Aquileia is an ancient Roman city in Italy at the head of the Adriatic. Nowadays the city is small (about 3,500 inhabitants) but in antiquity it was the fourth Roman town in Italy and the ninth in the whole Empire. Aquileia is one of the main archeological sites of Northern Italy and has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1998 for its well preserved remnants from the early Roman Empire and its Patriarchal Basilica.
Aquileia was founded as a colony by the Romans in 181 BC along the Natiso River. The town provided protection for the territories that bordered areas subject to the influence of the Veneti (faithful allies of Rome) to the west, tribes of the Alpine Gauls to the north and the Histri to the east. In 90 BC Aquileia obtained Roman citizenship and was used as a base for the military campaigns of Julius Caesar in Gaul and in Illyia. With the administrative reform of Augustus, Aquileia became the capital of the tenth region “Venetia et Histria”. The town underwent a period of prosperity and soon became a centre of important trade exchanges thanks to the navigable river that crossed it and to the efficient network of roads that linked the town to the Po Valley and to Central Europe.
Destroyed by Attila in the mid 5th century, Aquileia rose again in the 6th century AD to became a powerful Episcopal seat with one of the most beautiful basilica complexes of the Christianity. The Patriarchal Basilican Complex played a decisive role in the spread of Christianity into central Europe in the early Middle Ages.
The site of Aquileia is believed to be the largest Roman city yet to be excavated. Excavations, however, have revealed some of the layout of the Roman town such as the remains of the forum, a segment of the decumanus, some impressive funerary monuments, two luxurious residential complexes, baths as well as the former locations of an amphitheatre and of a circus.The most striking remains of the Roman city are those of the river port installations, a long row of warehouses and wharfs that stretched a long distance along the bank of the river. But the dominant feature of Aquileia is the Basilica with its magnificent 4th century mosaics. The National Archaeological Museum and its lapidary galleries contain over 2,000 inscriptions, statues and other antiquities, mosaics, as well as glasses of local production and a numismatics collection.