europe quick trips

Evidence of devastation remains in Italian city of Gemona

The castle dominates the skyline of the city of Gemona, Italy, though nearby mountains dwarf the castle itself.


By KENT HARRIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 28, 2017

By Italian standards, 1976 wasn’t all that long ago. People have lived in places such as Gemona, Italy, for thousands of years.

But a couple of months before Americans were celebrating our bicentennial that year, this city in northeastern Italy was in ruins after an earthquake that killed more than 300 people.

The magnitude 6.4 earthquake leveled hundreds of buildings in Gemona and the surrounding area. More than 900 people were killed.

Today, evidence of the devastation remains. A museum in the old town near the castle and cathedral has a permanent exhibit on the subject, with a film that plays continuously. The film is in Italian; information panels are in English and several other languages.

One church down the street was not rebuilt; all that’s left is the bottom of its exterior. The cathedral stands in the opposite direction; elements of it date to 1290. Today, it’s interesting both on the outside for its statuary and in the dark interior for some stained glass and wall mosaics that have mostly disappeared over the centuries.

The castle — parts of which date to a few hundred years before the cathedral — is built atop a hill and towers over the rest of the city. Its tower is closed for renovation, but a short, steep walk up to the ramparts provide sweeping views of the city and surrounding area.

The city itself is built on a large slope at the base of rocky mountains, with the older parts closest to the mountains and above the newer parts below. The modern train station is half a dozen blocks below the oldest parts of the city.

If work goes according to plan on a rail line connecting Maniago to Gemona, servicemembers at Aviano — many of whom were born after the earthquake hit — will be able to take a direct train to Gemona by the end of 2018.



Gemona, Italy

The quickest way to reach Gemona from Aviano Air Base is to get on the A28 (toward Venice), change to the A4 (toward Trieste) and change from there to the A23 (toward Austria). Take the first exit after Udine. This route takes a bit less than an hour and costs about 7.10 euros in tolls (about $8.40). There are a few other ways, including using the SS-13 for the most of the trip or going north through Spilimbergo. By the end of 2018, it should be possible to take a train from Aviano on a line that’s currently being repaired.

The walkway up the castle is open during daylight hours. The cathedral is open daily from 8 a.m. to noon and 2-5 p.m., though you might be able to get in during lunch if a recent visit is any indication.

The lot below the castle is free, so if you take back roads and visit places such as the earthquake museum, the cathedral and the castle, your only expense is gasoline.
Austria and Slovenia are less than an hour away, so there are a variety of possibilities besides Italian eateries. Many restaurants in the historic area were closed for lunch during a recent visit, possibly because of the small number of visitors this time of year.

The helpful tourist office is located at Via Bini 9, just a few feet from one of the routes to the castle and the earthquake museum. English is spoken, and you’ll find a lot of brochures about Gemona and other regional points of interest. Free audio guides are available for 90-minute walks around the old city. Phone: (+39) (0) 432-981-441, website: www.gemonaturismo.com (in Italian).

The interior of the cathedral in Gemona, Italy, is often dark, even when it's sunny and cloud-free outside.

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