Gradisca is a member of the organisation of the most attractive towns in Italy and when you arrive in the main square you will see that this little town of some 6,500 people located 12km from the regional capital of Gorizia has so much to offer.
My first view of Gradisca was in an usual way. I crossed the Isonzo river over the narrow bridge to the east of the town on my bicycle which afforded views over the river with its almost turquoise colour and the walls of the Venetian fortifications of the town. Others will come in other directions, if by car no doubt via the main road from Gorizia, Udine or Venice or perhaps by motorhome, in which case one can park it at the motorhome parking space allocated at via Trieste 40.
Throughout the following article, I shall refer to Gradisca as a town, as it seems strange to refer to a place with 6,500 inhabitants as a city - but it is a city and has enjoyed this right for many centuries and has its own cathedral.
The name of the town is clearly linked to the word for fortification - compare, for example, Hrad in Czech meaning fort. So the meaning is probably fort on a hill although the hill is not very high. Beyond Gradisca to the east we have the Karst and to the north we have views of the Julian Alps. This geography suited the growth of Gradisca as it was on a trade route through the mountains at the same time as being protected by the fast flowing and wide Isonzo river.
In 1420 the town became part of the Republic of Venice which gave us many of the monuments we see today such as the castle which was largely meant to be an outpost against Ottoman attacks. The fortifications were initially built between 1476 and 1498, in places they were twenty metres high. The water of the Isonzo was directed into a moat around Gradisca whilst turrets completed the defences. In 1500, Leonardo da Vinci was hired by the Venetian Senate to make additions to the defences.
However this was to no avail. In 1511, Gradisca was captured by the Habsburgs and later it became part of the Eggenberg family possession although always under the tutelage of the Habsburgs. From 1615 - 1617, the Venetians attempted to recapture the city but failed.
During the Habsburg and Eggenberg era, Gradisca gradually became less military and more of a residential area for wealthy people. Some of the palaces we see today were built then as was the baroque cathedral of Peter and Paul (Pietro e Paolo).
In 1855, as in many places where the city walls stopped the growth of the town, some of the fortifications were torn down - although fortunately much was left for us to appreciate today.
A few days after Italy's invasion of Austria-Hungary in WW1, Gradisca was captured. It lay only around 25km from the Italian border. Nonetheless it became a town almost on the front line. Austrian positions above the town gave a clear view as to what was happening there and the Isonzo river became the scene of twelve very bloody battles, eleven of which were near Gradisca. The town was recaptured by Austria-Hungary after the Battle of Caporetto in October 1917 although the following year it was retaken again by Italy as the war was ending. On 6 January 1921, it was annexed by Italy.
To be seen
Duomo dei Santi Pietro e Paolo, via Bergamas
Chiesa della Beata Vergine Addolorata, via Ciotti
Chiesa di Santo Spirito, piazza Marconi.
Palazzo Torriani, via Ciotti. .
Palazzo Monte di pietà, via Alighieri
Casa dei Provveditori veneti, via Battisti.
Loggia dei mercanti, via Battisti.
City walls and turrets
Monumento alla Redenzione, piazza Unità d'Italia. This is found in the centre of the square in front of the theatre. At the top we see the winged Venetian lion.
Romeo Battistig monument - an Italian nationalist killed during the fighting for nearby Sagrado in 1915.