Borderlands and crossovers


Figure. Memorial stone at the entrance of Aquileia’s war cemetery.


The language of maps and their organisation of nations and regions over time can be very challenging to understand when touring the very areas or visiting specific sites that have had several cartographic adherences and different constitutional belongings in the past. If maps really help constitute the world they represent, then this is most certainly true for the larger area that gives onto the Gulf of Trieste: east of the Tagliamento river, south of the Friulian pre-Alps and west of current-day Postojna.

Some of it was part of Austria-Hungary, not least the maritime port of Trieste, whereas other parts belonged to Italy. But most areas shifted several times in the past 200/300 years. By 1920, however, large parts became Italian. Subsequently, thousands of Slavs, mainly Slovenes, had to endure forced Italianisation. Or simply left. The area’s history of the 1920s and 1930s is quite complicated in terms of fascist influences, Slovenian unrest, anti-fascist terrorism and anti-Semitic campaigns. The Second World War, British and American occupying forces along the Morgan Line after the war and the emergence of the nation state of Yugoslavia continued a much complicated understanding of this Adriatic corner of Europe.


Figure. The areas around the Gulf of Trieste and the Morgan Line (1945-1947). Zone A was managed by western forces, zone B by Yugoslav ones. (source: the dreaded W)


The area which was the most complicated after the Second World War (the tiny part of Zone B included in Zone A, the orange and yellow parts) coincide with the pre-First World War Austrian Littoral, a crown land of the Austrian Empire. It had previously belonged to the Republic of Venice. In this entire region the population nearly always consisted of the same main ethnic groups, even though prominence and presence shifted considerably between 1849, when the Austrian Littoral was established, and 1947, when a treaty sealed the border between Italy and Yugoslavia.

Part of the area are cities like Udine and Pordenone. Pordenone, in fact located beyond the Tagliamento, was an Austrian enclave until it was acquired by the Republic of Venice and after the Napoleonic period included in the Austrian possessions in Italy, only to become Italian again in 1866. Further to the east, Udine was the seat of the Italian High Command during the First World War and even called “Capitale della Guerra”. The city is now more aptly referred to as the Capital of War and Peace, the latter addition because resistance was strong after Germany had taken the city in 1917 (and also because the war-related title passed on to Padova in 1918).

Just south of Udine lies Comune di Santa Maria la Longa. Referred to as a resting place for troops during the First World War, the municipality also remembers the war in a more poetic manner: the renowned Italian war poet Guiseppe Ungaretti wrote three war poems while at la Longa. Still, as ever with claims to fame, Udine believes it is the prime location where Ungaretti’s war poetry started.[1] Slightly more to the east, north of Monfalcone, lies the Parco Ungaretti, in Sagrado. Il Parco Più Bello includes a villa, where soldiers produced graffiti on the walls between June and August 1916.[2] The memorial parc is itself very near to Redipuglia Memorial, the largest military memorial in Italy, housing the remains of over 100,000 Italians.


Figure. Monumento alla poesia “M’illumino d’immenso” (Giuseppe Ungaretti) di Santa Maria la Longa (source Tourism FVG)[3].


Further south of Udine is the fortified town of Palmanova (currently UNESCO World Heritage), which had been Austrian between 1815 and 1866, when it was returned to Italy. During the First World War, however, it became one of the most eastern outposts of Austria-Hungary. Just south of Palmanova lies Aquileia, a small city with a proud past as one of the main cities of the Roman Empire. Aquileia is one of the main archaeological sites in Italy and still attracts the crowds, although much less so that Rome, Ostia or Pompei. Just behind the Aquileia Cathedral, behind a 9th century campanile and apse, many soldiers of the First World War lie buried alongside the town’s saint, Hermagoras (who actually hails from Carinthia). The Cemetery of Heroes of Aquileia is noted site for several reasons, not least because it has maintained its original shape since 1915.


Figure. A cemetery of heroes, Aquileia.


The cemetery also holds the very first casualties of the wider region. Also, the Unknown Soldier buried at the Altar of the Fatherland in Rome left this cemetery in 1921. It was Don Celso Costantini, a local priest, who took care of providing a resting place to the fallen soldiers. A number of trees and plants were sent from Florence. Each modest tomb features an iron cross that is decorated with laurel and oak leaves. The crosses were created by sculptor Alberto Calligaris and donated by the association “Dante Alighieri”.


Figure. Oak and laurel leaves, Dulce et Decorum. Aquileia cemetery.


Each cross carries the name of the deceased and the words Dulce et decorum est pro Patria mori. [4] Much has been written on Owen’s inclusion of the phrase in his war poetry and how the old lie had indeed been exposed in his drafts (end of 1917 / early 1918), but the line is above all one from the Roman lyrical poet Horace’s Odes. At Aquileia no critique can be sensed, this is the ancient ode to the fallen.

On the back of the Cathedral wall, facing the soldiers, there is a quote by the other key Italian war poet Gabriele d’Annunzio that equally echoes the Dulce et Decorum of early war graves.


Figure. Inscription by Gabriele d’Annunzio at the back of Aquileia Cathedral.


O Aquileia, donna di tristezza, sovrana di dolore tu serbi le primizie

della forza nei tumuli di zolle all’ombra dei cipressi pensierosi.

Custodisci nell’erba i morti primi, una vergin ità di sangue sacro

e quasi un rifiorire di martirio che rinnovella in te la melodia

La madre chiama e in te comincia ilo canto. Nel profondo di te

comincia il canto l’inno comincia degli imperituri quando il

divino calice s’inalza. Trema a tutti i viventi il cuore in petto

Il sacrificio arde fra l’alpe e il mare.

O Aquileia, woman of sadness, sovereign of pain, you keep the first traces of force

in the turf mounds in the shadow of thoughtful cypresses.

Safeguard the first dead in the grass, a virginity of sacred blood

and almost a flourishing of martyrdom that renews the melody in you.

The mother calls and in you begins singing. Deep within you begins the song,

the hymn of the everlasting begins when the sacred chalice is raised.

The heart in the chest trembles to all the living

The sacrifice burns between the Alps and the sea.[5]


However, the cemetery also had a statue of a woman-like person, clearly mourning the dead, but also looking pitying. No clear identity of the statue and its sculptor was obtained by the time of writing/publishing online, but the cemetery and the statue sensibly echoed the language that supersedes the language of maps and territorial gain.


BandC7Figure. Mourning statues, Aquileia / Vladslo.


More on La Grande Guerra in Fruili-Venezia-Guilia via an interactive map on







[5] Draft translation, with many imperfections.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: