located right on the front line, in Austrian territory, and populated by "supporters of Austria", which was to be Italianised at all costs.
The cemetery of Aquileia, for centuries disposed around the basilica, was moved to a different location to make way for an Italian war cemetery. It was in this historical period, also characterized by the defeat of Caporetto and then by the subsequent Italian victory, that the Theodorian mosaic floor (fourth century) was completely unearthed.
The beautiful mosaic floor of the current basilica is from the first church of Theodore (early fourth century) that came to light during World War I. Until then, the floor of the church had consisted of a pavement made of pink and white stones that covered the older strata. First the Austrians and then the Italian army later, dug the pavement and brought to light the polychrome mosaic that we admire today.
Only after World War II the social and economic situation of Aquileia changed. New homes, new jobs, a more widespread education were the basis for getting to the current situation: an important and internationally renowned historical and archaeological centre, a modern urban settlement to be further developed with a tourist perspective, high quality agricultural production and winemaking. The Aquileia of today, connected to the sea from the navigable Natissa river, is a small cultural and environmental treasure, showcasing lowland forests, irrigation channels made of spring water and the majestic lagoon.