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Aquileia offers glimpse at Italy’s complex history
May 25, 2013 | 1430 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
THE VIEW inside the main room of the Basilica. A raised walkway runs over the mosaic floor. 
Photo by Jenniffer Wardell | Davis Clipper
THE VIEW inside the main room of the Basilica. A raised walkway runs over the mosaic floor. Photo by Jenniffer Wardell | Davis Clipper


Clipper Staff Writer


Italy’s treasures aren’t just in its major cities. 

For students of history, the city of Aquileia offers a varied array of Roman ruins without the crowds of Rome or Venice. From the mosaic floors of the Basilica of Aquileia to the remains of an old Roman port in the now-landlocked city, Aquileia has earned its place as one of Northern Italy’s major archeological sites. 

The city’s main attraction is the Basilica, where the floor has been removed to reveal the Roman mosaic, which stretches from wall to wall. The mosaic features animal figures and scenes from the Bible, with the most detailed figures found in a small side room that is still undergoing excavation. Admission to the main room is free, and the side room can be visited for a small fee. Guidebooks available in multiple languages explain the history of the mosaics. 

Next to the Basilica is a bell tower, once used for defense. For a fee, visitors can climb to the top of the tower, which offers a great view of the city and the surrounding countryside. The climb is narrow and very steep, with small ledges cut into the wall so people can step aside to let others pass. 

Behind the Basilica is a cemetery dedicated to Italian soldiers who died in WWI. Though it can be vaguely unsettling to American visitors С we’re the enemy mentioned in the poem on the back of the church С the combined effect is as moving as any American memorial.

The showpiece of the cemetery is a sculpture of an angel carrying a dead soldier up to heaven, though some might be more drawn to the miniature portraits found on a handful of graves. 

Several outdoor ruins are located a short walk away from the Basilica. The most dramatic of these is the old port, which used to face the river the city used to conduct much of their trade. The river has long dried up, replaced by waves of green grass, but detailed plaques in both English and Italian give visitors a sense of how the port worked in its heyday. 

Statues and personal effects are on display in the National Archeological Museum of Aquileia, located only a few blocks away from the Basilica. Most of the descriptions are in Italian, which can be frustrating to those who don’t speak the language, but the statues and mosaic work are engaging even when you don’t know their history.

The most visually interesting area is the sculpture yard in the back, where gods and nymphs play together on pieces of ancient stone. 

Parking is available at the Basilica, and everything else is within walking distance. Buses and taxis are available from the train station. 

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