Cividale and the Langobards

Birgit Stegbauer

Cividale de Friuli, a small city of 15.000 inhabitants, is situated about 15 km to the east of Udine on the river Natisone. Most of its churches, piazzas, palaces and houses were built between the 16th and the 18th centuries. Its almost unchanged appearance and the so-called Devil's Bridge, which spans the canyon of the Natisone, make it a popular tourist destination. However, Cividale's unique treasures are its Langobardic testimonies, included since 2011 in the Unesco World Heritage List.

The Langobards settled in northern Italy during the Migration Period and founded their own empire here in 568 AC. One of the centres of this Langobardic Empire was the city of Cividale, founded centuries earlier by Romans. Even when the Langobards were defeated by Charlemagne in 774, Cividale retained a certain importance. It was the Seat of the Franconian Margrave, and later of the Patriarch of Aquilea.

The best-preserved building from the Langobardic times in Cividale is the Tempietto Longobardo, also known as the Oratory of Santa Maria in Valle. The small house of worship is almost built into the rock above the canyon of the Natisone river. The Tempietto has a square, high main hall with a very particular west wall that is decorated by friezes and six tall female figures of saints, all done in white stucco. In front of the main hall is a rectangular presbytery that is divided by columns into three commensurate naves with barrel vaults.

There is a relative degree of certainty amongst art historians about the Tempietto's time of origin, which is around 760 AC. It is, however, unclear whether the prayer room belonged to a palace or a monastery and who was responsible for commissioning it. There is considerable evidence that the artists who created the Tempietto Longobardo were deeply influenced by the art of the Byzantine, Eastern Roman Empire.

Two other major works of Langobardic art are housed in the Museo Cristiano. There is the Ratchis-Altar from the church of S. Martino, a marble chest-altar, commissioned by Ratchis, a Langobardic Duke and future king, between 737 and 744 AC; and there is the octagonal marble Callixtus-Baptistery, created around 740 for an earlier incarnation of today's cathedral.

The disproportionality and gross spatial distortions of Langobardic art as compared to the art of the Late Antiquity and Byzantine Period lead to a long lasting disparaging attitude towards its artistic creations. It was only in the middle of the 20th century that researchers started to rethink their attitudes. Nowadays Langobardic art is regarded as a link between the art of the Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, as a synthesis of Germanic and Celtic with Romanic and Byzantine elements.


For Cividale Tourist Information with links to Tempietto Longobardo and the Museo Cristiano (amongst others) please click here.

Information in English about the Tempietto Longobardo is available here with links to other items of interest under 'Tourist Information'.
Opening hours are in English here.

About the Langobards in Italy.

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