Placed in Friuli Venezia Giulia, an Italian north-eastern region, Aquileia was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1998 for fulfilling a wide variety of criteria.
Aquielia is classified as one of the most thriving commercial hubs of the Roman Empire. It is also considered as a clear example of how a Roman city was due to the nature of its archaeological remains, date back to the Roman Age. In addition, there is evidence the ancient church of Saint Mary and its community had a key role in spreading Christianity in the Middle Ages. As I was approaching Aquileia by coach and looking at the misty landscape out of the window, I thought there must be something else which makes this town such a touristic and famous destination. When I reached the place, I finally realized why.
The town, initially incepted in 148 BC as a military colony, became a meeting point between Western and Eastern cultures because of its strategic position. It is very close to the Balkans, which were called Illyria, in the Roman ages. It was also connected to the Adriatic Sea by an old river called Natissa. This implies that Aquileia was linked to every sea trading route within the Mediterranean Sea (called “ Mare Nostrum “ in Latin, which literally means “ Our Sea”), from the Iberian peninsula to North Africa.
The spatiality and position made the town a spot which was frequently crossed and where people coming from all the corners of the ancient world gathered. It was necessary to build streets and routes that linked Aquileia to other major cities of Roman Empire like Rome, Singidunum and Genoa. These kinds of tracks were mostly needed to trade goods (stored in wagons) and connect towns.
One of the most famous and longest streets in the Roman Age was the Postumia road, that began from Genoa (a city which is placed in the North-Western Italy) and stretched all the way to Aquileia. Its name came from the consul Spurius Postumius Albinus, who decided to construct the street in order to join both the Italian shores. It also touched important Italian cities like Cremona and Verona .The road was around 980 km and is still visible and walkable at some points, such as the section that runs under the Arch of Gavi, which was built by “gens Gavia”, a rich and important Roman family in Verona.
One another remarkable track was the road that leads until Singidunum starting from Aquileia. Singidunum was a Celtic settlement conquered by Romans in 75 AC and placed close to Belgrade (in today’s Serbia). This road does not exist anymore due to the passage of time, but there is evidence that it was frequently used by Romans. The European Commission funded a project that tried to reconstruct the street (around 720 km) which connected the Italian northern area to the Danubian territory, passing through the Alps.
Last but not least, there’s another important transport route that links the Roman town to all the Mediterranean coasts : the Natissa river and its artificial channels. Aquileia was fitted with an important river port, the ruins of which are preserved in the archeological site. Nowadays the channels are almost completely dried up, but wooden artifacts of ancient Roman boats were discovered in that area.
This means that the old port was used for big ships’ docking. The channels were linked to Natissa river, which leads to the Adriatic Sea. It implies that the town always had the opportunity to be a place not only for trading but also for cultural exchanges, like any port.
I took one last look at the city streets before leaving. I finally realized the reasons why Aquileia is considered as one of the vital Roman settlements. This status owes not just to its position, but mostly because of the importance of the tracks crossing it. This made me think of the importance the roads could have.
Although their purposes can be multifaceted (there are some streets used for trading, some other for moving armies, certain other for connecting cities), cultural routes have a common denominator : to link cultures which assimilate and integrate over time.