Sunday, April 5, 2020


There are some interesting studies on the Italian character of the "Venezia Giulia" (called sometimes "Iulian March" in English) according to Dante Alighieri. In fact we all know that Dante -the "father" of the Italian language- defined the eastern borders of Italy in the fourteenth century with this famous phrase in his 'Divina Commedia': "Carnaro ch’ Italia chiude e suoi termini bagna" (Carnaro that Italy closes and its borders bathes; free translation: the gulf of Carnaro in eastern Istria is the limit of Italy). And the southern borders of the Venezia Giulia region are defined by the Istria peninsula & the Carnaro (called also Quarnero) south of the city of Fiume (now officially called Rijeka, but only since 1918).
Map showing in dark green the areas actually populated by "Ladini" (called Ladins in English). In light green are those where the Ladins lived in the early Middle Ages, like the 'Venezia Giulia' east of Udine. 

Indeed officially the Kingdom of Italy's "Compartment of Venezia Giulia and Zara" (which in 1939 included 128 municipalities on a surface of 8,953 sq km and with a population of 977,000 inhabitants: data from the Atlante De Agostini Calendar, 1940) included Istria and the area north of Trieste and Fiume up to the mount Tricorno (called Triglav in Slovenian) in the Iulian Alps. In this "compartment" the southern half (the Istrian peninsula) of the 'Venezia Giulia' could have been divided from the northern half  (the Iulian Alps) by an imaginary line between Muggia (near Trieste) and Abbazia (near Fiume): after WW1 in Istria nearly 3/4 of the population was romance speaking, while in the northern half the slav presence was huge and the neolatins were concentrated in the coast and in the big coastal cities. The following map showed the ethnic percentages in this region in 1939:
Historically we all know that this region is at the center of an area that is the "point of contact" of the 3 main ethnic groups in Europe: the Neolatins, the Slavs and the Germans.....and so it is a place of many rivalries, fights and wars through the centuries since the fall of the Roman Empire.
In fact, the Ladins - at least until the early fourteenth century when Dante visited the area- were a considerable percentage of the population in the region around the Julian Alps and were probably the majority in the area that successively became Italian after World War 1.
Moreover, the region was fully Romanized during the Roman empire but the Slovenians (who are now the majority of the population in the 'Venezia Giulia') appeared - together with their allies/masters: the Avars - around the beginning of the seventh century in the area of the Roman Emona (a city today called Ljubljana). And since then - according to the few religious registers and writings of the time - all traces of the Romance populations that inhabited the city and its surrounding area in the centuries of the Roman Empire have disappeared. Subsequently the Slavs -after the "Black Plague" which enormously decimated in 1350 the autochthonous neo-Latin population of Venezia Giulia, especially around Postumia and Idria- gradually replaced/assimilated during the Renaissance most of the "Ladins" still living in the Julian Alps to the west of Emona.

Emona was the most eastern of the Italian cities of Roman Italy and everything suggests that the indigenous neolatin population was massacred (and in a small part forced to flee). So far, everything was related to the sad events of the barbarian invasions of those centuries: between wars and consequent related epidemics (such as the famous "Justinian Plague"), the population of the Alpine area was halved in a few decades (and there are even scholars who claim it fell to less than one quarter of the original total!).

This advance of the Slovenians, who were enemies of the Christians in those dark centuries, is deduced from the records of the "Metropolitan Church of Aquileia" on the decline and disappearance of its ancient dioceses (Emona, Celeia, Poetovio, Aguntum, Teurnia, Virunum, Scarabantia) in the current Central and Eastern Slovenia (read the interesting essay written in Slovenian or with a google translator
"Slovenian history: From prehistoric cultures to late Middle Ages" of Peter Stih ( ).

This Slovenian invasion did not stop in the Emona area - located in present-day central Slovenia - but continued (although to a lesser extent, which fortunately allowed the Romance populations to survive) towards north-eastern Italy, occupying over the centuries successive territories which will be called "Venezia Giulia" and "Eastern Friuli". Only in Istria they were stopped, as has been historically documented in the famous "Placito del Risano" of 804 AD. In fact there are testimonies of neolatin presences up to the year 1100 AD in the area of Postumia (actual ​​Postojna), Idria and the upper Isonzo river. In a nutshell, after the Charlemagne decades this Slovenian wave stopped around Mount Tricorno (called "Triglav" in Slovenian): in the east practically everything was Slovenian, but in the west it was only partially. The remains of this first Slovenian "push" can be found in the remaining Slavic populations of the Natisone area in eastern Friuli, where many words of their "Resian dialect" are Romance, testifying to the presence among them of many Romans since their arrival in the seventh/eighth century (and not massacred and suddenly "disappeared" as in the Emona area).
1930 Map of Italian Venezia Giulia, when it had been "redeemed" by Italian irredentists following WW1 victory (note that Carnaro is written "Quarnero")
The famous linguist Bartoli stated that the neolatin peoples (today called "Ladini") were the majority of the population of 'Venezia Giulia' until the year 1100 AD, when the Republic of Venice began to expand in the area. Obviously these calculations are not precise. In fact no one can say with total certainty whether in that year the Ladins were or not the majority in what became the Italian Venezia Giulia in the twentieth century, but certainly they were present in very large numbers. And this contrasts in an impacting way with the current absence of Romance populations north-east of Gorizia! Dante -when was in exile- visited the region at the beginning of the XIV century, but we are not sure about where he went and in which cities he spent some time. For sure we have that he received the inspiration to write the first verses of his masterpiece -the Divina Commedia- from the Postumia caves on the Julian Alps. Indeed, in northern Venezia Giulia, the small city of Tolmino was also known for having probably hosted Dante at the beginning of the XIV century, when the Italian poet visited the eastern borders of Italy and the Postumia caves (from which he drew inspiration for his "Gates of Inferno") . Dante himself on that occasion personally affirmed the Italian character of the Istria-Julian region, according to historian Francesco Lamendola. In fact in Tolmino and Postumia he found many inhabitants who spoke an "archaic Italian", similar to that of Udine, while in Istria he noted that the local dialect was similar to the one spoken in Venice. Lamendola also wrote (in his Italian essay that :

"...At the extreme north-east of Italy's peninsula/region there was the largest of the states, if we improperly we want to call them, of northern Italy: the "Patriarcato di Aquileia" ('Patriarchate of Aquileia'), created by Henry IV in 1077 to keep the control of the pass of the Eastern Alps with Ghibelline princes-bishops loyal to him and his successors. Friuli, which had been the seat of an important Lombard duchy and which had, with Berengario I, one of the first kings of Italy (in 888 AD; while in 915 he had even managed to gird the imperial crown) had a feudal Germanic class and, after the disastrous incursions of the Hungarians, it was partly repopulated by some Slavic colonists. At the time of Dante, that is between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the Italian ethnic element was slowly regaining the upper hand, after an eclipse lasting two or three centuries; while Udine had become, de facto if not de jure, the new capital of the patriarchs (after Aquileia and Cividale), a city that then knew, also thanks to the influx of Lombard and above all Tuscan merchants, an extraordinary economic and demographic expansion, attested among other things, from a famous novel by Boccaccio....the Patriacato constituted a remarkable entity: it ranged from the Livenza river (north of the Venice lagoon) to the Isonzo area and beyond; it included Cadore, Carnia, parts of Istria including Pola (lost in 1331 in favor of Venice) and -at least until 1295- Trieste itself (which in 1368 made an act of dedication to the Habsburgs to escape the inevitable Venetian conquest ).....The Croats, who had arrived in Istria not before the VI-VII century (after Illyrians, Romans, Ostrogoths, Ávars, Byzantines) never interrupted the continuity between the Italians of western Istria with those of Fiume & the Dalmatian islands of Cherso, Veglia and Lussino (where to this day older people still speak a Venetian dialect); and this is also an undeniable fact.....To the east of the patriarchate, the 'Contea di Gorizia' was nominally under the control of the patriarch...….This was the Patriarchate of Aquileia in the early 1300s, at the time, that is, of the exile of Dante Alighieri. A kind of world apart, very different from the other lordships of northern Italy; a world that is only partly Italian, dominated by German feudal lords, by patriarchs who were also German for a long time (especially during the Ghibelline period)...a world characterized by political aspects, including advanced ones, but inexorably undermined by a structural weakness: the extreme juridical-social backwardness of its peasant plebs, still largely reduced to the poor condition of serfs....It is possible that Dante..traveled in person to these places and listened with his own ears to that rustic accent (the ladin-friulan dialect) that had to hit him so much..."

The Patriarcato di Aquileia was completely conquered by the Republic of Venice in 1420, nearly one century after Dante visited it. But we are not sure where he went in this Patriarcate: many historians wrote that he was in Udine, Gorizia, Trieste, Pola, Tolmino and Postumia. However the city where we have the best sure evidence of a Dante's presence is Parenzo (in western Istria). The following is a translation of what Lamendola wrote about this presence of Dante in Parenzo: "...We have a written record of Dante, in Parenzo, dated, as we will see, in October 1308...…...Between the end of the 1200s and the beginning of the 1300s we have a substantial documentation about the presence of Tuscans, especially merchants and bankers, in the Istrian communities on the west coast: from Capodistria, to Isola, to Parenzo, to Pola (as they were numerous, in the same period, in the Patriarchate of Aquileia), giving a significant boost to the city's economic development. A certain number of these had to be made up of political exiles, such as Dante, and not only "white" (pro-emperor) but also "black" (pro-pope), given that in their communes of origin the situation of the two parties was constantly fluctuating.Often the common misfortune induced these exiles to put aside their ideological differences and to establish friendly relations, as Dante himself had done with the poet Cino da Pistoia, who was a Black man disbanded from his city for political reasons. Among the many evidence, particularly interesting for us, is that of a Tuscan Dante, whose presence is attested to Parenzo in a judicial document which bears the date of 4 October 1308.....This is a procedural sentence issued by the mayor of Parenzo, Andrea Michiel, against a certain Matteo di Giovanni Cortese, for illegal fishing in the waters of the bishopric; sentence that ordered the accused to pay a fine of one hundred dollars of small Venetian money. It was pronounced under the new Loggia del Comune; says the document, "presentibus dominis Dante tuscano habitatore Parentii" and an Antonio Peio, a remarkable personage who appears in numerous writings of Parenzo as a notary..........
Historical map of Friuli and Venezia Giulia in the Renaissance. There is to the east of Gorizia and Vipacco ("Vipao") the name "Piuca", the river of Postumia and its caves visited by Dante. It should be noted that after the "Black Plague" of 1350, the area remained depopulated so there are no villages on the map around Piuca (only "Scenasechie", the current Senosecchia): in fact, until Dante's time, the majority of the population around Postumia was "Romance" speaking, but the Plague decimated the region which was repopulated with many Slovenians (who became the area vast majority in the following centuries)
The question spontaneously arises if the "Dante tuscano" is precisely the poet Dante Alighieri. Well, there are several elements that would make you answer in the affirmative, and all of them agree with each other. First, the name Dante, which is a diminutive of Durante, was not very common in those days; second, in the Istrian documents of 1200 the adjective tuscanus undoubtedly indicated the Florentine origin; third, the term 'habitator' designated those who had only a temporary residence, and was used in contrast to 'civis', which qualified those who enjoyed full citizenship; fourth, the appellative dominus was reserved for people of noble or distinct origin (and Dante fell into both categories); fifth, the fact that the name of Dante is placed before that of Antonio Peio, a local notary and "big shot", means that he was a character worthy of the utmost respect...At this point, let's try to make a reasoning by exclusion, and ask ourselves if it is credible that a whole series of significant coincidences is purely accidental: that there was another Dante in Parenzo, in the same years in which the Alighieri was exiled and wandered in disparate places in northern Italy; that this other Dante was, like the Alighieri, Florentine; that he resided in the Istrian municipality only temporarily, and therefore was, like the poet, far from his homeland; that he was like him noble and of considerable social status, or both; that he was worthy, as the Alighieri would have been, to appear on the ruling of the mayor before an eminent citizen, he who was not a citizen. It should be concluded, it seems to us, that this second Dante should have been almost a duplicate of the first, a sort of product of parallel universes!....Such are the arguments with which the distinguished Istrian historian Camillo De Franceschi (Parenzo, 1868 - Trieste, 1953) believes he can confidently affirm that the Tuscan Dante and the Alighieri are the same person, arguments he presented in a trilogy dedicated to the presence of Dante in Istria. And just as convinced has been, in more recent years, another Dante scholar, Francesco Semi, in turn supporter of a thesis already advanced by Vidossich....."
Modern photo of the Postumia Caves, considered by many scholars to be the inspiration for the "Gate of Inferno" in Dante's Divine Comedy
Furthermore we have to pinpoint that Parenzo, the capital of venetian western Istria in the XIV century, is located not far away from the Postumia Caves. And if Dante lived temporarily in Parenzo, it is extremely probable that he went to visit (only 50 miles away!)  these famous caves, from where -according to many scholars- he got the inspiration to write the first verses of his "Divina Commedia" (when entering inside the 'Inferno'). Finally we have to remember that there it is another written document about the presence of Dante in Tolmino & Postumia, done by Jacopo da Valvasone  in the first half of the XVII century. But it is not well accepted by some scholars.

However the Dante's decription of the mount "Tambernicchi" near the Postumia caves, called now Monte Pomario (in Slovenian: Javornik), is extremely precise and could have been done so well only if he had seen it personally, according to Cesare Marchi in his famous book "Dante in esilio".