Of Books and Cathedrals

Recently I read Follett’s latest book “The Evening and the Morning” A prequel to the [more] successful “Pillars of the Earth.”

It was the Cathedral building adventures that captivated me, although much more so in the “Pillars” than on this last book. But it was the book that pushed me to visit a Cathedral as old—if not older—as the Kingsbridge Cathedral of the books. 

On the North-East Region of Italy, down on the flat lands, not far from the sea the ancient city of Aquileia preserves and offers a double touching classical and Christian memory. I already wrote about Aquileia, and a visit there (COVID-permitting) should be high in anyone’s artistic bucket list. 

Aquileia is a sweet little town, and the story also starts more than a thousand years ago, and probably there was a “boat-builders family” and a “Tom the builder,” here as well. There were raids too; not by Vikings but by the Huns, equally fierce I’m afraid. 

Born as a Roman colony, a river port, a military garrison, and bulwark emporium. Today, along an avenue flanked by tall green cypresses the remains of the modules for mooring ships can still be distinguished along the paths in which they piled the goods prior to embarking for the conquest of the Germanic North.

The basilica is a jewel. Built in solid stone the cathedral stands beautifully on the large piazza. Here too the cathedral came into fruition by the efforts of an ambitious bishop, and later, in 1300 the bell tower thanks to another ambitious patriarch.

The current Basilica is essentially Romanesque, with some Gothic details added in 1348 and other Renaissance overlaps, the result of subsequent renovations.

Notably, nudity was not a big deal back then!

The interior is majestic and solemn, the floor mosaic of the two halls of worship built in the early fourth century stands out. The mosaic of the southern hall represents, with its 760 square meters, the largest early Christian mosaic in the Western world. The story of Jonah occupies almost a third of its extent.

The whole floor is decorated with mosaics, and tells many stories with fish and fishermen, angels, strange animals, saints and ordinary folks. One can walk all around the basilica over a glass “bridge” and look at the stories depicted on the floor.

It was the portraits of ordinary people that captivated me the most.

It is also possible to visit the crypt located under the altar. Here there is another surprise, this time by the frescoes on the walls. On entering the cript one is surrounded by pastel-colored walls and ceiling. Beautiful really.

Once the visit at the Basilica is concluded, there is a small place; called very appropriately “Pasticceria The Mosaic, where to have a quick lunch complete of desserts, in green tranquillity!

All products are prepared in-house and they are really delicious. Especially the desserts.

Done that, a short and pleasant walk away to the Roman Port I talked about before; 

The ancient Port is still visible, although, a stretch of imagination is needed to make sense of it.  My rather vivid immagination did not help much. I would need a rendering and/or better explanations.

Frankly the little restoration of the Port is a real shame. You can see interventions this bad only at the Acropolis in Athens.

At a short distance the Forum, and one can think to be in Rome. It is indeed much smaller, but it is not difficult to see that the rest of it still lays underground, under the main thoroughway. I believe that the complete city should be “lifted off” (cartoon style), to discover lots of antiquities below. Archaeological excavations have not yet completely brought to light its ruins, but those found constitute one of the best preserved testimonies of the ancient Roman grandeur.

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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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