Toppo’s unique feature is the survival of its Masi, family-run rural farmhouses which were the foundation stone of agriculture in the Middle Ages. In 1220 there were eight of these and by the 16th century, 25. Renovation work after the 1976 earthquake, however, revealed that at least three of these medieval farmhouses were also earlier Roman settlements.
Palazzo Toppo-Wassermann developed from one of these farmhouses in the 16th century, at the foot of the castle. After 18th century rebuilding work, the building was used as the Toppo family’s business offices and a holiday residence. The entrance gate bears a Latin engraving with a curious welcome message on it which translates as: “If I’m closed I will be opened to the evil, if I am open, I’ll close to the good. 1543”. It is a shrewd play on words which can be explained by the date it was built: the number 4, written backwards suggests that the central part of the formula is to be turned around and restores meaning to it. The courtyard gives access to the St James private chapel which includes a statue of St Lucy in painted stone. Inside the building (now used as headquarters for conferences and exhibitions, as well as acting as a tourist office and hosting a permanent exhibition on the castle), there are two 17th century popular art frescoes which were removed from the walls of buildings in danger of falling down after the earthquake.
The Masi farmhouse trail begins from Palazzo Toppo-Wassermann and leads through the original nucleus of the village. The square in front of the courtyard houses with porticoes and outer walkways alongside the vegetable allotments and the orchards behind them.
At the end of the hamlet there is a crossroads. The left-hand road climbs to the lime furnace while the right-hand road is the start of the beautiful cycle track leading to Travesio. Here, in the local capital, a visit to one of the most important Renaissance painting cycles in the region is a must. It is kept in the historic baptismal church of St Peter, rebuilt in Neoclassical style in the 19th century. The frescoes on the side walls portray episodes from the Gospels and the life of St Paul, while the lunette and the vault bear scenes from the life of St Peter up to his glorious welcome in Heaven amid rows of angel musicians. The work (started in 1516, then interrupted and finished only in 1526) is by Giovanni Antonio de’ Sacchis known as “Il Pordenone”, the greatest Friulian painter of all time who worked with Raphael too.
Toppo has been divided into two distinct settlements by Rio Gleria since the Middle Ages. The first of these, to the east, is synonymous with the Toppo farms (modern day Via Fornace and Via Nazario Sauro and the parish church of St Lawrence); the second, to the west, is the hamlet of Pino, at the foot of the castle, corresponding to modern day Via Verdi and Via Castello. These were legally dependent on the Toppo lords who lived in the castle above. The first of these known to us is Uroino, an eminent figure of Norman origin who came to Friuli to serve the Patriarchate of Aquileia and was given the fief as a reward for his loyalty in 1188.