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Travel: Discovering Friuli-Venezia Giulia: the history (1)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- (This feature is part of the "Discovering Friuli-Venezia Giulia" series. These stories highlight the history and culture of the region surrounding Aviano Air Base.)

Bundì, good to see you again! I have recently begun to further explore my home region and this weekend I decided to visit a place I have never seen before: Sesto al Reghena. Beautiful. I hope you also took advantage of the long weekend you just had to explore a little bit of Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

But now it's time to leave for another virtual journey into the turbulent history of these territories. Ladies and gentlemen, be ready to meet the great Julius Cesar, Attila the Hun and General Napoleon Bonaparte.

We'll see the rise of civilizations, of refined art and crafts, and of monumental buildings that are still here today. We'll listen to people speaking a potpourri of different languages, from Celtic to Latin (the basis of today's Friulano), from ancient French and Slavonic to modern German.

We'll see an alternation of tribes, peoples, armies and governors.

Here we had - or maybe I should say "we are" since what is today's population if not the result of the contacts and mixing of all the different ethnic groups that historically crossed our territory? - Venetian and Istrian tribes, Celts, the Romans, the Huns, the Goths and Visigoths, the Lombards, Charlemagne's Francs, the Hungarians, the Turks, the Alpine Slavs, the Austrian and the French. And did I mention the Templars and the Knights of Malta? Rest assured I hope I am not forgetting someone.

You can liken FVG to the spectacular mosaics of Aquileia. What better way to describe a border region that has always been a mosaic of people and cultures? Even the name "Friuli-Venezia Giulia" is a name made of mosaic made up of different tiles. Friuli, the territory including the administrative provinces of Pordenone, Udine and part of Gorizia and deriving its name from the Latin "Forum Iulii" (Julius' forum), the ancient name of Cividale del Friuli. The other one is Venezia Giulia, encompassing the provinces of Gorizia and Trieste and deriving its name from the Roman "Venetia et Istria" and "Alpes Iuliae." As we'll see, at a certain point of our history they'll take different directions just to be reunited after the first world war.

Today we will be traveling all the way back to the time of dinosaurs and forward to 181 B.C. Now grab your FVG map to follow our spatial movements on it and turn the clock back 450 million years when the whole region was nothing but a large sea. Not very exciting to me, but if you are interested in such things, the Paleontological Museum of Monfalcone and the Geological Museum of Carnia in Ampezzo feature finds from more than 400 million years ago.

As we travel more than 215 million years ago: we find ourselves in Val Gera, near Claut in the Friulian Dolomites park and a dinosaur is about to step on a big rock and leave his foot marks. Those marks definitely made it through history and are still visible today in the Friuli Dolomites park. We have to be very careful though because that's not the only prehistoric animal we'll see.

Moving forward a few million years - for the most accurate historians - we are in the Pleistocene period, commonly known as the Ice Age more than 1.5 million years ago. Here we find majestic cave bears whose skeletons, when first found, were thought to be that of unicorns and dragons. A skull of one of them can be found in the city hall of Maniago and an almost complete specimen is at the Antiquarium della Motta in Povoletto. If you want to take a picture next to one of them you'll find a perfect reconstruction in the Museum of the Caves of Pradis.

Let's stay in the Pradis area, about 14,000 years ago during the Stone Age, in the cave of Clusantin where a group of marmot hunters carves flints to make their weapons. Lots of these stone tools have been found all over the territory and are visible in most of the region's archeological museums.

Moving forward to about 4900 B.C, We're in a marshy, humid area down the Livenza river, in today's Palù di Livenza between Polcenigo and Caneva. See that pile-dwelling village emerging from the fog? Well in 2011 it became a UNESCO world heritage site and it is possible to visit it together with the Archeological Museum of Western Friuli, featuring lots of finds and reconstructions from prehistorical times on.

Some thousands of years later, sometime between 1100 and 1200 B.C., a young man no older than 18 is being buried within the walls of a "castelliere" - a fortified borough dating back to 1700-1800 B.C. - in today's Sedegliano. His bones will be discovered later in the 21st century. The ruins of the castelliere of Sedegliano - the oldest fortified site found so far in Friuli- and others such as the ones of Savalons, Rive d'Arcano and Rudinpiccolo are still visible today.

In 400 B.C., the Celtic tribes of the Carnic Gauls arrived here. They have come to settle down permanently no matter what the Istrian and Venetian tribes that were here before them have to say, and will actually end up occupying most of the region and giving it one of its first names: Carnorum Regio (the region of the Carnics), hence the region of Carnia's name.

Following the Celts all the way to today's Cividale del Friuli, we'll be able to access one of the most fascinating and mysterious places of FVG: the Celtic Hypogeum.

Along the right bank of the Natisone River there's a small entrance that will take us into a system of underground cavities, corridors, loculi and niches.

After thousands of years this place will still be shrouded in mystery and modern scholars will still be wondering about its origins and uses. A Celtic necropolis? A Roman or Lombard jail? We may never know, but it's sure that Celts are still seen nowadays at least once a year. That's when the Triskell Celtic Festival takes place and all the Celts and their friends gather in the enchanted wood of Ferdinandeo in Trieste.

Do you hear that roar in the distance? Can't you see that army marching toward us? The calendar says 181 B.C., and the Romans are coming to conquer the region and defeat the Celts, as we will discover next week when we continue into the more recent history of the region. We'll witness bloody battles, destructive invasions, and even the dreadful trials of the Inquisition. Not to mention devastating earthquakes and landslides that destroyed whole towns. We will also experience the brighter side of history and this land's ability to always rise from its own ashes.