Thursday, 16 March 2017

Roman port of Aquileia

Two thousand years ago, Aquileia on the Adriatic coast of north-east Italy was one of the biggest cities of the world. Today it is a small town with a population of few thousand persons. This is how the wheels of history move, leaving behind ruins and stories. This post is about discovering Aquileia.

If you holidaying in a neighbouring seaside town like Lignano, Bibione or Caorle, visit Aquileia for a wonderful day trip. Aquileia is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Roman Town of Aquileia

Aquileia is situated in the north-eastern part of Italy, not far from the modern day Austria, Slovenia and Croatia. Before the arrival of the Romans, Celtic people lived here and called it Akylis. At that time it was an important centre for the trade of amber.

Aquileia became a Roman colony in 181 BCE. It was the Roman frontier-town in the north for launching military campaigns in the northern and eastern Europe. Around 58 BC, Julius Ceasar established here his command centre (the Circum Aquileie) and it became the capital of the whole region. Around 300 CE, the emperor Maximillian built a big palace in Aquileia.

Situated on the banks of river Natiso and just 13 km from the sea, Aquileia was an important port city controlling the local trade. Caesar visited it many times and a good road network connected it to other cities like Bologna and Genoa.

At its peak the city's population was one hundred thousand and it was one of the biggest cities in the world. However, by the fifth century CE, the western part of Roman empire were already in decline and thus, slowly Aquileia lost its strategic importance. Around 1,100 CE though the city had become less important, it was still a big Roman town and a new big cathedral was built here. In the medieval period, it passed under the Republic of Venice and then in 19th century, under the Austrian-Hungerian empire.

More recently, during the First World war, fighting took place in Aquileia. After the war, Aquileia became part of Italy.

Today Aquileia is a tiny hamlet with a population of only 3,500 persons. However because of its history, it is one of the major archaeological sites in northern Italy.

Roman ruins of Aquileia

Passing armies, wars, floods, earthquakes and the passage of time, have destroyed all the Roman period buildings of Aquileia. Some archaeological excavations have brought out the old roads and foundations of important buildings such as amphitheatre, forum and the port.

Cathedral of Aquileia

Aquileia has a beautiful basilica church from 11th century, built over an older church. The bell tower of the basilica is visible from far away. The facade of the church is in Romanesque-early Gothic style.

Outside the basilica, a column carries the statue of a she-wolf feeding two babies Romolo and Remo, the symbol of imperial Rome.

Inside, the basilica has a much older (from 4th century CE) wonderful original mosaic floor and beautiful frescoes on the walls. A transparent glass pathway allows the visitors to walk above the floor to see these mosaics and the frescoes from close, without damaging them. The frescoes from 12th century depict the life of saint Hermagoras, the first bishop of Aquileia.

War Cemetery

Behind the basilica a path connects this area to the ruins of the old Roman port. This area also has a military cemetery from the first world war.

The cemetery also has the tomb of Saint Hermagoras, the first bishop of Aquileia from 3rd century CE.

Candia Memorial

A round shaped monument called "Candia Memorial" was built in Aquileia in 1956. The stones and materials from a two thousand years old tomb, discovered in 1952 in the nearby Roncolon of Fiumicello, were used to build this memorial.

The funds for this reconstruction came from Marcello Candia who wanted a memorial in the memory of his father, Camillo Candia. Thus a two thousand years old Roman tomb was used to build a modern-day memorial. Marcello Candia was a rich industrialist of Aquileia, who later emigrated and dedicated his life to serving the persons affected with leprosy in Brazil. Therefore, apart from the Roman monument of Aquileia that is known by his name, Marcello Candia's name is also associated with the Marituba leprosarium in Brazil.


Today when you visit Aquileia, its magnificent ruins give some idea of the importance of this ancient town during the expansion of Roman empire. Yet, it is difficult to imagine that this far away, isolated place was one of the biggest cities in the ancient world.

For me, one of the most beautiful part of the visit to Aquileia was the mosaics of its Basilica Cathedral. Even if you can't visit it, you can admire this church and its mosaics and frescoes in a virtual tour on internet.

However if you are visting this part of Italy for some seaside holidays, do visit Aquileia and the nearby island of Grado.



  1. Very detailed account of this ancient town! :)

    1. Thank you 2travelling sisters for your appreciation! I hope this does not mean that the information was too much! :)


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