Gemona, Venzone's rival city

Birgit Stegbauer

Where the Julian Alps have their last foothills and the Val Canale merges with the plain, on the banks of the river Tagliamento, the small city of Gemona nestles at the foot of mount Glemine. The picturesque city, which is medieval at its core, and its basilica Santa Maria Assunta (Maria Ascension) were badly hit by the 1976 earthquake. Today, Gemona is for the very greatest part reconstructed and worth a small detour. Combine it for example in with a visit to Venzone which is only a good 10 km away.

Yet, during the Middle Ages Gemona and Venzone were arch rivals; they were just too similar to exist peacefully next to each other: Both cities were more or less identical in size, both were located on an old trade route, both possessed the status of a free community, both were allowed to hold a weekly market - only Gemona had the advantage of having been granted the so-called "Niederlech", which implied that merchants traveling through Gemona had to stop, unload their goods and stay overnight.

Even in the field of art, the two cities rivaled each other. Around 1290 Venzone started the construction of its basilica, while at the same time Gemona started to expand its existing basilica; the sculptural decoration of both facades is unique in Friuli. Under the supervision of the very same master-builder, Master Giovanni, first the basilica of Gemona was completed in 1337, then in 1338 the basilica of Venzone.

The basilica of Gemona is impressive anyway: For one thing, there is its location; it is situated directly under a steep rock wall of mount Glemine. Secondly, the facade captivates by its enormous richness in high Gothic sculptures of high quality. To the right of the Romanesque deep stepped columns portal stands a 7 m high statue of Saint Christopher, carved between 1327 and 1332 by Giovanni Griglio who also sculpted the Kings Gallery above the Romanesque portal. The three filigree rose windows are the work of Master Buzeta, dating between 1334-1336.

Upon entering the basilica, the visitor will be astonished by the length and the height of the inner church, its squat gracefulness and lightness. The higher nave is separated by an arcade of pointed arches from the lower side aisles, light penetrates through the windows of the clerestory and of the Gothic choir. The overall impression evokes associations with early Gothic cathedrals in France.

To the right of the entrance, take a look at the former main altar, a fine gilded wood work by Andrea Moranzone, made between 1391-1392. It figures scenes from the Old and the New Testament and culminates in a presentation of the coronation of the Mother of God as Queen of Heaven. The panel suffered damage by two fires (1516 and 1639) and was thus replaced by another altarpiece. In a chapel of the right side aisle is a memorial to the victims of the 1976 earthquake. Another chapel of the right side aisle houses a Roman sarcophagus that was converted into a baptismal font; its small sides are decorated with chiseled reliefs from the early Romanesque period.

In 1420 the Republic of Venice incorporated large parts of Friuli. Gemono was deprived of the "Niederlech" privilege, new trade routes were established, which caused the loss of Gemona's and Venzone's economic basis. Since then their medieval feuds have resolved; their sorrows of 1976 earthquake were shared.

Tourism Office 
Ufficio I.A.T. Informazioni Accoglienza Turistica Pro Glemona
Piazza del Municipio, 5
33013 Gemona del Friuli / UD / Italy
Phone: 0039 - 0432 - 981 441

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