The “Borgate” or hamlets of Gemona del Friuli
The beating heart of the city
Gemona is a lively little town made up of a historic town centre and a series of “borgate” or hamlets. The ongoing interaction between the town centre and these hamlets, between the people who call themselves ‘borghesans’ and those who think of themselves as ‘placiarui’, is a distinctive feature of the town that helps us understand its social and urban evolution and offers an interesting point of view from which to consider this land, which has always found the strength to recover and rebuild together at times of crisis.
Gemona, the view from the top of the Castle
The best place to look out over the hamlets of Gemona is from the grounds of the Castle. Climbing the western staircase, be sure to stop and look at the old panoramic photographs showing the flatlands around Gemona before the earthquake. In the romantic black and white photos it is easy to see that at one time, large tracts of countryside separated compact groups of homes arranged around a fountain, a crossroads, or a street. Each hamlet was practically an independent village, with its own shops, square and public facilities.
Even today, if we look at the view of Gemona from above, it is immediately clear that, while the town’s population has remained practically unchanged, the land has been devoured by single-family homes filling in the spaces between the little hamlets, so they appear to have exploded into a thousand fragments. This profound change in the layout of the town, dating from the time of the reconstruction, perfectly represents the profound changes that have occurred in society.
Discovering the eleven “borgate” or hamlets of Gemona del Friuli
Historic photo of Gemona – Daniele Carnelutti
The 11 hamlets: each with its own patron saint and festival, united in solidarity and rivals in sporting competitions.
And yet numerous elements still survive and continue to make the hamlets important centres of social life. The heart of this life is the public facilities each hamlet possesses. Some of them are simple shacks that survived the earthquake, others are former nursery schools or more modern structures, but they are all the ‘heart’ of the community, because of both the everyday activities held in them all year round, such as schools or workshops, and the numerous events they host, from private parties to public events, including the annual festival that is the highlight of community life in the hamlet as well as various public holidays.
From Saint Valentine in Godo to Saint Lucy in Piovega, festivals follow one upon another all year round, making each hamlet the centre of community life in Gemona for a few days every year. And every festival has its own particular character, its own culinary speciality and sports and cultural events.
Another sign of the vitality of the hamlets is the sporting competitions in which they all compete against one another, such as 7 a side football in Campolessi or the ancient medieval game of pilote played only in Via Cella.
Going back to our viewpoint from the Castle at the top of the hill, if we look upwards and to the east, we will see the hamlet of Maniaglia. It is mentioned in city documents dating back to the 1200s under the name of “burgus Maniagle”. The patron saint of the hamlet (and its festival) is Saint Anne.
Though actually dedicated to Santa Maria la Bella, in the popular imagination it is to Saint Anne that the chapel on Via IV Novembre (destroyed and never rebuilt after the earthquake) was dedicated, for centuries a place of pilgrimage in connection with female fertility rites.
At the foot of the Castle, on the slope of Mount Glemina, sits Godo. This was probably the original core of the entire town, located precisely at Silans fountain, mentioned as “ad Silanos” in the “Tabula Peutingeriana” (an early medieval copy of a third or fourth century map of the roads of the Roman Empire). In Latin, the term silanos means “fountain” or “spring of water”, identifying a post station on the Julia Augusta Roman road from Aquileia to Noricum, the territory corresponding to Austria in Roman times.
Not far away, a hypocaust floor has been reconstructed that attests to the presence of a Roman villa. Near the fountain of Silans is the church of San Valentino, which has a an unusual story. It was built in the 1980s by the people of the hamlet, stabilising the hut that had been built in place of the thirteenth-century church destroyed in the earthquake, representing a humble symbol of cooperation and rebirth.
The centre of the town may be reached from Silans fountain by walking up the pedestrian section of Via Glemina, which approximately follows the route of the Julia Augusta Roman road. It is a pleasant stroll between the walls, partly reconstructed by volunteers from the hamlet, to the sixteenth-century Lavadôr.
From the castle grounds you can clearly see the Udine-Tarvisio railway line, with the railway station in the centre and the hamlet of Piovega, named after the “piovego”, a tax the local inhabitants had to pay (in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries) to pay for a system of irrigation channels, still operational today, supplying numerous mills and forges.
Beyond the railway was an area which has now been heavily developed and built up, especially along the SS13 Pontebbana highway. Until a few centuries ago the area was practically uninhabited, because it was constantly being flooded by the Tagliamento River. Not until the creation of the “consorzio roste Tagliamento” in the early twentieth century were the current embankments built, keeping the river in its place.
Until that time, the entire piana was characterised by an alternation of marshy areas – the memory of which lives on in the names of streets such as Via Paludo and Via Marzars – with arid, gravelly areas that only became fertile following land reclamation work and construction of irrigation canals.
Campolessi, Campagnola, Taviele e San Pietro.
The area was still identified by the single name “campo di Gemona” in nineteenth-century maps. Today, the hamlet of Campolessi may be seen towards Artegna, separated from Capo Taboga by the Gemona-Sacile railway line.
As we continue up the Pontebbana road, we come to the hamlet of Campagnola, flanked by Taviele (the term ‘tavella’ identified the land belonging to a villa in Roman times). Further along, we come to Borgo San Pietro, named after the chapel of the same name, built in the mid-nineteenth century, the only one to survive the 1976 earthquakes intact.
Observing the photographs of the plain dating back to the early 1970s, we can’t help noticing how much has changed now that houses have been built everywhere, making it difficult to see where one hamlet ends and the next begins. This process, accompanied by emigration from the town centre, makes Gemona appear to have suffered a demographic “landslide” as its population has moved down into the plain.
Continuing along the SS13 Pontebbana road, we come to the hamlet of Ospedaletto, the source of the greatest number of Roman artefacts in the area. At the far northern end of the plains of Friuli, by the entrance to the Alpine valleys, there may have been a stopping-place, primarily for switching the big carts used to haul goods over the plains for the more easily handled mountain carts.
The hamlet’s current name comes from the Hospital of Santo Spirito, opened here in the thirteenth century as a refuge for wayfarers and then combined with the Hospital of San Michele, still in existence today, in the sixteenth century. Next to the hospital stood the Church of Santo Spirito, reconstructed in Late Gothic style in the nineteenth century, and Ognissanti Chapel: a little jewel decorated with fourteenth- and fifteenth-century frescoes that came to light due to the collapse caused by the 1976 earthquake.
Particularly interesting from the iconographic point of view is the Christ of the Apocalypse depicted on the back wall, dressed in white and wielding two swords. From here, if we take the SS13 Pontebbana road towards Tarvisio, after another 5 km we come to the medieval village of Venzone.
Gois, Glesute e Stalis.
Travelling along the SS13 Pontebbana highway, we can see the upper part of Gemona, resting on the alluvial fan spreading down from the majestic Mount Cjampon and Mount Glemina. Below, towards Ospedaletto, is the hamlet of Gois, with Gleseute above it, on the way to Sant’Agnese. High above the historic centre is the hamlet of Stalis. Gois, Gleseute and Stalis were at one time very poor rural hamlets (Gois was also known as ‘borc dai vueis’*), but today they are among the most popular and most highly developed parts of town, due to their position high up with amazing views over the plains of Friuli. The hamlet of San Rocco, just below the town centre, is worth mentioning for its lively festival in August, when the prizes for the Pilote tournament are presented.