Cividale del Friuli is a place of ancient origins that rises along the Natisone river in the province of Udine, known today also and above all for the Devil’s Bridge and the mysterious Celtic Hypogeum. These are not the only characteristics of the Friulian town, even if, above all, the latter hides something mysterious as a whole.
Of Roman foundation, the period of Julius Caesar, as Forum Iulii, who then gave its name to the region, Cividale was the Lombard capital, but this has been over time a meeting point of different cultures: from Celtic to Roman, from the Carolingians to the Patriarchate of Aquileia. Cividale del Friuli gives us artistic beauties such as the Cathedral, the suggestive Ponte del Diavolo, the Medieval House dating back to 1300 which rises in the Brossana village but to arouse our curiosity is the Celtic Hypogeum, a suggestive, as well as mysterious system of underground cavities.
The Celtic Hypogeum
The Celtic Hypogeum takes us to the subsoil of Cividale del Friuli. We are in the historic center, a few meters from the Natisone river and the Devil’s Bridge. The hypogeum tunnels are accessed by a fairly steep ramp, while the underground tunnels open up in front of our view. They are dug into the rock, like the central chamber from which three corridors branch off. A first hypothesis on the construction of the Hypogeum and what could be a natural cavity that rises a few meters from the river, which flows further down. The walls of the Celtic Hypogeum have several niches, some niches, shelves, but above all they fascinate the three masks that can be admired inside.
What is it about? Here is the mystery. Maybe Celtic funerary art? Or was this a Roman or Lombard prison? Even today the function of this unique place in Friuli Venezia Giulia is not known. The visit to the Celtic Hypogeum is free. To obtain the entrance keys, you can contact the Informacitta counter or the Lombard Temple.
Lombard Temple and Monastery of Santa Maria in Valle
After the visit to the Hypogeum, we can focus on the other buildings of Cividale del Friuli such as the Lombard Temple, historical testimony of early medieval architecture. It can be reached from Piazza San Biagio via a walkway that offers a splendid view of the Natisone.
We are in the area of the Monastery of Santa Maria in Valle, built around the middle of the 7th century to house the Benedictine nuns. In addition to the monastery, there is the church of San Giovanni in Valle and the Lombard Temple.
Dating back to the second half of the 8th century, the Tempietto may have been the chapel of the monastery. It is a square hall structure with a cross vault and a presbytery with three barrel aisles. The interior is characterized by frescoes of Byzantine origin and stucco decorations, among these, the archivolt, decorated with a vine branch with bunches topped by six female figures in stucco. Inside the Lombard Temple, there are also wooden stalls from the 14th century, decorated with leaf motifs and representations of fantastic animals. Admission is subject to a fee and upon reservation.
Christian Museum and Treasury of the Cathedral of Cividale
The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is a sacred building built between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and rebuilt after the collapse of 1502 with Renaissance style. Inside it preserves the silver altarpiece of Pellegrino II, considered one of the masterpieces of medieval Italian jewelry. Adjacent to the cathedral is the Christian Museum, where it is possible to admire the baptistery of Callisto from the eighth century and the altar of Ratchi, two masterpieces of Lombard sculpture.
Especially the second, dated 730-740, with original polychromies, was strongly desired by Duke Ratchis, who became King of Lombard Italy, to honor his father. Originally the Ratchis Altar would have been richly colored and decorated. The Baptistery of Callisto has an octagonal shape and dates back to the first Patriarch of Aquileia who settled in Cividale in 731 AD
Entrance to the Museum is subject to a fee.
The Devil’s Bridge
Finally, the evocative Ponte del Diavolo rises near the Celtic Hypogeum and connects the two banks of the Natisone. Legend has it that the inhabitants were unable to build it because it was located in a dangerous spot, so they asked the Devil for help. He accepted and in the company of his grandmother she created the structure in a short time. Legend has it that the woman carried in an apron the large boulder that is located in the center of the river and on which the arches rest. The Devil, however, asked the first soul to cross the bridge in exchange for the artifact, but the inhabitants deceived the devil by letting a dog pass first.
How do I get to Cividale del Friuli?
Cividale del Friuli can be reached from the A23 Palmanova-Udine-Tarvisio motorway exiting at Udine Nord, Udine Sud or Palmanova and following the signs for Cividale del Friuli. By train through the Littorina service from Udine with the Udine Cividale Railways. The nearest airport is that of Trieste, Ronchi Dei Legionari.