Portogruaro, also known as the “Little Venice on the mainland” is an elegant town less than thirty kilometres from Bibione beach, where you can spend a pleasant day walking along the arcades of the old Middle Ages and Renaissance buildings, go shopping in the elegant shops in the city centre or among stands of a traditional, centuries-old market, take a break and have lunch along the river or discover the hidden frescoes in the old churches.
Renaissance buildings, designer shops and weekly market along Corso dei Martiri
Originally Portogruaro’s walls were broken up by arched gates, corresponding to the entrances to the city: Borgo San Nicolò and Borgo San Gottardo in the North, in the South, Borgo Sant’Agnese and Borgo San Giovanni.
After having parked your car near the old hospital (Ospedale Vecchio) or in one of the many parking areas, which allow you to enjoy the historic city centre on foot, we can start our excursion in the town, founded in the 12th century and developed around the Lemene river.
Along the river you can admire the facades of the centuries-old buildings: their different architectural styles, from the Romanesque to the Gothic-Venetian, reflect a history completely linked to the “Most Serene Republic of Venice”.
Passing the city door, we reach Corso dei Martiri della Libertà: under the arches of the long, charming arcades there are chic and trendy shops along with many historical cafes inside the elegant Renaissance buildings with a Venetian flair.
The famous writer Ippolito Nievo (1831-1861) – who included Portogruaro in his “Confessioni di un Italiano”, one of the major European novels of the 18th century – used to look out of the windows of Palazzo Fratto over Corso Martiri, watching the townspeople strolling by. This hustle and bustle of people still continues nowadays.
The lively street fills with people at the weekends, especially in the afternoon and on Thursday, market day, with stands going as far as the central Piazza della Repubblica. Proof of the centuries-old market tradition can be seen in the grooves remaining in the columns of the arcade, into which the wooden market stalls were set.
Standing on the square is the 14th century Palazzo del Municipio (Town Hall), with its original Ghibelline swallowtail battlements, topped by a bell that rang in the past to announce the calling of the town council.
Under the loggia, close to the river, there is a wooden oratory dedicated to the Virgin Mary, built by the fishermen of Caorle in the 17th century.
In the shadow of the ancient bell town
Corso dei Martiri also leads you to the Cathedral dedicated to the St. Andrew the Apostole.
The church we see now is not the original medieval one, but a reconstruction from 1883; inside there are still some precious altar pieces from the 14th, 17th and 18th centuries, in the small square next to the Cathedral stands the Bell Tower.
Its tilt is caused by the partial settling of the foundations, similarly to what happened to the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
The visible part of the bell tower is the sum of work done on many occasions, starting from the 14th century, which have brought the tower to its current height.
The best city view: the bridge among the mills
The old Church of Saint Andrew, oriented towards the opposite side of the Cathedral, was ideally connected to Via Roma, which lead directly to the apse of the building.
This small, entirely pedestrian street, has both a logistic and symbolic meaning for Portogruaro, linking the opposite banks of the Lemene river.
From there, immersed in the rippling sound of water and in the shadow of the willows, you can admire two tiled-roof buildings, standing symmetrically at the centre of Lemene: they are two 13th century mills – once owned by the bishop of Concordia – where wheat was ground after arriving in town by boat.
Today the mills are the seat of the Municipal Contemporary Art Gallery.
The museum road
Turning left at the end of Via Roma, we go along Via Seminario, and find ourselves in front of the most important building for the history of Portogruaro, the Villa Comunale (1543-1550), which stands out among all the other buildings in town for the scenic effect of the loggia on the second floor.
The villa’s park – which links the historical centre to the 500-car parking area by the bus station – is the heart of the town.
After about one hundred meters, at number 26, you can see the red -brick neo-Gothic facade of the Museo Nazionale Concordiese (National Museum of Concordia), where same extraordinary archaeological findings from the excavations in the nearby former Roman colony of Concordia Sagittaria have been held since the late 19th century.
A few steps farther down, on the same side of the street, you will find the long arcade supported by Doric columns.
At the end of the arcade we find the entry of the Collegio Marconi, a large monumental building from the 11th century, which since 1704 has been a diocesan seminary, where famous people such as Mozart’s librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte (1749-1838) taught.
Our walk continues beyond the intersection, along the arcades of Via Cavour, up to the old gate and the Torre di Sant’Agnese (Saint Agnese Tower), one of the oldest medieval structures in Portogruaro, which in 1999 became the City Museum.
Portogruaro, a city of gates and rivers: Borgo San Giovanni
In front of the Porta Sant’Agnese (Saint Agnese Gate), we turn left onto Via del Rastrello, to get back to the starting point of our walk: Borgo San Giovanni, where the first storehouse of Portogruaro (13th century) far the salt business was built; today no concrete evidence of it is left, but following the route across the lane of Palazzo Bergamo-Pari (14th century), used as a storehouse, we can admire the precious frescoes on the many displays of art in this big little “Little Venice on the mainland”.