In 1965 Venzone was declared a National Monument, as the only fortified 14th century hamlet in the region, and, later, one of the most extraordinary examples of architectural and artistic restoration. In 1976, starting on 6 May, a number of earthquakes brought this beautiful medieval village to its knees,
causing severe damage. But the will and determination of the people of Friuli got the better of this force of nature.
Numerous buildings did not fall in the hands of the first quakes in May, including the cathedral of St Andrew and the town hall. In September of the same year, the quakes began again, culminating on 15 September. Their impact on Venzone was disastrous; the buildings that had survived the first quakes in May and the subsequent tremors fell to piles of rubble. The ruins were soon removed and, with great courage, unity, understanding and hope, reconstruction work began almost immediately in an effort to erase the scars left by the horrific shakes.
After just 8 years, between 1984 and 1989, the historic centre of Venzone was brought back to life, thanks to the will of its people. Between 1988 and 1995, the cathedral too was re-erected, to become a symbol of the earthquake and the village’s rebirth. The reconstruction of the remaining buildings and the town’s historic treasures – no mean feat – made history. Venzone was resurrected as and where it had been originally, and today it stands as an example of a conservation and protection project for the region’s historical and cultural heritage, as well its social and economic makeup. Venzone is not all history and architecture; a good part of the area is included in the Julian Alps Nature Park, meaning that tourists can also opt for walks, high-altitude excursions and mountain bike rides along the forest trails. Bountiful sites of artistic and architectural interest can also be enjoyed, strolling within the walls that surround Venzone. Observant visitors will also note the marks left by various historical events, following a trail on foot from the south entrance to the north gate.
Entering through the Porta di Sotto, a round-arched gate dating back to 1835, on the right we can see Casa Marcurele, the town’s oldest building constructed in the 11th century in Romanesque style, with bas-relief double- arched windows. Moving northwards, we note Palazzo degli Scaligeri, dating back to the 14th century, and Palazzo Zinutti, from the 18th century.
An obligatory stop on this trail through the town’s historic sites is the Romanesque- Gothic cathedral from the 14th century, considered to be the symbol of the reconstruction work after the earthquake. The cathedral was consecrated in 1338 by Patriarch Bertram; its Tau cross floor plan is composed of a longitudinal nave and a wide transept with three apsidal presbyteries and two towers. The organ in Venzone’s cathedral dates back to 1792 and is the work of master organ-maker G. Callido. In the parvise of the cathedral we find the chapel of St Michael, built in 1200 and today home to the permanent exhibition of the mummies of Venzone.
Returning to our trail, we cross the historic centre and come to Casa Calderari (14th century) and a welcoming internal courtyard, before arriving in Piazza Municipio where the town hall stands. This Gothic building was constructed in 1400 and rebuilt in 1500; its external façades are decorated with crests representing the most ancient noble families from Venzone and refined with double-arched windows in flamboyant Gothic style. Also looking out over the square is Palazzo Radiussi, a noble residence featuring a Venetian-Gothic style triple-arched window from the 15th century and a 17th century portal. Continuing northwards, we come to Palazzo Orgnani Martina, a noble palace from the 18th century which houses the “Tiere Motus” museum, which tells the story of the earthquake of 1976 and its people, and the permanent exhibition “Foreste, Uomo, Economia nel Friuli Venezia Giulia”, which explores the region’s forest ecosystem, as well as other temporary exhibitions about Venzone. Once we have arrived at the north gate, we come to a side street that flanks the town’s walls and guides us to Palazzo Pozzo, a noble 17th century palace. Following on down Via Alberton del Colle, we arrive at the ruins of the church of St John the Baptist, built in the 14th century, and the ruins of which stand today as testimony to the violent earthquake of ‘76. Only its main façade survived. A little further ahead we come to the former Agostiniani convent, dating back to the 15th century, with a portico and loggia from the 17th century. Cutting across the historic centre, we find the gate of St Genesio. This watchtower from the 14th century sits on the corner of the internal walls, and is the only remaining original gate. The hamlet of Venzone is surrounded by a deep moat and an intriguing double circular wall, dating back to the 13th century.
Since the Celtic period (500 BC), Venzone has owed its fortune to its geographical location on the only route towards the north. The Romans set up barracks there along Via Julia Augusta, which led from Aquileia to Noricum, with the Roman building situated in the area around the cathedral, next to which was the military castrum.