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It's easy to see why Cividale is often considered to be one of the most beautifully preserved old towns on the route © Marco Milani, PromoTurismoFVG
A beautifully preserved medieval city containing a true gem of world architecture, accessed over the River Natisone by a fairytale bridge, Cividale is one of the most fascinating places visited on the AAT.
Cividale was founded by Julius Caesar in 53bc on the site of an earlier Celtic settlement, and originally called Forum Iulii (after its founder, of course). In the 6th century, during the Lombard invasion, it became the first major centre to be occupied by the Lombards in what is now Italy, and was chosen by the ruler Alboin as the first capital of the Lombard Kingdom, later becoming capital of the Lombard Duchy of Friuli. With the arrival of the Franks in 774, and the defeat of the Lombards, it was renamed Civitas Austriae (‘City of the East’) by Charlemagne. Cividale was the seat of the Patriarchs of Aquileia from the 8th century until 1031. In 1420 it was annexed by Venice, then passed to Napoleon when he extinguished the Venetian Republic, and after the Congress of Vienna in 1815 it became part of the Kingdom of Lombardy–Venetia within the Hapsburg empire, and finally part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1866. Cividale was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011.
Unquestionably Cividale’s most important monument is the Longobard Temple (Tempietto Longobardo), one of the most fascinating buildings to have survived from the 8th century anywhere in Europe, and the finest surviving monument of the Lombards. Construction of the temple – which forms part of the Monastery of Santa Maria in Valle (see opposite) – dates from shortly after the middle of the 8th century, probably around AD760. Despite the relatively small scale of the building, the interior appears surprisingly spacious, an impression accentuated through the use of niches along the walls, arched at the top and merging into a groin vault. The decoration is quite exceptional, in particular the elaborate and refined stucco work – vine branches and floral motifs, recalling art of the antique and Byzantine periods, and a series of distinctive, elongated saints and martyrs standing alongside the windows.