Friuli Venezia Julia

A little History

The events that led to the fall of the Western Roman Empire were both dramatic and destructive for the region , leaving it exposed to the barbarians as well as being a crossroads between east and west. Aquileia, the most important city in the region, was sacked by Theodosius and in 452 A.D., was besieged and plundered by Attila the Hun and, as a result never again recovered its former importance; this episode is perhaps the last of the Roman period in the history of north-eastern Italy. What further remained of any political importance tended to revolve from now on around the Christian church.
The Longobards descended on Friuli in 586 A.D., sacking Trieste and occupying the region without encountering a great deal of opposition. They began to stress the political identity of the region making Cividale the capital of their first Duchy. Friuli was something of a Roman-barbaric entity and the population which, culturally speaking, had remained in the era of Roman times (an example of this is the progressive formation of the Friulian language, ‘romanza’, over the centuries), slowly drew closer to that of the Longobards. This was due mainly to the mediation of the church, when the population converted to Catholicism, and favoured the election of a Patriarch in Aquileia, installing him in the city of Cormons. Longobardic judicial institutions survived in Friuli well into the XV century. Grado, where the legitimate Patriarch resided, and maritime Istria remained in the realm of Byzantine influence, favourable to the development of local autonomies, while the Longobard Duchy was in continual battle with Byzantines, Avars and Slavs.
Under the dominion of the Franks, regularised garrisons were established in Friuli, and Istria was occupied on a stable basis (788 A.D.). The region enjoyed the favour of both the Church and intellectuals such as the Patriarch Paolino, poet and theologian, and the historian and poet Paolo Diacano. With the Carolingian rebirth from the Friuli and from Aquileia, the evangelisation crossed over the eastern Alps into Slovenia. Feudalism was introduced by the Franks (Friuli became a ‘marca’, or bordering county), laying the foundations for the further political break up and the eventual and definitive cancellation of what remained of Roman society. The Church was much favoured, however, and Charlemagne began a series of donations to the Patriarchs that was continued by his successors and later by the Italian kings. With the fall of Berengario II, the last of these, the Friulian ‘marca’, as well as Istria, were taken away, by the Emperor Otto I, from the kingdom of Italy and joined with the duchy of Bavaria and Carinthia. As a result both regions became linked to the Germanic world and as a consequence, contemporary to the process of empowerment of ecclesiastical forces, saw the distribution of land among the families of the German gentry, many of whom settled there.
Of particular note is the rise of ecclesiastical power, most importantly that of Aquileia, which continued to receive donations up until the Emperor Henry IV, engaged in trying to save his kingdom, ceded the counties of Friuli, with ducal rights, comprising Cadore and the bordering counties of Carniola and Istria to the Patriarch Sigeardo. At any rate only the church was capable of promoting the rebirth of the Friuli region after the devastating Hungarian invasions; in precedence the Patriarch Poppone(1019-1045) had rebuilt Aquileia and revitalised commerce with transalpine countries. Around the Patriarch began to form a large nobility, also known as “ministerial” (because they held special services ) which soon came to oppose that of the “free” or “imperial”, most of whom were of German origin. Yet for most of the 12th century the Patriarchs came from powerful German families and practised Ghibellin politics which assured for the emperors unhindered Alpine access.
Upon the decline of imperial power, the Patriarchs (who now came from Italian families) practised the politics of the Guelphs. The weakened Patriarchy gave rise to a period of political wrangling between the “free” and “ministerial” nobilities , between Udine and Cividale, Friulian communities that were for autonomy, and the aggression of both Venice and Gorizia, as well as that of Ezzelino da Romano. The region soon lost Istria , as Venice assumed the right to defend the autonomous regions threatened by the Count of Gorizia and , with the treaty of Treviso in 1291, also obtained all of the coastline, while the autonomy of Pola lasted for little longer. In order to conserve what little commercial resources it had, Trieste gave itself to the duchy of Austria. When the power of Venice, Austria and Hungary were finally consolidated, the fate of the Patriarchy was sealed. Prior to this, as a result of the murder of the Patriarch Bertrando di S. Genesio resulting from a plot headed by the Gorizians (1350), the duke of Austria had intervened under the pretext of maintaining public order; later, the power of Udine brought about the rise of the Savorgnan who allied themselves with Venice, which was becoming increasingly interested in Friuli. There followed a series of plots which led firstly to death of Federico di Savorgnan and later to that of the Patriarch Giovanni di Moravia, thus leading to the intervention of the Emperor Sigismund of Hungary and to the war with Venice. On June 16th 1420 Tristan di Savorgnan entered Udine with the flag of Saint Mark, and the Count of Gorizia was also forced to be invested by Venice which gained the almost complete inheritance of Aquileia: the pope recognised the new state of affairs in 1445 and to the Patriarch was left only the feudal dominion over Aquileia and the castles of San Daniele and of San Vito al Tagliamento.
Of all Venetian possessions that of Istria remained the most neglected, where Venice favoured Slavic immigration in order to revitalise agriculture. The imposed tranquillity in Friuli gave rise to a certain economic decline; Udine had held on to the Patriarchy and established itself as a Venetian outpost. In Friuli there was a variety of differing political systems: Latisana and Pordenone were feudalised under Venetian patronage and were, therefore, heavily dependant on Venice; Cividale was administrated autonomously; other areas were under the jurisdiction of either ecclesiastical, feudal, or communal bodies; the Ca’mia was subdivided into the three administrative bodies of Talmezzo, Quarters (such as S. Pietro and Socchieve), and Ville. But everywhere in Friuli and Istria political activity fell into grave decline, owing to the exclusion, on the part of Venice, of the local nobility from public office and, in practice also from the military; the nobility and the general population remained locked in the traditional forms of life resulting in a progressive economic decline.
As a result there is a decided absence in this region of the Renaissance splendours found in other regions of Italy, which formed the basis for the huge artistic production that was related to patronage and the figure of the “signore”. Such Renaissance splendours along with the court life and the great banquets were also the forebears of a culinary tradition that saw Italian cuisine at the forefront in Europe for many many years.
The cuisine of Friuli and of the entire region remained tied to the local produce most widely available, isolated in an economic and cultural reality that deprived it of outside contacts, contributions or new ideas.
It is enough to relate how the protestant reformation involved only a few intellectuals and had scarce success with the peasantry in the areas ruled by Austria.
On the other side of the border the Hapsburgs installed a Captain in Gorizia with powers over all the territory, in which, however, existed a variety of feudal lords, while in Gorizia, Cormons, and Aquileia there was an autonomous citizenry. As in other Austrian provinces the “provincial states” were maintained, with the duty of agreeing upon and dividing the tributes; both citizens and peasants soon left it, while the nobility and clergy remained until 1783, when they intervened with their delegates at the Diet of the provinces under Austrian rule.
The constitution of the Kingdom of Italy, in its turn, reinforced the irredentism, not only in Istria but also in Trieste and Gorizia. The process of industrialisation (of Trieste, Monfalcone, and Pola which after 1866 became a large naval base) inserted a consistent and well organised socialist party in to the political debate, while the international situation (Triple Alliance) rendered somewhat difficult the irredentist action which manifested itself mainly in Trieste, as well as in the other towns and cities in general. The political movement of Catholics affirmed itself mainly in Gorizia. These debates favoured a notable cultural and social progress, almost like the formation of a national conscience, both among the Italians and the Slavs; however with the turn of the century these clashes became somewhat violent.
Among the principle Italian objectives in participating in the first world war was the reuniting of Venezia-Giulia with Italy. The war was fought mainly in this region which bore the brunt of its effect. To the east and west of the Isonzo, this area was on the frontline of the bloody conflict that for three years inflicted grave damage to the ports and in the Isonzo valley where Gorizia was largely destroyed. Italians suffered greatly from the oppression of the Austrian police and, after the rout of Caporetto (1917), Friuli was subjected to the harshness of invasion , the exodus of much of its population and the resulting plunder.
After the war while Friuli, after a brief period of social tension in the countryside (resulting from the “white leagues”), took its place at the heart of Italian affairs. The violent political debate still continued in Venezia-Giulia; once the peace treaty was agreed upon, after much heated diplomatic wrangling, a large number of Slavs were brought within the new borders and with them a strong sense of irredentismo, as a result of the nationalistic claims of Jugoslavia on Italian cities and of the economic downturn, especially in port areas, resulting from the changes occurring in central-eastern Europe and not least as result of the affirmation of new revolutionary movements. After the imposition of D’Annunzio in Fiume, these questions were put off for the period relating to the fascist regime.
During the course of the Second World War the accumulation of contradictions exploded and, already in 1942, there was an active Slavic insurrectionist movement, with communist and anti-Italian leanings, as demonstrated by the tragic facts of the autumn of ’43, when many Italians lost their lives in the ‘inghiottitoi carsici’ (type of dolines in the Carsica area). These were times of great difficulty which persisted also after the war when the question of borders emerged, sharpened by the conflict between east and west which gave rise to a large exodus of Italians from Istria, which was assigned to Jugoslavia in the treaty of Paris on 10th February 1947, together with large part of the Carsica territory. A Free Territory of Trieste was also established, but met with little success due to the international politics of the time, and in 1954, an agreement was reached between Italy and Jugoslvia (the London Memorandum) which assigned the administration of Trieste and Mu’ggia (where the Anglo-American military occupation finished) to Italy, and that of Capodistria and Pirano to Jugoslavia. The treaty of Osimo (1975) finally closed this contentious issue, favouring the establishment of cordial and constructive relations between the two countries at both an economic and cultural level. The regional set-up sought by the Italian constitution resulted in the birth of the “Autonomous region of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia”, with its main city being Trieste, in 1964.
Serious consequences, at least in the beginning, resulted from the split that the new territorial order provoked in the traditional make-up of the Italian north-east. A limited form of free trade was established in the territory of Gorizia as well as agreements on cross-border trade, yet even today there is an uncertainty in the economic development in the area around Monfalcone, while Trieste, despite the assistance of government intervention, has seen the end of its shipbuilding industry and a worrying demographic decline. The Friuli, however, has played an important part in the economic development of Italy; hydroelectric plants, the industrial centre of Pordenone, the development of Udine and Tolmezzo, a process of urbanization and a sharp fall in labour involved in agriculture, the development of tourism and communication routes (motorways), and finally the reduction in the phenomenon of emigration. Cultural growth has also been quite notable ( the University of Trieste and of Udine) and there have been promising interests for the cultures on the other side of the borders. The regional set-up also favours the linguistic and cultural rights of both national and sub-national communities. All this raises a problematic issue relating to the search for new social structures and balance which has created heated political debate; in the Friuli, the presence of Catholics is established as a majority with the Christian Democrat party, while in Trieste such debate and the enduring economic crisis have revitalised a strong sense of opposing regionalism.
Friuli-Venezia-Giulia is certainly the Italian region that has suffered the most from the vagaries of history throughout the centuries right up to modern times. The uses, customs and culinary traditions have been handed down through the years without a great deal of change or enrichment, well defined by the cultural influences of the people with which this region has come into contact.