History of Grado


See Grado guide for highlights and historic monuments

Grado is a small island in the Adriatic Sea, about four leagues to the south of Aquileia. The story of the emergence of Grado was told to us by Paul the Deacon (720-799 AD), who, after saying that “non longe ab Aquileia Gradus Insula est” (“The island of Grado is located not far from Aquileia”), continues:

“[...] Bishop Paul, fearing the wrath of the Longobards, escaped from Aquileia to the island of Grado, carrying the treasure of his church” [1].

Grado, therefore, originated with the arrival of some inhabitants of Aquileia, terrified by the invasions of barbarians and who sought refuge in the Venetian lagoons - so the birth of Grado is similar to that of Venice.

Roman Grado

The town of Grado is of Roman origin and Gradus, in fact, was the first port of call for vessels coming up the river "Natissa" to Aquileia, the most important city of the East Roman Empire.

At first it was a “Castrum”, with a city wall of rectangular shape that corresponds to today's Old Town; then, because of the barbarian invasions, it became the permanent residence for populations from the hinterland seeking refuge from Attila (452).

In 568, before the Lombard invasion, the Archbishop of Aquileia, as Paul the Deacon tells us, transferred the Bishop's see away from Grado, setting up as "Venetiarum et Histriae Patriarch" ("Patriarch of 'Venetia' and Istria '), but the Patriarchate remained at Aquileia.

Patriarch Elias completed the construction of the Cathedral in the 6th century and embellished the little village with houses of worship, reinforcing the importance of the patriarchal chair of Grado but also coming into conflict with Aquileia, supported by the Lombard dukes - the disagreements between the two cities were accentuated by the proclamation of the Patriarchate of Grado.

The city was, therefore, the religious capital of an area that went from Istria to Chioggia, and it also had great commercial and artistic economic development; until 1451 it was the Metropolitan capital of all the churches in coastal cities, including Venice, over which Grado exerted a constant and long influence.

With the abolition of the Patriarchate in the 15th century, and the rising power of Venice, Grado lost its importance, and the only economic activity was concentrated in fisheries.

After the “Campoformido” Treaty of 1797, Grado passed to Austria and, except for a short domain by the French under Napoleon, it remained with them until in 1918 it returned to Italy

During the 19th century the city began its economic revival, thanks to its tourist function. In 1892 it became the official station of care of the Habsburg Empire. In the twentieth century Grado strengthened its importance as a tourist centre of excellence, largely because of its beaches.

Origins of the name Grado

It seems that in Roman times it was a big "Vicus" or township, called “Gradus” for the marble steps built for the convenience of those who climbed and descended to and from their from ships. In fact, according to an etymology which today enjoys considerable credibility, the city's name derives from the Latin word “gradus”, meaning "step". The meaning we give to the term "step" has been convincingly explained by L. Bosio, who writes that the name of Grado derives from

"[....] 'gradus', which, as Uggeri tells us (1968, p. 235) indicates the mouth, the transition between two different waters, as from the sea to a river or a lagoon, and more specifically a port call at the mouth of a river or entrance to a lagoon [...]" [2].

Therefore, the etymology of "Gradus" should be interpreted as a "port city".

In fact, as mentioned above, the original Grado was part of the port system of Aquileia, as a first port of call for ships from the Adriatic, which had to go up the river “Natisone” to arrive at Aquileia. Anyway, contemporary studies confirm the hypothesis of "Gradus" as "port city" and as we read in “Grado nella Storia e nell'Arte”:

[...] As regards the etymology there are no doubts: it derives from the Latin common noun 'Gradus', meaning ‘port’ [...]" [3].

Please also see Grado if planning a visit.

References

1. See, G. Bovini, “Grado Paleocristiana” [“Early Christian Grado”], Patron, 1973: 2, 8

2. See L. Bosio, “Le strade Romane della Venetia e dell'Istria” ["The Roman roads of Venetia and Istria"] , Programma, 1991: 249

3. “Grado nella Storia e nell'Arte” ["Grado in History and Art] (Arti Grafiche Friulane, 1980: 525)