Tagliamento: one river, many stories

3 min read
Historical map from 1740 showing the Tagliamento river course
Historical map from 1740 showing the Tagliamento river course

The history of the Tagliamento and that of its inhabitants are deeply connected.

The Tagliamento river has always been a great resource in terms of water, timber, and fish, but also an obstacle to cross. This is documented by the numerous bridges and crossings that spanned it, often built temporarily and then damaged by annual floods. Frequently, the river was crossed using fords or small boats. There is ample evidence of this in ancient maps and historical documents that have come down to us.

Drawing of the Osoppo fortress by the painter and cartographer Giorgio Monsuro (1656).

Historically, the Tagliamento has also been a strategic element of defence. There are numerous forts and castles along its course, starting with the fort of Osoppo, which has been a strategic control point for transit between north and south since protohistoric times. The castle was the subject of prolonged disputes among the lords of Osoppo, Gemona, and the Patriarch of Aquileia, who, in 1328, granted it as a fief to the Savorgnan family, which held dominion for four centuries. It was also the scene of heroic deeds, the most famous being the Italian resistance in 1848, which concluded with surrender to the Austrians. In 1945, the fortifications on the Osoppo hill (310 m) were mistakenly targeted by an Allied aerial bombing aimed at the entrenched German command. The area of Pinzano Ragogna is rich in history, which can be retraced today through the paths of the Great War and by observing the corresponding castles and the Germanic mausoleum.

However, the river could also damage the villages during floods. Towns like Bugnins, Rosa, and Biauzzo, in the municipalities of Camino and Codroipo, were relocated farther from the river after being destroyed by a flood. Old maps still show the corresponding old towns (Rosa vecchia, Bugnins Vecchio, Biauzzo Vecchio). All this changed with the construction of levees at the end of the 1800s.

Credits: Eugenio Novajra
Santa Croce church, village of Baseglia, close to the town of Spilimbergo

Last but not least, the river was (and still is) a passage for people and communities moving from the mountains to the plains and vice versa. This is one reason why there are many churches along the Tagliamento, which used to host travellers and pilgrims and are often dedicated to St. Christopher, the patron saint of travellers.

The history of the evolution of the territory allows us to understand why the villages are located where they are today and what dynamics have determined the relationship between people and the river. Consider that the houses in many riverside communities were constructed for centuries using the river’s stones. Therefore, the Tagliamento is omnipresent in the history of these communities.

Credits: Eugenio Novajra
Typical pebble and stone wall in Camino al Tagliamento

All this information is documented in an enormous amount of maps, drawings, documents, and images collected in archives and libraries, not only in Italy but also abroad. In the future, it would be desirable to study the history and geography of these areas based on all the available historical, cartographic, and visual documentation. Only in this way can we understand the evolution of the territory and use this knowledge for informed decision-making in the future.