The Piazza della Libertà is the most famous square in the centre of Udine. It is dominated by two buildings. On the south side we find the Loggia del Lionello, the former city hall of Udine, which looks a lot like the Doge’s Palace in Venice. And on the north side is the Porticato di San Giovanni, of which the bell-tower (Torre dell’Orologio) is a part. On the square itself are several statues and monuments. Lastly, from the Piazza della Libertà one can take the road up the hill to the castle of Udine. In the summer it is advisable not to walk under the scorching sun, but to find shelter in the covered colonnade running along the right side of the road. The colonnade is known as the Loggia del Lippomano.
The Loggia del Lionello is a prime example of Venetian Gothic architecture in Udine. The city had been part of the Serenissma’s terra firma, her territories on the Italian mainland, since 1420. In 1441 the city council gave its consent to a proposal by Nicolò Savorgnan to build a new city hall. The name of the new building derives from Nicolò Lionello (ca. 1400-1462), a goldsmith and architect from Udine who was among the designers and first construction supervisors of the Loggia. However, the actual architect in charge of the project was Bartolomeo delle Cisterne (ca. 1400-1480) from Capodistria (now Koper in Slovenia). Already in 1455 the city council could hold its first meeting in the new accommodation.
In 1511 the building was heavily damaged by an earthquake, which necessitated large-scale restoration works. A second catastrophe took place in 1685. While all of Udine was celebrating Venetian victories over the Turks, the bonfires spread to the Loggia del Lionello. The entire interior of the city hall was lost and the restoration works that followed were not completed until 1878. What we see nowadays is a splendid building with a Gothic loggia on the ground floor and above that a floor with the meeting rooms. The building has a central balcony that was used to address crowds of people in the piazza. The loggia is open 24 hours a day, but I suspect that the floor above it is not accessible to the public.
The Porticato di San Giovanni on the other side of the piazza dates from the sixteenth century. For centuries the church of San Giovanni had stood here, but in 1511 it was heavily damaged by the aforementioned earthquake. The architect Bernardino da Morcote was subsequently commissioned to not just rebuild the church, but also to construct a beautiful colonnade on either side of it. The church is currently a memorial for the fallen of World War One. Udine was the city where the incompetent Italian supreme commander Luigi Cadorna (1850-1928) had set up his headquarters. After the crushing Italian defeat at Caporetto in 1917 German and Austrian troops captured the city. The Axis occupation fortunately proved to be temporary, but it must have left a deep trauma.
The old campanile of the church of San Giovanni was converted into the Torre dell’Orologio in 1527. The architect responsible was Giovanni da Udine (1487-1561). He clearly found inspiration in Venice, as his creation closely resembles the Torre dell’Orologio on the Piazza San Marco in the Serenissma. The tower is topped by two copper statues that strike a bell each hour. The current statues are the work of the sculptor Vincenzo Luccardi (1808-1876), who in 1850 replaced older statues that were made of wood covered with lead. There are two theories about who the copper men are supposed to represent. Often they are called Moors, and in that context the names of Gradine and Baleben are usually mentioned (hardly Moorish names by the way). According to another theory they are an Italian and a German man, who are bickering about whether to follow Italian or German time.
In the southwest corner of the piazza, we see a high column topped by a statue of Lady Justice. She has a crown, a sword and a set of scales, but no blindfold. The statue dates from 1612 and was made by the local sculptor Girolamo Paleario (ca. 1579-1634). According to my travel guide the statue was alternatively known as La Tabachiere, the tobacco lady. Similar scales were apparently used by local women to weigh tobacco. It is a good story, but unfortunately I have not been able to find any evidence that backs it up. Behind Lady Justice we find the second statue of a woman on the square, i.e. that of a sitting Peace. It was placed here in 1819.
On a column on the other side of the square stands the winged Venetian lion, the symbol of Saint Mark. The statue of the lion dates from 1883, so it was made long after Venetian dominance came to an end. It is clear that the inhabitants of Udine do not look back in anger at this period in their history: elsewhere on the square the lion also still has a prominent position. We see the animal on the Torre dell’Orologio below the clock and on top of the arch that gives access to the Castello. This arch is, by the way, called the Arco Bollani, after the Venetian governor (luogotenente or lieutenant) Domenico Bollani (1514-1579). The gate dates from 1556 and is attributed to the famous architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580). Lastly, there are two statues on the piazza of bearded and very muscular men. The two men are Hercules and the giant Cacus, who once fought each other to the death in a wrestling match. In Udine the statues are called Florean and Venturin. Everyone seems to have forgotten the origins of these names though.
Along the road to the castle of Udine we find the Loggia del Lippomano. This covered colonnade dates from 1487 and is named after the Venetian governor Tommaso Lippomano. People climbing the hill at temperatures of 37 degrees Celsius will be grateful to the governor that his colonnade provides some much-needed shade.
Further reading: Bradt Travel Guide, Friuli Venezia Giulia (2019), p. 132-141.