The region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia is Italy’s most northeastern region. Covering only 4,882 square miles, it is the fifth smallest region in the country. It borders Austria to the north and Slovenia to the east. To the south it faces the Adriatic Sea and to the west its internal border is with the Veneto region. Although tourism is important to the area, it does not contain the “must see” destinations that are on the travel lists of first-time visitors to Italy. What a tourist will find however, are remarkable palazzos, castles, landscapes and history.
For those not familiar with the area, Venezia (Venice) is not in this region, despite the name. The capital is Trieste. The region has a seaport in the south and many major roads that provide an important transportation route between the east and west in this part of southern Europe.
With the Alps to the north and the Adriatic Sea to the south, the region spans a wide variety of climates and landscapes. The mountainous area in the north, which includes Carnia and the ending section of the Alps, is filled with magnificent landscapes overlooking vast pristine pine forests, sweeping pastures and numerous mountain lakes. It is best known for its winter tourist destinations at Monte Zoncolan, Tarvisio, Sella Nevea, Forni di Sopra and Piancavallo. The hilly areas south of the mountains provide a perfect climate for the cultivation of grapes and the main product of agriculture in this area is its world-renowned wine.
The coastal area can be divided in two sections. To the west, the coast is shallow and sandy, with numerous tourist resorts and the lagoons of Grado and Marano Lagunare. To the east, the coastline rises into cliffs, where the Kras plateau meets the Adriatic, all the way to Trieste and Muggia on the border with Slovenia. Along the coast the climate is mild and pleasant. Trieste records the smallest temperature differences between winter and summer and between day and night.
In Roman times, modern Friuli-Venezia Giulia was located within Regio X Venetia et Histria of Roman Italy. The traces of its Roman origin are visible over all the territory. The city of Aquileia, founded in 181 BC, served as capital of the region and rose to prominence in the Augustan period.
Friuli became Venetian territory in 1420, while Trieste and Gorizia remained under the Austrian Empire. 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 also affected Trieste and Gorizia, it again became part of the Austrian Empire and was included in the Lombard-Veneto Kingdom. The policies of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries helped to create extraordinary wealth in Trieste. It became the empire’s port. Following the war of independence, Friuli was brought into the Kingdom of Italy.
During the First World War, the region was a main theater of operations and suffered serious damage and loss of lives. The Second World War led to the Anglo-American Administration in Trieste until the border with Slovenia was fixed. When Trieste was finally taken back by Italy, the Autonomous Region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia was finally established.
The economy of Friuli-Venezia Giulia is one of the most developed in the country. Agriculture and farming maintain an essential role in the economy of the region. Its high quality products are exported worldwide. Local craftsmen produce highly coveted fabrics, carved furniture, wooden sculptures, artistic ceramics, mosaic, wrought iron, string instruments and typical traditional costumes. These diverse features has led to a burgeoning tourist industry. There is much to see and enjoy, excellent food and fantastic shopping.
Places to see in Trieste: Castello di Miramare is the neo-Gothic home of the Archduke Maximilian of Austria. He originally came to Trieste in the 1850s, as the commander-in-chief of Austria’s Imperial navy. The castle’s decor reflects Maximilian’s various obsessions of the Imperial age: a bedroom modelled to look like a frigate’s cabin, ornate Orientalist salons and a red silk-lined throne room. Upstairs, a suite of rooms used by the military hero Duke Amadeo of Aosta in the 1930s, is also intact, furnished in the Italian Rationalist style. Maximilian was a keen botanist and the castle has 54 acres of gardens, which contain many rare and exotic trees.
The Museo Revoltella was founded in 1872 and now also occupies two adjacent buildings. Baron Revoltella’s original mid-19th-century house is filled with the finest decorations of the era – chandeliers, ornate gilded plasterwork and remarkable hand-carved woodwork and furniture. The rooms are intriguing. As you gaze upon the fabulously ornate rooms, it strikes you that this was how the aristocracy lived. The library is a wonderful example of this. Rich in detail and a bit over the top, it manages to preserve a human scale, albeit, one that is drenched in excessive wealth. While there, visit the modern Palazzo Brunner. It houses a fascinating collection of 19th and 20th century works by Triestine artists, including some outstanding works from early 20th century portraiture and busts.
The Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia in Trieste is a vast public space and is Italy’s largest sea-facing piazza. It is a shining example of excellent planning. It is flanked by the city’s grandest palazzi, including Palazzo del Municipio, Trieste’s 19th century city hall. It is a wonderful place to sip a glass of wine while staring out at ships on the horizon.
Further afield, while visiting Gorizia, a sight not to be missed is its Borgo Castle. Perched atop a knoll-like hill, it has been reconstructed to present the castle as it was during its medieval era. An example of the recreations is its fine wood-paneled great hall. The Castle of Gorizia, dates back to the 11th century and is situated on the hill that dominates the city. It provides an amazing panoramic view over Gorizia and its surroundings. Beneath the main fortress are two curiously paired museums. The tragic, gory history of Gorizia’s WWI Italian-Austrian front is explored at the Museo della Grande Guerra, including a scale re-creation of a trench. Then there’s fashion with 19th and early 20th century finery at the Museo della Moda e delle Arti Applicate.
In Udine, Piazza della Libertà is a Renaissance square materializing from a surrounding maze of medieval streets. It has been called the most beautiful Venetian square on the mainland. The arched Palazzo del Comune, also known as the Loggia del Lionello after its goldsmith architect Nicolò Lionello, is another clear Venetian keepsake, as is the Loggia di San Giovanni opposite, its clock tower modelled after the one gracing Venice’s Piazza San Marco. The Arco Bollani (Bollani Arch), next to the Loggia di San Giovanni, an Andrea Palladio work from 1556, leads up to the castle used by the Venetian governors.
Although one of the smaller regions of Italy, the diversity of Friuli-Venezia Giulia is remarkable. From the Adriatic Sea to the Italian Alps, a visit to the region is a must.