Exploring Italy: Visit the Castle Ruins of Maniago and More
Why Do We Love to Explore?
Humans are inquisitive creatures. We question and ponder, poke and prod. We find a certain romance in the exploration of ancient history. We question what secrets lurk in the shadow of medieval castles. As an American, I acknowledge a particular fascination with walking among fragments of the past. Americans don’t have 14th-century villas and 12th-century castles; we have only a few hundred years of architectural history.
But don’t most humans, no matter where they call home, possess a curiosity about past civilizations? I believe there is something cathartic about walking in the footsteps of past generations, looking at man-made ruins. Perhaps it’s a reminder of both our own physical mortality and of the monolithic achievements of mankind.
I met a traveller from an antique land who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert. Near them on the sand, half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown and wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command tell that its sculptor well those passions read which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, the hand that mocked them and the heart that fed. And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!' Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away".
—Percy Bysshe Shelley
Honestly, I think that deep within the heart of each one of us resides an Indiana Jones, and for that explorer heart I want to share a little-known secret.
Just 90 minutes from Venice, in the shadow of the Italian Alps, is a tiny town with a 1000-year history. And in that town, named Maniago, are the remnants of a long-forgotten castle.
A Brief Look at Maniago
The town of Maniago itself is certainly worth a visit. With a population of just over 10,000 souls, Maniago is large enough to offer an array of boutiques, restaurants, bars, churches, and gelateria, yet small enough to provide a small-town feel of well-being, comfort, and security. In the evening tourists and locals dine al fresco, indulge in gelati and appreciate la dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing) while watching the sun set behind the mountains.
Maniago is renowned for metalworking; she is Italy’s cutlery capital—even Sheffield, England purchases steelwork here. Shopkeepers proudly display their craftsmanship in storefront windows, are able and willing to accept payment in almost any language, and can even provide a well-crafted presentation box for that must-have gift.
On Monday morning, a farmers' market fills the town center with seasonal (and local) produce, cheeses, hand-made pasta, fresh seafood, and a vast array of specialty items. One enterprising fellow even sells skis and parkas for playing in the nearby mountains.
The Castle of Maniago
The ownership and habitation of the Castle at Maniago is lengthy and involved. I will spare you the details, and provide an abridged version.
On the 12th of January in 981 A.D., Emperor Otto II granted ownership of the Castello di Maniago (or as we say in Latin “cortem que vocator Maniacus”) to Rodoald, Patriarch of Aquileia. Historians believe that the entire Maniago family resided there, and a separate residence was established for the Patriarch.
The Maniagos were frequently involved in harsh battles with other feudal lords. In 1216 the castle was besieged at least four times, all unsuccessfully.
In 1385 the Maniagos lost possession of the property because of “contrasts” with the then Patriarch, Phillippe d’Alencon. But in 1393 they were reinstated by the new Patriarch, Jan V of Moravia.
Destroyed by a disastrous earthquake in 1511, the castle was eventually abandoned in the early 17th century.
If you consider a trip to Maniago, know that there are many other things to see and do in the surrounding area of Friuli-Venezia Giulia—a beautiful gem tucked between the Adriatic Sea and the Alps,
West of Maniago is Udine. Museums, art galleries, designer shops, fine dining, and for the shopaholic, the Udine Mall—a one-stop-shop for everything that you need (and don't need), along with an ‘around the world’ food court.
To the south, on the Adriatic coast, is the Lignano Sabbiadoro Beach.
Head east from Maniago and enter one of the great wonders of the world: Venice.
Livenza Springs, Piancavallo, and Spilimbergo
The Livenza Springs (Sorgenti della Livenza in Italian) is a little-known spot of incredible beauty in the Pre-Alps of Friuli. The crystalline waters of Livenza seem to spring from nowhere. In fact, this region at the foothill of the Pre-Alps is where the underground water systems that originate in the Cansiglio plateau see the light again after many miles underground—and they do so with a series of spectacular springs. Two of these springs form the river Livenza itself. This quiet spot, so full of luscious beauty is a must-see.
The outdoorsman will love Piancavallo, a wide and sun-kissed plateau to the North of Pordenone. At 1,260 meters it is the ideal destination for many open-air activities.
Modern ski facilities for downhill and cross-country skiing, climbing walls, tracks for trekking and mountain biking, the ice rink, the football field, the new indoor stadium, the minigolf, and the new indoor sporting arena provide something for everyone at any time of year.
The castle of Spilimbergo is rich in history, spanning almost 10 centuries. It was built in the 11th century by the German Spangenberg family to watch over one of the main fords of the Tagliamento. The counts of Spilimbergo, after whom the town is named, soon became very rich and powerful. They had important properties but, soon after that, their house came to an end and the surname survived in the female line only.
Armed battles took place in the 13th and 14th centuries; fires caused significant damage several times. Next to the castle, the 15th-century building features elegant decorations by Giovanni da Udine.
Today the castle is partly a private property (there is a restaurant as well) and partly of the Municipality. Of the ancient fortified borough, one can still see two towers and short stretches of walls.
How to Get There
Traveling by car is ideal for touring the area, although train, coach and/or bus are also very accessible. There are coach and train stations at the edge of the town center, with direct lines to major cities and coastal resorts.
The Friuli-Venezia Giulia region is a playground of everything expected from a holiday in Italy, and Maniago is at the very heart of it.
Questions & Answers
© 2015 Linda Lum