A stroll through the town centre
This shorter itinerary in the historic town centre of Gemona offers a glimpse of the town, stopping at 6 sites.
- Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta
- Family residences: The D’Aronco and Antonelli families in Gemona
- Gemona Castle
- Town Hall
- Monument to the fallen of Gemona in the First World War
- Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie
You can’t leave Gemona without getting to know its medieval soul: six essential stops in discovery of the reconstructed medieval town, telling the story of the town through its constructions and monuments.
Our tour of the town begins at Porta Udine, the ancient gateway in the first circle of walls protecting the city. Once inside, we find ourselves before the majestic Cathedral dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta, one of the most important medieval religious monuments in the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia.
View of Gemona Cathedral from the air
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.
Leaving the Cathedral behind you, proceed 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.
A little further along are the mullioned windows and fourteenth-century frescoes of the terracotta façade of Casa Antonelli, and across from it, the building that was home to the noble Elti family in the fifteenth century, which now houses the Museo Civico, as well as temporary exhibitions and the local Tourist Information Office.
Perched above the town to serve as a watchtower, Castello di Gemona 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.
The renovation project is currently being completed, adapting parts of the castle complex, 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!
Town Hall, Loggia of Palazzo Botton, Porta della Memoria
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 suggesting it may be dated from 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 a 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.
Monument to the fallen
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.
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.