TOWN OF PORTOGRUARO IN THE VENICE PROVINCE
Located on the main train line between Venezia (Mestrè and Trieste, Portogruaro makes is an interesting city to stop at if you are riding in the area. There is a bike route that runs from the city to Caorle and the toward Venezia. You can also ride north in the direction of Treviso.
Both the origin of the city and its name are still subject of controversy. The first known official document goes back to 1140: The Bishop of Concordia, Gervino, granted land to some merchants who wished to construct a portus - a warehouse or storage area for foreign trading. Thanks to its favorable position on the Lemene River, these export and import activities meant that by the 13th century Portogruaro was already an important trading center.
After freeing itself from the administrative hold of the Bishop of Concordia it was able to organize itself with consuls, a council and assembly under the temporal protection of the Patriarch of Aquileia. This state of affairs lasted until 1420 when Venice annexed the whole territory. Under Venetian dominion, Portogruaro grew and many bridges, houses, streets and palaces were built. They reflect the essential agricultural and trading interests of the inhabitants. Portogruaro reached the height of its splendor during the 15th and 16th centuries. Its decline as a trading center was due to competition from Trieste as a port for goods going to Germany.
After the fall of Venice, new provincial borders were established by Napoleon and Portogruaro was assigned to Friuli. After the Treaty of Campo Formio, signed by the French and the Austrians in 1798, it was included in the Province of Venice, and in 1835 it assumed the status of a city. Amidst fluctuating fortunes, Portogruaro remained part of Austria until 1866. But economic conditions were fairly stagnant and its river trade began to decline. The latter ceased completely when the Venice-Portogruaro railway was opened in 1886. The main productive activity left was agriculture. Although practiced in a rather primitive fashion because of a lack of means, by the beginning of the twentieth century some industrial and commercial innovations were being made.
After the Second World War, Portogruaro's socio-economic conditions improved with a healthy growth in all productive, social and cultural fields.
A walk through the city
The most striking features of Portogruaro are its Medieaval typology - signs of a feudal past - and the presence of palaces from the Venetian period. Its walls and colonnades encouraged trade and social exchanges as did its important position between the rivers Reghena and Lemene.
The city is entered through the 13th-century Porta di San Giovanni, formerly known as the "gate of the band" or the "gate of San Lazzaro" because of a nearby hospice for lepers. The gate was rebuilt in the mid 16th century (1555-56). Beyond it lies the 14th-century Church of San Giovanni, which deserves a close look. It has a valuable Madonna with Child (15th century) and an altarpiece by Leandro da Ponte (16th century) and a frescoed ceiling by Jandrea Urbani (18th century).
Inside the city, the main thorough-fare, Corso Martiri, leads to Piazza della Repubblica with its 14th-century Town Hall (1372-1380). This brick Gothic building has sloping crenellated roofs, and a high-angled outside stairway and a small domed bell-tower. In 1512, Giovanni Baffo added two impressive wings to the building. At the foot of this typical communal town hall six 16th-century marble blocks can be seen. Known as the Testoni, they depict six heads (testa is Italian for head) in Istrian stone and may well have been the foundations of a bridge.
Alongside the Town Hall is the Pozzetto, a well whose head was built by Giovanni Antonio Pilacorte (1494). It is also known as the Pozzetto delle Gru (The Well of the Cranes). Cranes became an emblem of Portogruaro. There is a collection of them, which was sculpted by the Portogruaro artist Valentino Truchetto (1906-1965). Behind the Town hall stands the Pescheria (Fish Market). The loggia and small oratory were both built by Carole Fishermaen - clear evidence of the city's history as a port. Next we come to one of the most typical and picturesque parts of Portogruaro, the Mulini. Standing over the river Lemene, these mills were built by Bishop Antonio Felotti in 1477 and restored in 1980-81. The Duomo di Sant'Andrea was built on the site of a 12th-century church. It houses a number of 16th- and 17th-century works of various artists: an anonymous Venetian, Gregorio Lazzarini, the School of Palma Giovane, Giovanni Martini, Pampanio Amalteo, Pietro Damiani and Stefano Dall'Arzere. Outside is a fine leaning Romanesque Belltower. After visiting the cathedral it is worth wandering the streets to savor the atmosphere in the preserved center of town with its elegant palaces and mixture of Gothic and Renaissance architecture.
In addition to the usual medieval structures typical of Veneto cities there is also a strong Venetian influence. This can be seen in the fine frescoed façades and in the whole structure of the historic center with its long arcades whose arches, unlike other Venetian towns, are sharply angled. Going along Via Martiri, on the left-hand side we may admire three Palaces - Muschietti, Moreo and Delle Imposte (16th century). They are a harmonious combination of Gothic and Renaissance elements. On the right is a 16th-century house, embellished with cipolin columns and Romanesque-Byzantine capitals. Further down on the left stands one of the finest palaces in Portogruaro: Palazzo De Gotzen (15th-16th century), with its three Gothic arches and two orders of windows in various styles. Palazzo Dal Moro (14th-15th century) is a similar kind of building whose façade is enhanced by a three-light window and a two-light window along with terracotta work and sculptures.
At the Porta San Gottardo, in addition to the 15th-century reconstruction of an even older gate, known as the gate of San Francesco, a 20-meter stretch of the city walls may also be admired. The Villa Comunale, built in the 16th century by Guglielmo di Alzano, is an elegant Renaissance-style building with a three-arched stone-columned porch, a large corner balcony and an open loggia. Alongside these structures sits the Oratory of Sant'Ignazio (1682) and opposite the latter, Palazzo Marzotto (16th century), an interesting building with frescoes of mythological scenes. The nearby Palazzo Venanzio, (16th century) is in Renaissance style while the Church of San Luigi (12th century) has some fresco fragments and walls dating back to earlier than the 11th century. A visit to Via Cavour is also rewarding: the careful observer will note and admire how the impressive Gothic style of the arcades blends remarkably well with the Renaissance upper floors of the buildings along this street.
Lastly I suggest visiting the oldest gate in the city, Porta di San Agnese, which now stands outside the present city walls along with some of the former wall and even a small tower. Also not to be missed is the Church of Sant'Agnese (15th century), which has a fine terracotta Pieta and traces of 16th-century frescoes on the façade. After having seen so many architectural and artistic sights which attest to the city's rich heritage a visit to the National Archaeologiacal Museum is a must. The museum houses local finds from Roman and Early Christian times, especially from the nearby Roman city of Concordia. Only four kilometers from Portogruaro the old and picturesque Abbey of Summaga (early 11th century) is also well worth a visit. The church itself has a Basilica plan with a nave and two aisles and apse. It contains precious 11th and 12th century frescos depicting the Redemption, Eve, Abraham, the Crucifixion, Christ on the Throne and prophetic, evangelical and biblical scenes. The (16th-century) exterior also includes various fragments from Roman and Early Medieval times. In short, there is a great deal to be discovered in this famous old abbey.
Around the city
While wandering through the historic entrance to admire past glories, it should be kept in mind that Portogruaro is also a typical Veneto town engaged in agricultural and industrial activities. The town can thus offer the visitor other points of interest in less well-known places that may also satisfy a desire for peace and quiet. Beyond the historic center lies the open countryside neatly arranged with scattered farms and broken up by a dense network of charming wide canals used for agricultural purposes.
Traveling through this countryside it is obvious that the old dependence on the rivers and the sea is still very much a part of life today, especially along the two main rivers, the Lemene and the Livenza. The scenery round Portogruaro is romantic and charming. To the north two streams, which eventually form the Lemene, wind their way through the town. The river port with its many watermills creates a quaint atmosphere in the historic center enticing visitors to stroll throughout the surroundings.
Cultural Events and Folk Traditions
July/August: GOLDONI FESTIVAL IN THE VILLA COMUNALE
July: CONCERT BY THE ORCHESTRA OF THE FENICE
July: MODERN BALLET FESTIVAL
November: SERIES OF CONCERTS ORGANIZED IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE ST. CECILIA MUSIC ASSOCIATION