A day in the historic town centre of Gemona
The longest itinerary in the town’s historic centre includes 14 sights to view with plenty of time and curiosity.
- Porta Udine
- Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta
- Pieve Museum and Cathedral Treasure
- Casa Gurisatti
- Family residences: The D’Aronco and Antonelli families in Gemona
- Permanent photo exhibition “1976. Fragments of Memory”
- Civic Museum of Palazzo Elti
- Gemona Castle
- Town Hall, Loggia of Palazzo Boton, Porta della Memoria
- Monument to the fallen of Gemona in the First World War
- Earthquake Education Centre
- Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie
- Chapel of San Rocco
- Sanctuary of Saint Anthony of Padua
The first time you go to Gemona del Friuli, you should go when the sun is shining! The landscape bowing to the mountains, the blue sky above you, the white stone of the city’s monuments, and below your feet, the “pietra vicentina” stone typical of the region.
Our stroll through the town begins at Porta Udine, the ancient (and only surviving) gateway in the first circle of walls, which protected the town at the time of the late Roman empire (166-168 A.D.). The second circle of walls was built around the year 1260, when the town was expanded and the first circle of walls was knocked down, with the exception of Porta Udine, known as the Porte delle Porte or the Door of Doors; the gates in the second circle of walls met the same fate when the third circle of walls was built, between 1370 and 1396, with a perimeter of almost two kilometres. This is the only one of the gates built in the new walls – seven towers with seven doors – to maintain its original function.
Porta Udine in Gemona
The complex consisted of a high face of square blocks of grey sandstone, standing out against the plaster of the restored Church of San Michele and the old hospital. A number of decorative inserts are vertically aligned above the arch: a bas-relief of Saint Mark at the top, with the coat of arms of the Magnificent Community of Gemona below it, and below that, a monogram topped with a cross with a serrated frame.
Bas-reliefs on Porta Udine in Gemona
Once inside, on via Bini, we soon find ourselves before the majestic Duomo dedicato a Santa Maria Assunta, one of the most important medieval religious monuments in the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia. The building is an admirable blend of Romanesque and Gothic elements, ingeniously interpreted by local artists Giovanni and Giovanni Griglio, who renovated an existing church beginning in 1290.
Gemona Cathedral as we see it today, with its basilica form with three naves, is the result of a unique restoration project following the devastating earthquake of 1976. The impressive curve of the internal columns recalls the natural disaster and the ability of human beings to rise up again.
Next to the Cathedral, in the former rectory, built in 1360, is the Pieve Museum and Cathedral Treasure, containing works by local and Italian artists of the thirteenth to twentieth centuries, along with sacred vessels and liturgical vestments. The Cathedral Treasure includes some of the greatest masterpieces of the art of fifteenth-century Friulian goldsmiths, including the Monstrance by Nicolò Lionello; the section containing large thirteenth- and fourteenth-century illuminated manuscripts also preserves the world’s oldest existing baptismal registry, dated 1379.
Casa Gurisatti is located across from the Cathedral and the bell tower. Since 1997 it has been home to Cineteca del Friuli Film Library. It was parish property in 1976, when it was severely damaged by the earthquake of May 6 and practically destroyed by the second quake that followed upon it in September. The exterior was rebuilt according to earthquake-proofing standards in the eighties, under the supervision of the superintendency, and in the early nineties, when the founders of the Film Library were in search of a more appropriate location, they came to an agreement with the parish that owned it to pay for the work required on the interior, which took two years to complete.
The Film Library is a dream come true for film students and fans, containing a vast collection of films (Film Archives of Friuli Venezia Giulia), books and magazines (in the library), films on dvd and blu-ray (in the video library), photographs (in the photo library), posters and more.
From the Cathedral, walk along Via Bini, a typical medieval street sheltered by arcades and lined with historic residences of noble families, embellished with arches, columns and severe entrances concealing inner courtyards. If you pay close attention to the walls of these buildings, you will find, amid the “colourful fragments of frescoes depicting floral and geometric motifs”, the neo-Gothic terraces of Casa Dei D’Aronco, birthplace of one of Italy’s most prominent Art Nouveau architects, Raimondo D’Aronco. Raimondo D’Aronco. A little further along are the mullioned windows and fourteenth-century frescoes of the terracotta façade of Casa Antonelli.
Permanent photo exhibition
“1976. Fragments of Memory”
In via Bini, nei pressi di Piazzetta Portuzza, trova posto la mostra fotografica “1976 – Frammenti di Memoria”: una In Via Bini, near Piazzetta Portuzza, is the photo exhibition “1976 – Fragments of Memory”: a series of snapshots from the archives of local and national photographers, presented with texts, testimony and film segments telling the story of the 6 May 1976 earthquake and the reconstruction, with the goal of “preserving the memory” of the earthquake and revealing “the dramatic power of the event and the strength of a people who rose up again out of the dust”.
The Civic Museum is housed in what has been the most prestigious residence in Gemona since the fourteenth century: Palazzo Elti. The Museum contains Renaissance and Baroque artworks by artists of the regions of Friuli and Veneto, including a Madonna and Child by Cima da Conegliano; altarpieces and canvases by Pellegrino da San Daniele, Palma il Giovane, and Giovanni Battista Tiani; and works of artists from north of the Alps, contained in the Fantoni-Baldissera Collection.
Palazzo Elti also houses temporary exhibitions and the Tourist Information Office.
Perched above the town to serve as a watchtower, Gemona Castle is reached via Salita dei Longobardi. It was first mentioned by Paul the Deacon, as one of the castles fortified by the Longobards in 611 to defend themselves against the Avars. It became the property of the lords of Gemona towards the eleventh century. The castle was abandoned when the sovereignty of the patriarchs ended and Venetian domination began in 1420. Already dilapidated, it suffered major damage in the 1511 earthquake and was completely destroyed by the 1976 quake.
It has now been almost entirely renovated, and parts of the castle complex are being adapted, including the “clock tower“ and two of the three circles of walls around the castle, dating from the eleventh, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. On the lower spur to the west are the ruins of the northern part of the keep. Don’t miss the gardens with their breath-taking views, making it worth your while to climb all the way to the top!
The Town Hall with its harmonious Venetian-Lombard Renaissance architecture dates back to the early 16th century. The first town hall, built in the twelfth century, was located in Borgo Portuzza and housed not only the city government but a goods warehouse. After all, Gemona’s fortunes depended heavily on the traffic of traders (find out more about the history of Gemona). The building was renovated starting in 1502, to plans by Udine architect Bartolomeo de Caprileis, known as Bòton, using the ruins of the castle. The three big arches, light and elegant, were built by master stonemasons from Cividale, in Venetian-Lombard style. The building has remained practically unchanged since that time; the earthquake destroyed its left side, while saving the main volume, which was then taken apart and rebuilt between 1978 and 1981.
Gemona Town Hall
The Loggia of the Town Hall, reached via a short flight of opposing staircases, preserves an epigraph incorporated into the southern wall, possibly dating back to the second century A.D. and dedicated to Caius Matius, who had held a number of important positions and acted as “keeper and patron” of the town. Another feature dating back to Roman times is a white marble bas-relief of Mercury, with its elegant forms recalling the Hellenistic age.
The metope of the exposed ceiling beams depicts personages and coats of arms of the great families of Gemona. A doorway on the northern side is flanked by two commemorative plaques designed by great Gemona architect Raimondo D’Aronco in his youth. The door leading to the Council Chambers was built very recently and recalls emblematic events following the 1976 earthquake.
The loggia also contains the monumental Porta della Memoria created in 2006 by Gemona artist Ercole Emidio Casolo to mark the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the 1976 earthquake. Gemona is a model of “successful reconstruction” setting an example in terms of the participation of the local people and the work of the institutions which has come to be known the world over as the “Friuli Model”, and the Porta della Memoria is a visual symbol of this model. Ercole Casolo, a historian with in-depth knowledge of events in the city, has managed to tell a story ten years long in four squares, with eight captions and eight pillars, abounding in artistic details telling the story of the events from the destruction to the reconstruction of the town. The decision to place the work in the loggia of the town hall is a symbolic one: the door leading into the Council Chambers of the City of Gemona, the “centre of operations” for the reconstruction of the town, is also the door everyone passes through to enter our “home”.
Gemona del Friuli lost more than three hundred of its sons in the First World War. A monument in their memory was designed immediately after the war ended. The chosen location was a small square in front of the town hall, and a region-wide competition was held, won by Aurelio Mistruzzi (1880-1960), who had already designed other monuments in various parts of Italy. Gemona’s monument is made up of an altar of Istrian stone, worked by Gemona marble carvers Giuseppe Elia and Albino Tuti, and a bronze sculpture.
Inaugurated on 18 June 1922, the monument depicts a mother guiding her son by hand towards the altar to the fallen, and it is to all of them, not to one individual soldier, that the mother directs the affectionate memories of her son.
Earthquake Education Centre
The permanent earthquake education centre set up in the historic town centre of Gemona del Friuli by the Municipality and the Ecomuseo delle acque del Gemonese with the scientific assistance of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Rome is like no other in Italy. It offers a multidisciplinary educational experience focusing on seismic phenomena with a highly interactive, participatory approach, in an itinerary made up of richly illustrated panels accompanied by exhibits, true interactive stations simulating seismic phenomena and breaking them down to identify the individual factors and dynamics involved. The part intended for schools focuses on hands-on experience, with workshops, practical exercises and animations.
Continuing on, we come to the ruins of the fifteenth-century church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, commonly known as the Chiesa della Madonna, damaged in the earthquake.
Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie
It takes some imagination to see this church as it was at the end of the fifteenth century, when it was so beautiful and full of paintings it was known as “the little picture gallery of Gemona”. All that remains today is a portion of the monumental staircase, the outer walls, the façade and the doorway; the paintings that were saved are now on display in the Civic Museum in Palazzo Elti. One of the best-known of these is a Madonna and Child in tempera on wood by Giovanni Battista, known as Cima da Conegliano.
of San Rocco
The Chapel of San Rocco was built as a votive chapel between 1499 and 1521, when the plague continued to torment the town.
The 1976 earthquake destroyed it almost entirely, and it was the first chapel to be philologically reconstructed in Gemona using the same materials, thanks to voluntary donations from citizens and institutions. The chapel contains modern artworks, including ceiling frescoes depicting the Universal Judgement (by Gemona artist Bruno Tuti – 1982) and numerous canvases depicting the Four Evangelists, figures of Saints and seven nineteenth-century engravings of the Seven sorrows of Mary (the fifth sorrow is missing).
There are also a number of interesting sculptures, including a wooden sculpture of Saint Emygdius, protector against earthquakes, and of course a plaster sculpture of San Rocco.
Not far from the medieval town centre stands one of the city’s most important religious buildings and the world’s oldest place of worship dedicated to the miracle-working saint: the Santuario di Sant’Antonio di Padova.
Cloister of the Sanctuary of Saint Anthony in Gemona
Destroyed by the 1976 earthquake and rebuilt in modern style, the sanctuary contains the ruins of the thirteenth-century chapel built on order of Saint Anthony himself in honour of the Virgin Mary.
Upon entering the Sanctuary, the visitor is struck by the many colours brightening up the church with its single nave: the great mosaic in the apse depicting the World and the Universe with a meteor streaking through it, representing the light of Christ; a series of stained glass windows depicting the Saints, and a splendid rose window in “mosaic style” featuring alabaster pieces, representing the “Canticle of the Creatures”, all by Udine artist Arrigo Poz.