Art & Biking

Spring is here and with spring it’s time for strenuous biking. This past Sunday with my Bike Club, about 50 people, we took the train to a place about 38 km (23 miles) from my town; and from there at 9:00 am we were ready to bike 59.28 km (36.66 miles) thru some small towns and villages in the area between the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions.


Even in a such remote areas there is art and history to enjoy. After 21 miles ride we arrived at Cordovado.  This enchanting place is listed among the “most beautiful villages in Italy”. The Piccolomini-Freschi palace dating late 1500, was built in a classic Venetian architectural scheme. The palace is surrounded by a nineteenth-century park. Just before lunch we visited a small church which was a real jewel, although the light inside was very bad for photography unfortunately.


The octagonal shaped church had a ceiling frescoed with scenes from the Old testament, from Annunciation to the flight into Egypt. I found the two marble angels at the sides of the altar truly remarkable.

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After a lunch break, we proceeded to Sesto al Reghena. Surprisingly there is a lot to see in this little village, most notably the Abbey of Santa Maria in Sylvis.

Sesto A.R. (Sextus was the original Roman name), was founded in 2 BC. The abbey, founded around 730–735 AD, belonged to the Benedictines until 762. After the fall of the Lombard Kingdom in 774 and the subsequent rebellion of Friuli in 776, the abbey had all its properties confirmed by Charlemagne through a chart including total exemption from any tax obligation to lay authorities.

In 899 it was ravaged by a Magyar (now Hungary) raid, and was restored in the 10th century, including the addition of fortifications. In the following years the abbey prospered, commissioning numerous paintings, sculptures and architectural additions to Venetian-Friulian artists.

Although some form of fortification existed from the abbey’s very beginnings, a true line of walls was added in the 10th century after the Magyar assault. In 1431 it had up to seven towers, only one of which remains today; this was restored to the current Renaissance appearance by lay abbots Giovanni Michiel and Domenico Grimani (late 15th–early 16th centuries), while in the 18th century a stone bridge replaced the previous drawbridge.

The entrance façade is decorated by a late 15th-century fresco with the Lion of St. Mark. Below it is a bas-relief with cardinal Grimani’s coat of arms, dated to 1521 and repeated on the left. Further below is an allegory of the Good Government under the Grimani family, attributed to Giovanni Battista Grassi.

The church has a vestibule dating from Pietro Barbo’s period, with two fresco cycles of the Paradise (southern wall) and Inferno (northern wall) by Antonio da Firenze and Pellegrino da San Daniele. No photos were permitted inside the church unfortunately. The Paradise frescos were well preserved, the Inferno instead being on the northern wall suffered from humidity and were not so visible. Plus the colors used for the Inferno were mostly reds. There were no use at all of blues because blue is symbolism of sky/heaven, but mostly because the blue color was quite expensive to produce back then.

Under the church is a crypt supported by twenty columns, some of which are ancient spolia. At the center of the crypt is the Urn of St. Anastasia, formed by a single marble block of Greek origin. The crypt also houses, in two apses, a Pietà of Austrian origin (early 15th century) and an Annunciation dating from the late 13th–early 14th century.

After such a scholarly break we headed back to the beginning for the train ride back, and home by about 6:30 pm. Tired but happy.

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I lived the most part of my life in Washington DC, now in Italy getting to know again my country. Plenty of surprises, for good and bad, and lots of nostalgia for DC.

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