Nowadays Aquileia is a small town with a population of about 3500, but in ancient Roman times it was Italy's 4th largest city, after Rome, Milan and Capua, with an estimated population of 200,000.
Aquileia was founded by the Romans as a Latin colony in 181 BC at the north-eastern edge of the plain of the Po and the other Alpine rivers as an outpost against Gallic and Istrian barbarians. It quickly became a major trading centre, linking Central Europe with the Mediterranean. By 90 BC it had been elevated to the status of municipium and its citizens were accorded full rights of Roman citizenship. Of special importance was the construction in the second decade of the 4th AD century of a basilica by bishop Theodorus, following the sanctioning of public worship by the Edict of Milan in 313. All this was to come to a violent end in 452, when Aquileia was sacked by the Huns led by Attila.
The ancient buildings of Aquileia served as stone quarries for centuries, and no edifices of the Roman period remain above ground. Today, the only visible reminders of Aquileia's ancient Roman prominence are the 'Via Sacra' road with the remains of the ancient Roman Forum and parts of the inland port located on the now silted up river Aquilis (Grado being its sea port), plus a burial site. The excavations have revealed part of the forum and its Roman basilica, the Republican macellum, one of the public baths, and two luxurious residential complexes, as well as the north-west corner of the town walls. Outside the late city walls, a cemetery with some impressive funerary monuments, the amphitheatre and the circus have been brought to light. The most striking remains of the Roman city are those of the port installations, a row of warehouses and quays that stretch a long distance along the bank of the former river.
The National Archaeological Museum (one of the most important museums of Roman antiquities in the world) hosts over 2,000 inscriptions, statues and other antiquities, as well as glasses of local production and a numismatics collection.
The Patriarchate of Aquileia, which survived until 1751, played a key role in the evangelization of this region and the great Basilican Complex still represents a spiritual centre.
Aquileia has been inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 1998.
CHERPLAN Pilot Site: Archaeological area
Pilot Activities: Preparation of the Environmental Management Plan; investigation on subsidence impacts on the archaeological area.