Cordovado To Gorizia:
A Drive Through the Venetian Part of Friuli

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Cordovado An interesting two-day trip from Venice starts on the A4 autostrada. Drive east, past poplar groves and fields of wheat and corn, to the Portogruaro exit, then take SS463 north to Cordovado (left). Even before the Romans got here, this was an important portage spot on the Tagliamento River. It later became a prosperous medieval village, and the picturesque tower and gate you drive through date from this era, as do many houses, palazzi and villas.

From here, take the provincial road to Gruaro, then on to Sesto al Reghena, a medieval village which grew up within the fortified walls of the Santa Maria in Sylvis Abbey. The hamlet eventually expanded, with the amusing result that there is now a moat and so-called "drawbridge" in the center of town. Within the walls you'll find a surprisingly integral 9th- to 12th-century village, radiating out from the original abbey buildings and watchtower. The basilica, a wonderful mixture of late Roman, Lombard and Byzantine architecture, harbors beautiful 14th-century frescoes of the New Testament (right). Downstairs in the crypt is the tomb of St. Anastasia, created by 8th-century barbarians using an ancient Greek lectern as a base.

Pordenone Now we hop on autostrada A28 and take the third exit, to the provincial capital of Pordenone (left). Today this is a much maligned industrial center (even Hemingway took a pot-shot at it in A Farewell to Arms), but it has ancient Roman roots and an admirable old town. Stroll through the 14th-century streets flanked by Gothic, Romanesque and Baroque buildings, then pay a visit to the 13th-century town hall and 14th-century cathedral. The latter is generously frescoed by the artist Giovanni Sacchiense, better known simply as Il Pordenone. The city's original walls were largely demolished in the 1700s to make room for urban expansion, but a good section is left on the west side of town, along with the 13th-century castle that now serves as a prison.

Next, one of this region's star attractions. Travel east on SS13 to the town of Codroipo, then follow the signs to nearby Passariano, where you'll find the opulent Villa Manin. Built by the last Doge of Venice, it outdoes all the villas of the Veneto for size and extravagance, so it is ironic that Napoleon stayed here when signing the Treaty of Campoformido, which signaled the definitive end of Venice's power. Today you can visit the chapel, the antique armory, the carriage museum, the map salon and Napoleon's chamber (which features a portrait by David). The enormous park is a great place for a picnic.

Palmanova We now take SS252 east to the city of Palmanova (left), a fascinating experiment in urban planning. Founded in 1593 by the Republic of Venice, it was meant to serve as a fortified outpost against the Turks, as well as become a model city for the new century. Laid out on the flat plain as a perfect nine-pointed star, it took twenty years to build and was populated by "voluntary" settlers from the west. An unexpected peace kept it from ever having to test its potential as a fortress, and kept the population from ever reaching its intended size. This is to our benefit, because it has largely retained its original appearance. The Civic Museum contains all sorts of documents about the city from its conception through World War I.

The next leg of our trip can be made by continuing on SS252 (or hop onto autostrada A4 for two stops, then exit onto the numberless autostrada to Slovenia, and get off at the second exit) to Gradisca d'Isonzo. This too was a fortified Venetian town, built a century earlier than Palmanova. You'll want to see the cathedral and the castle. A distinctly Slavic flavor is in the air now. If you travel a few miles east on SS351 you'll come to the provincial capital, Gorizia (right), a city whose eastern half is actually located in the country of Slovenia. Dominating the western half of town is the imposing castle, which had to be almost completely rebuilt after World War I. Below it is the historic center, with its rebuilt Baroque cathedral. Nearby is the extremely well-stocked historic library, as well as Palazzo Attems-Petzenstein, site of a fine picture gallery and historic archive. Behind this building is the old Jewish ghetto, where many of the original houses still stand. Gorizia

Villa Manin is open daily except Monday, 9am-12pm and 3-6pm (summers), 9am-12pm and 2-5pm (winters). Tel. 0422-429-999.

The Museo Civico in Palmanova is at Borgo Udine 4 (tel. 0432-929-106). Open Mon, Tues, Thurs-Sun, in winter 9:30am-12:30pm; in summer 9:30am-12:30pm and 4-6pm.

The museum in Palazzo Attems-Petzenstein (Piazza De Amicis 2, tel. 0481-547-541) is open Tues-Sun 9am-7pm.

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