The Treccani dictionary gives the meaning of the nautical term ‘mandracchio’ as a “small, shielded stretch of water, such as a small harbour within a port, intended to shelter small boats”. The Hapsburg administration of the early 20th century excavated and developed Grado’s picturesque port-canal with its characteristic upside-down Y-shape and reinforced concrete barriers to protect against sea storms and the strong bora wind. This was first and foremost for the many fishing boats that, weather permitting, sailed along the canal to the lagoon and always provided fresh fish. Nowadays, Grado’s Fishermen’s Cooperative runs a busy “Zero Miles” project with an extremely popular fish market and the innovative seaside osteria, or tavern, right at the end of the Riva Dandolo. If we were to go back in time, however, we would find five canneries along the canal, processing and preserving sardines in oil. The first was founded towards the end of the 19th century by Carl Warhanek from Vienna, and others soon followed, one of which was owned by the French Food Preserves Company. The quantity and quality of production was surprising, but even more important was the employment it provided for approximately 200 people from the area. Two other companies and an ice factory were opened in subsequent years on the opposite side of the canal: optimising logistics was not just a modern prerogative! Today, pleasure craft, many of which flying a foreign flag, are moored along the aforementioned upside-down “Y” in the heart of Grado. Ancient tales tell of a ferryman who linked the opposite banks of the Mandracchio, and it is easy to imagine the busy port at the time of the Grado-Aquileia river line. This was inaugurated in the summer of 1888, and steamboats carried tourists to Grado from Belvedere, the terminal of the train line of the period from Vienna and Prague. Later, in 1924, a 1 hour and 45 minutes trip was advertised for tourists on various steamships linking Grado and Trieste. However, the most frequent connections were those of the ferries operating from the end of the Mosconi road before the swing bridge was built in the mid-1930s to complete the link between the mainland and the island. Once they had crossed the lagoon, the early Grado tourists were welcomed directly by the hotel and guesthouse doormen as they disembarked at the port: postcards of the time immortalised the exclusive hotels and fashionable cafes around the port. It’s easy to imagine how different the surrounding environment must have appeared before the various land reclamation and “infill” works were done. Here at the port, we find Grado’s umbilical cord, so to speak. It is an essential part of a walk down to the beach or to the maze of the historic town centre, or for going out to discover the lagoon and its unforgettable landscape. On the first Sunday morning in July there is a centuries-old local tradition, in which a procession of boats starts and returns to this point for the ‘Perdòn de Barbana’. The people of Grado really look forward to this event, which is a “must” for any tourists and visitors seeking a genuine local atmosphere. As part of the “Nativity Scenes in Grado” during the Christmas festivities, one of the most attractive nativity scenes is created on the water at this departure point for the not-to-be-missed tour of the various districts in Grado to admire a unique overview of the art of nativity scenes, combined with folk creativity and typical local imagination. And perhaps it was at this point that the musician Franco Battiato made the “Stop-off in Grado on Easter Sunday” immortalised in the song “Scalo a Grado” featured on his 1982 album L’Arca di Noè (Noah’s Ark).
At the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and following its cession to Italy after the First World War, a series of archaeological excavations were carried out in Grado, resulting in the identification of the Castrum. Recent investigations and detailed studies by the Office of Archaeological Heritage of Friuli Venezia Giulia made it possible to date its construction back to the first half of the 6th century AD. On the basis of mediaeval literary sources, however, some local expert historians believe it dates back as far as the early 5th century. The late antiquity fortified settlement stood out for its unusual “sandal sole” shape, and was built with impressive walls that were 9 to 10 Roman feet thick, or just under 3 metres. The foundations are at a depth of approximately 2.5 metres below today’s ground level, and parts of the walls can still be traced in some points of the picturesque, ancient town centre, covered over time by houses, courts (campi), squares (campielli) and alleys (calli). The town wall was made from small, even blocks of sandstone set with mortar. It was approximately 5-6 metres high, 360 metres long and 50 metres wide to the north and over 90 to the south. It appears to have had nine rectangular and polygonal towers, as can be made out in Campo Porta Nuova. Only traces remain of just two of the six city gates, in the east and southwest. The western boundary of the Castrum coincides precisely with today’s Piazza Duca d’Aosta and Via Gradenigo: in fact, the local name for the neighbourhood next to the former church of St. Rocco is “de fora”, meaning outside, whereas today’s Calle del Palazzo and Calle Lunga appear to follow the original axis inside the walls. Although its main purpose had naturally been that of defence, the construction of the fortified perimeter and the increased number of buildings inside the walls are signs of fundamental socioeconomic, political-military and, last but not least, religious changes. The definite development and rapid rise in importance of Gradus – hence its name, signifying a ‘step’, a ‘port of call’, a ‘landing place’ on the open sea – contributed to it becoming a true urban centre. This was the outcome of its main purpose to act as a river port for Aquileia, which had been founded in 181 BC with an immense river port, but was destroyed by Attila’s Huns in 452 AD. As a result of Attila’s destruction of the Roman metropolis, ancient Grado not only offered shelter to the fleeing population and clergy, but then became the seat of ecclesiastic power at the time, determined by the presence of the Bishop and subsequently that of the Patriarch of Aquileia. From a historic viewpoint, our island can be considered as the ‘daughter’ of Aquileia and to some extent the ‘mother’ of Venice. This was not merely because legend has it that once the inhabitants of Aquileia had settled in Grado, they went on to populate the islands of the lagoon as far as ‘Rivus Altus’, the original settlement of the future city of Venice, but also because Grado was the parent of the regional capital of Veneto from an ecclesiastic viewpoint. The splendour of the Patriarchs of Grado and their great power and extensive control over vast areas of the Upper Adriatic at the time of the Byzantine rule lasted until the latter’s decline. Venice then became a continually expanding religious centre, even though it remained under the Patriarch of Grado until the 12th century, when the Patriarch moved his residence there and only returned to Grado on special occasions. The papal bull of 1451 put an end to the tradition of Patriarchs in Grado and the figure of the Patriarch of Venice replaced them. In order to imagine a more vivid picture of the Castrum, we suggest you enter the impressive Basilica of Saint Eufemia and go up to the high altar: the modern floor mosaic below it gives a stylised, yet effective portrayal!
Basilica Santa Maria delle Grazie
Although smaller than the Basilica of St. Euphemia, Santa Maria delle Grazie is a church of no less importance and is part of the Early Christian itinerary around Grado. You may think it very plain from the outside, but it has a remarkable, symbolic, three-mullioned window at the top of the façade, with little columns and capitals dating back to Roman times. As one of the oldest buildings of Christian worship along the North Adriatic, this tiny basilica is an unusual building. Inside, you'll find some surprising details of considerable historic and artistic interest: in the apse, for example, which some experts attribute to Syrian influence. Furthermore, there is a surprising one metre drop between floor levels, which was restored in the 1920s: the two different levels of the central and right-hand nave effectively demonstrate the two different construction phases. Prior to these two churches, however, there used to be a rectangular room with a lime mortar and crushed tile floor, dating back to the late 4th century. This could have been the first place of Christian worship in ancient Grado. Mid 5th century, a proper basilica was built on the lower level. This church was abandoned for a while as a result of fire damage and was then absorbed into the splendid building built by the Patriarch Elias in the second half of the 6th century when the floor level was raised. Remains of the "intermediate" basilica can still be seen, such as the current, right-hand nave, where you can admire a beautiful piece of mosaic flooring with geometric patterns, large, stylised, four-petal flowers and inscriptions of benefactors’ names. A large part of the unusual, mullioned apse, the so-called throne, and the presbytery stone and marble chairs and bench also date back to the 5th century. Hydrogeological conditions were clearly very different in ancient times. However, if we consider the type of subsoil, it would have been unthinkable, if not impossible, to create underground crypts. So, similarly to the Basilica of Santa Eufemia, a "prothesis" and a "diaconicon" were built to the right and left of Santa Maria delle Grazie’s apse, that are unusually linked. These two tiny side rooms were used by worshippers to leave their offerings, and to prepare what was needed for ecclesiastic ceremonies and store the vestments and relics, respectively. The five columns, with beautiful, varied, reclaimed capitals on both the right and left-hand side, date back to the period of Elias. The altar is of the same period, whereas the enclosure was restored using some authentic and some new parts. Of special significance are the animals depicted, almost certainly the work of master lapidaries from Aquileia, who had moved to the Castrum of Grado. Nowadays, we may find it hard to instantly understand the doves, peacocks and lambs, whereas they were very common symbols in the past. A series of interior and exterior alterations were made to Santa Maria delle Grazie, especially in the Baroque period and then in the 19th century. This precious trove of art and architecture was restored several times during the 20th century to return it to its former glory by eliminating the various additions and underpinning the original structure. The four-sided portico attached to the façade, like the portico of the nearby Cathedral has been lost over time due to the various changes in taste. A reproduction of its perimeter has been marked on the outside floor. The relatively recent statue shows the church is dedicated to Santa Maria delle Grazie. Standing in the left-hand nave, it is very popular with local worshippers. "Cesa de le Grasie", also known as "de le femene", represents the importance of worshipping the person who traditionally symbolises the intercession between the human race and the divine.
Basilica di Santa Eufemia, battistero e lapidarium
The Basilica of Saint Euphemia dates back to the early Christian era. It's the hub of Grado's old town and a sense of contemplation pervades the large building and its precious works of art. Archaeological excavations at various epochs have discovered pre-existing places of worship on the site of the current basilica, including a room, which probably acted as a graveyard at the end of the 4th century and a basilica from the second half of the 5th century. The remains of both of them lie beneath the church consecrated by the Patriarch Elias in 579 and dedicated to Saint Euphemia, a martyr from Chalcedon under Diocletian and patron saint of Rovinj in Istria. The ancient town of Chalcedon is now a district in today's Istanbul. In 451, it hosted the great ecumenical Council held in the local basilica of St. Euphemia. The Cathedral in Grado was later dedicated to St Hermagoras and St Fortunatus, the first martyrs of Aquileia and patron saints of Friuli. Bricks and sandstone were used to build the original structure, which is visible from the outside after restoration in the mid 20th century removed almost all the most recent alterations. One existing example of the most obvious restoration work is the column standing in the centre of nearby Campo dei Patriarchi, surmounted by the unusual patriarchal cross. It was originally part of a four-sided portico with several columns, standing in front of the 6th century church. Inside the basilica are two rows of columns that form the three naves, built with materials reclaimed from various locations. Several types of marble were used at different times for both columns and their capitals, some of which are made in Aurisina limestone from the Trieste Karst Plateau. The extraordinarily beautiful mosaic floor dates back to the time of Elias. It was restored in the Post-World War II period with lighter coloured parts. It features inscriptions commemorating the benefactors and geometric, ornamental and symbolic patterns: the most common is the "pelte" decoration, a stylised reproduction of wave marks on the shore. The unusual Romanesque ambon with the symbols of the four evangelists at the bottom and surmounted by a small, almost Moorish dome stand out among the Mediaeval masterpieces inside St. Euphemia. The multicoloured frescoes of the apse vault and the exquisitely made, silver-gilt altar piece below date back to the fourteenth century. A presbytery enclosure reconstructed with authentic, sculpted parts surrounds the high altar and the 1950 mosaic floor depicting an idealised version of the ancient "Castrum" against the open sea and the lagoon. On each side are two "pastophoria", small rooms to hold the vestments, liturgical objects and, last but not least, the relics. At the back of the right-hand nave you can see the "Salutatorium" a charming space with a mosaic floor, where the Patriarch received the clergy: today it holds a copy of the so-called St. Mark's chair-reliquary, the original of which is in Venice. A modern corridor leads from this point to the "Lapidarium", a tiny oasis of peace at the back of the Cathedral apse: on display is a precious archaeological and artistic collection, which is not known well enough and definitely deserves a visit. The current chronological exhibition reveals the rich collection of lapidary work, consisting of numerous fragments of marble decorations, inscriptions, sarcophagi and capitals dating from the pagan period to the earliest Christianity, from the Byzantine to Mediaeval periods. Go back through the exhibition of archaeological finds and exit from the side of the Basilica into the open air where the Episcopal and Patriarchal residence once stood. The 15th century bell tower is topped by the weathervane of the Angel St. Michael, a gift from Venice and lovingly referred to by the people of Grado as the "Anzolo", with wings unfolded, its outstretched right arm and index finger point in the direction of the wind. The entrance to the Baptistery is on the other side of the Cathedral and although it has been repeatedly altered, it has kept its characteristic, octagonal shape and traces of a beautiful 6th century mosaic floor. Inside, the symbolic, hexagonal baptismal font continues to evoke the traditional baptism by immersion, even though it has been restored several times. Outside once again amidst Roman sarcophagi found in Hapsburg Grado in 1860, the unusual inscription on the largest sarcophagus, the tomb of a husband and wife who lived for many years "...SINE ULLA QUERELLA..." without every quarrelling, without complaining, will bring a smile to your face!
Piazza Biagio Marin and Basilica della Corte
Initially named Piazza della Corte and then Piazza Vittoria, this vast town square, stretching to the southern edge of Grado's historic centre, was renamed after Biagio Marin, a poet, writer and man of more than just local literature and culture. His birthplace stands next to the Basilica of Santa Maria delle Grazie, whereas his final home lies close to the sea, a regular theme in his poetry collections, written mainly in the dialect of Grado. Some tragic events marked his long life throughout the 20th century. He fought in the First World War and lost his son, Falco, during the Second World War. Today, his son is commemorated in the name of the island's library. Born in Grado under the Hapsburgs, Biagio Marin studied in Gorizia, Pisino and Vienna, which belonged to the Habsburg Empire, but also in Florence, and later worked successfully in the cultural environment Venezia Giulia, under the Kingdom of Italy. In the early 1920s, he taught in Gorizia using completely innovative methods for his time, which forced him to eventually leave the town. He then returned to his roots and became the longstanding director of the Seaside Resort Authority of the time, after which he lived for many years in Trieste where he took up teaching again. He was librarian for Assicurazioni Generali and helped found the local Cultural and Arts Circle, which later made him Honorary President. The University of Trieste awarded him an honorary degree for his literary work. He died at over ninety years on his "Golden Island", closing a controversial life made of criticism and clashes due to his bad temperament. Nevertheless, he also received prestigious literary awards throughout his life, and was appreciated and held in high esteem in the world of culture and the press. Among his supporters there was Pier Paolo Pasolini, whose tragic death was the subject of Biagio Marin’ book “El critoleo del corpo fracassao” ("The creaking of the shattered body"), and Claudio Magris, who paid him homage writing "I owe much of who I am to you" in a letter to Biagio Marin. But let's go back to the town square and turn our attention to the "House of Music". This building on the corner is one of the oldest in old Grado, built over the centuries on a stretch of the Castrum walls. Its name recalls when it was the town band’s headquarters under the Hapsburgs. After a full accurate restoration, it now hosts historic and artistic exhibitions and cultural events. The flooring before the "House of Music" shows the perimeter of the Early Christian octagonal baptistery of the old Basilica della Corte, the remains of which can be seen in the impressive excavation area occupying much of the square. There you can see the old wall structures, fragments of a mosaic floor and some sarcophagi in the area behind the ancient façade, which was once a cemetery. Like Santa Maria delle Grazie and Sant'Eufemia, this is a standard layout church with the altar in the east, where the sun rises and the entrance to the west, where it sets: symbolically, worshippers leave darkness behind them as they enter and walk towards the light of their faith. Grado's third basilica also went through different phases until it was destroyed, perhaps by fire, and was finally abandoned between the 8th and 9th century. Some experts believe the church and baptistery were dedicated to the Aryan cult for a certain period in antiquity. In the south-west corner of the square, where a block of flats now stands close to the seafront, there used to be a Napoleonic blockhouse. Its demolition in the early 20th century brought to light some Early Christian remains, whose excavation had already started under the Austrian Empire. It is interesting that the block of flats was built on the former "Pension Fortino", which belonged to the family of Josef Maria Auchentaller. This man was a famous Austrian artist and a member of the Vienna Secession, who helped bring fame to Grado as a tourist destination for Central Europe, as he lived and painted on the island and had famous acquaintances such as Otto Wagner, also a guest at the "Fortino". Lastly, on the north side of the square, in the area of the former presbytery, you'll find the Civic Museum, where the precious Cathedral Treasure is kept on display. It consists of some extraordinary gold pieces and rare masterpieces of sacred art dating back to the Early Christian and Early Middle Ages under the Grado patriarchate.
A sophisticated walk: the Art Nouveau Villas
Take a walk in the town centre in the area of today’s Via Carducci, Viale Dante and Viale Regina Elena, where you’ll find some striking buildings dating back to the recent Hapsburg era of Grado. As it was close to the capital of the empire and to the city-port of Trieste, by the end of the 19th century the Austro-Hungarian nobility and upper middle class already preferred the island to the tourist resorts of the Upper Adriatic for taking the waters and for bathing. It was declared a health resort in 1892 and villas were rapidly built, some of which changed from originally being holiday homes to becoming prestigious hotels. Other “small villas” no longer exist or have been transformed over the years. However, quite a few buildings were carefully preserved: the most representative of these was No. 7 in Via Carducci, the Villa Liberty, or “Art Nouveau Villa”, a private residence featuring various colours and the harmonious blend of numerous materials, typical of this architectural style. The unusual architectural features of this artistic movement included wood, cast iron, wrought iron, stained glass windows on the façades, portrayals of flowers or female figures with “whisk-like or fluttering dragonfly wing” lines (see Prof. Sergio Tavano) and wood decorations or coloured tiles beneath pitched roofs. This movement established itself under various names in different languages from the late 19th to the early 20th century. It broke away completely from academic tradition and radically renewed the artistic disciplines by becoming involved, for example, in the concept of “Total Art” (Gesamtkunstwerk) of the Vienna Secession Movement. In the buildings in Grado this trend also appears to partly follow the Carinthian lakeside architecture of Lake Wörth (Wörthersee Architektur). The “Ville Bianchi” complex, lying between the modern pedestrian area and the sea front, was built on the sand in the early 20th century, using materials transported on barges from Belvedere near Aquileia across the lagoon at the request of Leonhard Bianchi. The Baron, together with the Austrian government, subsidised the digging of the artesian well to provide the island with water and thus helped to modernise it. The Marina, Spiaggia, Onda, Stella Maris and Adria Villas showed the Bianchi family to be among the pioneers of the tourist trade in Grado: it remained a family business until 1978. Sold and recently restored with changes in management, the exclusive complex immersed in a green oasis has an unusual detail at the front: on the enclosure bordering the nearby beach, where the so-called “Imperial Gate” stands, the entry of that period, you can still make out Emperor Franz Joseph’s monogram (“FJ”) beneath the double-headed eagle! Today’s “Villa Reale” overlooks Viale Dante. It was completed in 1912 and initially was Hugo Anbelang’s private villa. In 1914, it was already on the list of the Health and Accommodation Board of the period as “Villa Imperiale”, with rooms to let. The owner was the nephew of Carl Warhanek, founder of the first cannery in Grado for processing and preserving sardines. Later, the villa was bought and turned into a hotel by the same family that has owned and run it since 1923. Villa Reale has maintained its impressive period features, but is updated with the standards of modern comfort expected nowadays and with a pleasant garden. Over the decades, it has hosted illustrious politicians and famous artists from the Austria-Hungary era to our times. Also overlooking the pedestrian avenue is “Villa Erica”, a romantic hotel since 1907 and, a stone’s throw away, you can admire the elegant “Villa Bernt”, a hotel since 1927. Both buildings have been given modern hotel comforts whilst preserving their fascinating period features: respectively, the more “imperial-royal” of the two has hosted tourists from all over Central Europe since the beginning of the last century, and the other has boasted an elite 1920s tourism, at the time when Art Deco was taking over from the Art Nouveau movement, of which Villa Bernt’s façade appears to be a forerunner.
Parco delle Rose
Grado has recently been awarded the coveted "National Seal of Quality - Town in Bloom" with as many as 4 gold flowers not only for the quality, care and backing given to its public parks and blooms, but also for the positive rating gained for its clean, orderly and sustainable environment. This prestigious recognition comes on top of those, which, over the years, have attracted attention to our island. These include the European gold medal at the 2011 Entente Florale Europe, followed by the silver medal at the world competition of Communities in Bloom. The 30,000 square metre Parco delle Rose is truly the green lung of our island town. Its creation in the mid 1920s was inspired by Biagio Marin, whose poetry brought literary fame to the island. A monument was inaugurated within the park, to commemorate the birth of the poet from Grado one hundred years ago. When work began on Parco delle Rose, Biagio Marin was Director of the local company, Azienda Balneare, and although opposition was fierce, he went against the tide and defied the threat of an appeal against the Park's creation. A downsized project was eventually completed to offer cool shade from the nearby shore with its increasing number of facilities. So, this extraordinarily beautiful, green area links Grado's town centre from the main beach entrance as far as the Thermal Baths and Palazzo Regionale dei Congressi. It offers pleasant walks and the opportunity for various types of physical exercise, not forgetting children's play areas and places for refreshments. The plan is to plant 150 different varieties of roses. However, the homonymous park also has palm trees, maritime pines, evergreen magnolias, and other mature trees and bushes, all well kept and maintained throughout the year by municipal workers with the help of seasonal support staff. Landscape conservation is never-ending and there are always projects and improvements on the go for new flowerbeds and plants along the paths, and various displays and architectural works. Let's not forget the planting of the thornless cabbage rose "Maria Teresa", dating back to the 18th-19th centuries and recently rediscovered by an expert aficionado amongst the brambles of the old Grado railway station at Belvedere, as well as the restyling of the open-air events arena and the general park upgrade, all focusing on eco-sustainability. However, Grado can also guarantee guests have additional green areas, including the Pineta, and others where trees have been planted in memory of worthy citizens of Grado or to commemorate deceased loved ones. Furthermore, examples of impressive topiary sculptures can be found at various points on the island. Our increasingly numerous roundabouts are refined by beautiful, ever-changing floral compositions according to the season, and the regular, themed markets held in our "historic" public parks add to the fascination. You'll find a very unusual modern fountain in the gardens of Giardini Marchesan between Viale Dante and Viale Regina, on the spot where there used to be a much-loved children's skating rink in the 1960s and 70s. Another park, the Giardini Oransz, holds sad memories of the tragic death of Doctor Moritz Oransz and his wife Sofia, benefactors and pioneers of tourism in Grado in the early 20th century. Sadly, they were deported during the Nazi occupation, first to Trieste and then to Auschwitz, where they died on arrival. A commemorative plaque was laid beneath the trees at the bottom of Viale Europa Unita, in the area towards Via Mazzini, in memory of this husband and wife. The Oransz not only used their Care Home/Hotel "Alla Salute" to help the community, but they also contributed to making the town’s healing properties well known and appreciated. Thus, our grateful remembrance lives on in this green space close to the sea and the beach, despite their tragic end and the insane madness of a painful period of our recent history.
Palazzo dei congressi
Compared to its "competitor" beaches, Grado has always enjoyed a longer tourist season, thanks to the excellent facilities offered by its Marine Thermal Baths and its renowned, artistic attractions in the picturesque, historic town centre. Furthermore, nature lovers find our island’s extraordinarily beautiful lagoon and the numerous sports activities on offer, including golf, sailing and canoeing, particularly irresistible out of season. The network of bike-friendly tracks and cycleways allow bike aficionados to discover inland areas. Last but not least, Grado is absolutely delightful in spring or autumn, even just for a walk along the sea wall known as the "dam" and along the seashore, whereas fish foodies come to the island all year round. Grado, together with Barbana, is a destination for pilgrimages and religious tourism, but it also provides hotel accommodation for educational tourism and its congress centre adds further tourist opportunities. Some of Grado's top hotels have their own conference halls. However, the Palazzo Regionale dei Congressi has been vital in the development of this specific sector. The Centre was designed and built by Studio Architetti Avon e Associati in Udine in 1980, using public funds. It stands between the thermal baths and the Parco delle Rose. Its surface area of over 2,000 square metres holds not only an auditorium with over 1,000 seats, but also some smaller halls. The architects Gianni Avon and Marco Zanuso were well aware at the time that functional, modular spaces were essential for a congress centre. The style reflects the typical, architectural features of the late 70s and early 80s and the construction techniques immediately incorporated the anti-seismic standards established during the reconstruction of Friuli following the 1976 earthquake. The great historian and architecture critic, Bruno Zevi, was one of the first to appreciate our Palazzo dei Congressi, as his positive review of 1980 showed, and we'll try to explain why: the choice of volumes was based on a 45 metre-sided square, on which stand two more squares, one of which has been rotated and the other is parallel. The spaces of the large, interior structure are just as dynamic. White, visible cement with diagonal scorings or grooves was used to give an overall effect of ever-changing chiaroscuro, depending on the light outside. A grid pattern of grey graniglia tiles was used as the only colour concession to create a sort of gap between the top of the building and the sky. The large foyer can only be accessed from the grand floor portico. Zevi gave his unconditional approval of the solutions used for the areas intended for different activities and functions: from the admin office to the cloakroom, from the bar to the exhibition areas, and the practical, aesthetically pleasing furnishings. Grado's Palazzo dei Congressi operates using modern plant engineering and hosts mainly local and international congresses, including the "Giornate Mediche” or “Ärzte-Tage", which attract scholars and those working in the medical sector from German-speaking countries and also various exhibitions and cultural events, concerts and theatre performances. Lastly, the area surrounding the Palazzo is beautifully landscaped with tennis courts run by Grado's Tennis Club along one side, whereas the Thermal Baths and the beach are just a stone's throw away. All this makes Grado a particularly attractive conference centre and its diversified area is the ideal starting point for additional events and trips to complete the tourist-congress offer.
A ferry service connects Barbana and Grado, with more frequent crossings in spring and summer. Private pleasure boats will also take you in approximately 20 minutes to this tiny, 3-hectare island, set amidst the lagoon's peaceful, natural beauty east of Grado. A top destination for pilgrims, Barbana hosts one of the first Marian sanctuaries, the origins of which date back to the late 6th century, when it appears there was still a strip of land joining the mainland. In fact, it was only referred to as an island in a papal document of 734. History and legend tell the story of a violent sea storm, which left an image of the Madonna on an elm tree on the shore. This icon or statue was found by the hermit Barbano from ancient Treviso. The Patriarch at the time, Elias, ordered a church to be built nearby and once a monastery had been added, Barbano, after whom the island was named, became its prior. The Benedictines were custodians of the sanctuary for a long time, followed by the Order of Conventual Franciscan Friars, with alternating fortunes, such as Venice’s suppression of the convent in the late 18th century. In recent times, the Friars Minor remained until 2019, and it is now home to Benedictine monks of Brazil's Benedictine Congregation, who founded the Monastery of Santa Maria di Barbana in 2020 with the motto: "ORA ET LABORA". The current church was rebuilt in the early 20th century in the neo-Romanesque style with vaguely oriental features. The bell tower stands a little short of 50 metres tall and was inaugurated at the end of the 20s. Today's bells were made by melting down German, Second World War cannons to represent peace. Inside stands an unusual holy water stoup made of red marble from Verona, which portrays the devil crushed by the weight of a large shell containing holy water. The structure is divided into three naves with a wooden ceiling in the shape of an upside-down ship's hull: this shape, found in several churches built along the model of the magnificent Patriarchal Basilica in Aquileia, is said to represent Noah's Ark as a symbol of salvation and protection. Frescoes of the late 30s decorate the hundreds of square metres of the dome with Marian scenes depicting the Sanctuary's origins. The much adored, wooden statue represents Mary as Mother with Baby Jesus on her knee and as Queen on the throne and is the work of an unknown sculptor, dating back possibly to the early 16th century. It is carried in a procession through the island on 15 August and 8 September to mark the Assumption and the Birth of the Blessed Virgin, respectively. The most famous procession is the traditional "Perdòn” on the first Sunday in July, to commemorate the ancient vow of Grado’s inhabitants to save them from the plague of 1237: the statue of Madonna degli Angeli of the Basilica of St. Euphemia is carried from Grado to Barbana by a boat bedecked with flags and decorated with flowers, followed by a multitude of islanders' and tourist boats across the water. After celebrating mass on the smaller island, the religious procession returns to the larger island and each time it passes, the swingbridge between Grado and the lagoon road towards Aquileia is opened. The “Sabo Grande" festivities are held the Saturday before the procession, with music, traditional songs and toasts, especially in Grado's old town centre. The Sanctuary preserves a number of different votive offerings, bearing witness to the centuries-old Marian worship by the people of both land and sea. Today, the church displays silver hearts. The apothecary of the complex holds the Sala Ex-Voti, with collections of objects donated by worshippers and votive images with the typical abbreviation P.G.R., in thanks for favours received from people recovering from serious illnesses or to give thanks for lives saved after accidents, fires and natural disasters. In the mid-19th century, the Cappella dell'Apparizione, surrounded by a tiny, charming cemetery, was built close to the Sanctuary in honour of the tenet of the Immaculate Conception. At the time of ancient Aquileia and Gradus, Barbana used to be a Lazaret to quarantine those with infectious diseases, nowadays however, the monastic hospitality of the "Domus Mariae” offers a place of spiritual peace and reflection.