In the centre of the small town of Cividale del Friuli all attractions are within walking distance of each other. I have already dedicated separate posts to some of these attractions. This post will be used to cover the remaining ones all at once. Our walk starts just south of the river Natisone, where we find a very special bridge.
This Ponte del Diavolo – “bridge of the devil” – dates from the fifteenth century. The stone bridge was built from 1442 onwards to replace a wooden bridge that was continuously swept away by the river, which was a lot wilder back then than it is now. It should be noted that the current bridge is not the original one. The original bridge was destroyed in 1917 for reasons of security after the Italians had suffered a horrible defeat at Caporetto (modern Kobarid in Slovenia) against the Austrians and Germans. The Italian supreme command was fearful of an Axis advance via Cividale and therefore had the bridge destroyed as a preventive measure. What we see today is an exact copy dating from 1918. The Ponte del Diavolo takes its name from a nice but slightly silly legend. According to this story only the Devil himself was capable of building a bridge across the Natisone. He promised the citizens of Cividale to build the bridge for them in exchange for the first soul that would cross it. When the bridge was completed, the clever citizens sent a cat across the bridge, thereby formally honouring their pledge.
If we cross the bridge, we will quickly arrive at the Duomo and Museo Cristiano. These have already been discussed in previous posts, as has the archaeological museum of Cividale behind the Duomo. We therefore walk east, towards the river again. On the rocks above the Natisone stands the monastery of Santa Maria in Valle from the seventh century. Once this was also the location of the palace of the gastald, a high-ranking official in the service of the Longobardic King or the Duke of the Friuli, basically his steward. The palace church of the gastald, dedicated to San Giovanni, is part of the complex. The true highlight, however, is the Tempietto Longobardo, a small oratory from the eighth century that is included in the UNESCO list of world heritage as part of the Longobard Places of Power. We had very much been looking forward to admiring the Tempietto, but unfortunately it was just undergoing restoration during our visit in the summer of 2022. The cloister of the monastery was also being restored. It is said that the cloister is the loveliest place to go for a stroll, but in this case the view was completely ruined by the presence of ugly wooden fences.
Fortunately there were still a couple of things to enjoy. In the church of San Giovanni, which is itself not that interesting, live information was provided about the restoration of the Tempietto. Visitors could see how a restorer treated a weathered fresco and provided it with new and fresh colours. The result was truly beautiful. Moreover, the wooden choir benches from the Tempietto, dating from 1371, had been set up inside the church. Behind the choir benches we saw the famous stucco statues that justify the little building’s status as UNESCO world heritage. The statues represent six female saints whose identity can no longer be established. The statues are gorgeous, but unfortunately it turned out we were looking at a photo printed on a large piece of canvas. The real statues were still in their original locations in the Tempietto itself, but visitors were not allowed to enter it because of the restoration work. It was a small comfort that the statues could be viewed from a window on the first floor of the cloister. The view was not very good, but it was better than nothing.
Behind the Tempietto there is a nice vantage point, which offers a panoramic view of the river Natisone. Here we also find the small church of Santi Pietro e Biagio from the fifteenth century. The church has an enormous bell-tower and conspicuous frescoes adorning its façade. These were painted at the start of the sixteenth century. We see Saint Christopher (right), Saint George and the Dragon (bottom left) and Saint Nicholas (top left). Above the beautiful Gothic portal we also see frescoes of the saints to whom the church is dedicated, Saint Peter the Apostle and bishop Blasius of Sebaste. The church is said to have a nice interior as well, but unfortunately we have not been able to check this claim. Apparently the Santi Pietro e Biagio is seldom open to the public, and it was definitely closed when we tried to enter.
The next stop on our walk is the museum with the impossibly long name Centro internazionale “Vittorio Podrecca – Teatro delle Meraviglie di Maria Signorelli”. Vittorio Podrecca (1883-1959), who was born in Cividale del Friuli, was actually a lawyer, but became famous as a puppeteer. Reportedly he was admired by Charlie Chaplin (and according to the museum staff by Walt Disney as well). After his death his large collection of puppets was acquired by Maria Signorelli (1908-1992) from Rome. In the museum we may admire several hundreds of dolls from the past couple of centuries. We see noblemen, soldiers, musicians, dancers, animals and so on. Some of them are probably no longer acceptable in this age of Woke, but that is exactly what we have museums for.
We now return to the Duomo, passing by a splendid example of a medieval house (La Casa Medioevale). In front of the town hall is a statue of Julius Caesar, the man who founded Cividale in the year 50 BCE as Forum Julii. If we follow the Largo Boiani, we arrive at a square named after Caesar, the Piazza Foro Giulio Cesare. Whether this was really the forum of the town in the Roman era is up for debate. The square is in any case interesting for another reason. It is here that we find a monument for Adelaide Ristori. Ristori (1822-1906) was a famous Cividale-born Italian actress. She was highly successful on stage in Europe, but also in the United States and Australia (the city of Adelaide in Australia is, by the way, not named after her, but after the wife of the British King William IV).