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Today, we’ll visit two of Udine’s best-known museums: the Civici Musei and the Museo Diocesano. The Civici Musei, or “civic museums,” are located inside the Castello di Udine, reachable via a pretty cobblestone path that winds up the hill from Piazza della Libertà. After the original fortress was demolished in a 1511 earthquake, construction began on the current castle in 1517. Throughout the centuries, the Castello has been home to the patriarch of Aquileia as well as the Venetian military.

The castle’s museum complex contains four museums—Museum of Archeology, Gallery of Ancient Art, Gallery of Design and Printing, and Friulian Museum of Photography—as well as a rotating temporary exhibition. On my visit in 2002, the temporary archeological exhibit, called Roma sul Dannobio, featured ancient Roman artifacts from the area that stretches from Aquileia to Carnuntum (the Roman camp located on the Danube River between Vienna and Bratislava).

On the second floor, the Gallery of Ancient Art contains a collection of 14th- to 19th-century paintings by such artists as Carpaccio, Pellegrino da San Daniele, Ghirlandaio, and most notably, Tiepolo. Floor-to-ceiling paintings by Giovanni da Udine (a protégé of Raphael) cover the grand hall dubbed Il Salone. The third floor houses the final two museums. The Gallery of Design and Printing includes sketches of Udine and its environs. The Friulian Museum of Photography contains a collection of local photos from the 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as an old-fashioned studio camera and a few pieces of photography equipment from this era. I found the photographs of Venice, Udine, and other regional towns to be particularly intriguing. Even though the pictures were taken over a century ago, the center of Udine looks much the same today—although the horses and buggies have now been replaced by cars and buses. Some later photos show early model cars in Piazza Primo Maggio and an electric tram in Piazza della Libertà.

Behind the Castello, a large, circular, grassy piazza looks down over the even larger, circular Piazza Primo Maggio. In the distance rise the snow-capped peaks of the Carnian Alps. It is just a short walk down the hill to the Museo Diocesano. If you enjoy elegant palaces and Baroque grandeur, this museum is not to be missed.

The Diocesan Museum (officially called the Museo Diocesano e Gallerie del Tiepolo) is housed in the Palazzo Patriarcale, home to the patriarch of Aquileia from the 16th to the 18th century. Known primarily for its Tiepolo Galleries, the museum contains Udine’s largest group of works by this 18th-century painter. Although this was not a guided visit, one of the staff led me through the first couple of rooms and then loaned me a beautiful guidebook to peruse. (They were not busy, and I got the feeling they don’t see many American visitors.) As I entered, I was struck by the Tiepolo fresco on the ceiling above the monumental staircase. Following an exhibit of wooden sculptures, I made my way through a series of outstanding halls: the Guests’ Gallery, lavishly decorated with Tiepolo frescoes; the Red Room, also called the Court Room, with red brocade walls and another Tiepolo fresco on the ceiling; the Throne Room, also called the Portraits Room, filled with portraits of the patriarchs of Aquileia; the Yellow Room, with its intricate, white stucco work; the Patriarchal Library, which contains around 10,000 books; the Palatine Chapel; and my favorite, the Blue Room, with blue brocade walls and a ceiling decorated with colorful “grotesques” by Giovanni da Udine.

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