By Romina Monaco
'We should take a pic with Julius Caesar!', suggests my husband as we walk down a narrow, cobbled street of picturesque Cividale del Friuli.
For a moment I think Tony has lost his mind since the Emperor has been deceased for two thousand years! Then I recall the sculpture of the controversial politician and army general standing gloriously in the Italian city’s Foro Giulio Cesare. As we walk under the hot, mid-afternoon sun, I hear the jovial banter of the locals emerging from the endless stream of bars and enotecas.
‘Ven a bef un tai!’ - ‘Come have a drink!’ shouts a boisterous middle-aged gentleman in his native Friulian. He is waving a half-empty bottle of white wine in one hand and an empty glass in the other. A younger man with mischievous blue eyes smiles and enters the Trattoria al Campanile to join his friend. We continue our promenade with the tinker of laughter and good cheer trailing behind us.
As we enter the Foro I catch my breath and am enveloped by the warm beauty of the square. This is not my first time visiting the charming citadel. Every time I return to Italy I am drawn to this medieval oasis lying in Friuli’s wine region of the Collio Orientali. Its theatres, museums and magnificent historic buildings radiate European elegance.
‘There’s The Man!’ Tony says excitedly, as he marches over to the majestic statue which overlooks one of the many piazzas located in Cividale. An amused passerby offers to take a snapshot us together alongside the notorious Roman. Even after two millenia his omnipresence is still evident here. As I smile into the camera I think I hear him whisper to me through time and space, ‘Veni. Vidi. Vici!’.
However, Gaius Julius Ceasar wasn’t the only one who conquered the region surrounding Cividale. Located at the foothills of the Alps 17 km from Udine, this scenic cultural centre is a tangible legacy left behind by Celtic, Roman and Germanic occupants. Founded by Caesar in 50 BC, he stationed his army on this very spot, eventually creating the Municipium of Forum Julli - from which this north-east Italian region of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia derives its name. He came to rule over the existing Celtic tribes (Venetii, Boii and Carni) who had for centuries made their home in the nearby Alps and throughout the plains all the way to the Adriatic shore.
After the entertaining photo op with Jules, we aimlessly wander the streets in search of something delectable to satisfy our palates. As we hunt for our next meal, Tony is still busily snapping photos. I on the other hand prefer to live in the moment by relishing in my surroundings.
'Check out the watches! A Rolex is cheaper here than it is back home.' he exclaims. I’ve heard that it’s best when a couple doesn’t have everything in common - so you can learn from one another and grow. Now I know that certain luxury watches are cheaper in Italy.
Tony manages to peel his eyes away from the shop window to observe several ornate, colourful flags cascading down the ancient stone buildings. In a week a local version of Sienna’s famed Palio – a 90 second horse race dating back 600 years – will be celebrated throughout the city.
With my head buried in a map we picked up at the local tourist office we navigate through the tiny network of streets. I am famished.
‘How about pizza?’, Tony suggests.
‘Pizza? No way! We’re going to have some good old-fashioned, traditional Friulan cuisine’, I reply.
‘We’ve got to have Frico then’, he says patting his stomach.
I’m up for Frico any time. Being of Friulian background this traditional potato, cheese and herb dish oozes ‘comfort food’ criterion and fondly reminds me of my childhood. We find a spot under the inviting portico of the Antica Trattora Ai Tre Re (At the Three Kings) on Via Stretta San Valentino. As we sip on local Prosecco, a dry white sparkling wine, our friendly waitress serves an appetizing and hearty Frico con Patate with a side dish of Radicchio.
Satiated beyond words and busting at the seams we manage to leave the Three Kings, slowly making our way to the nearby Ponte Diavolo. Impressive below as it is above, the Devil’s Bridge located on the Natisana River gets its name from the ominous legend attached to it. During its construction in the Middle Ages the citizens of Cividale exchanged its safe completion in return for the Devil’s request of the soul of the first person who crossed. Superstitious citizens still entice cats to cross the bridge before they themselves pass.
My mother was a young woman when she did her post-secondary schooling in Cividale. I remember her tales of the ponte and envision her walking the romantic vias and gossiping under Romanesque doorways with giddy schoolmates. As my mother’s memories echo and slowly fade from my thoughts I know that night is approaching and we have family to visit beyond the Collio.
I walk sadly mano-a-mano with Tony to our rental car which is parked just outside the citadel. As the evening dusk begins to fall, casting its eerie shadow over the ancient city, I leave Cividale knowing that I will return again.