Though it reluctantly yielded the title to Trieste in the ‘50s, Udine is the historical capital of the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The city’s culture is colored by both its proximity to Eastern Europe and its storied history of conquest.
Udine is a hill town in northeastern Italy smack in the middle of Friuli. Just a short drive from the Slovenian border, Udine is between the Adriatic Sea and the Alpine foothills. It is the largest city on the Friuli side of the region.
According to Hungarian legend, Attila the Hun conquered Udine in the year 452 and commanded his soldiers to build there a hill from which he could see the burning of the Aquileia, some 40 kilometers to the south. (Unsurprisingly, this story cannot be corroborated by historical record.) In the 15th Century, Udine was conquered by the Republic of Venice and was under Venetian rule for nearly 400 years until the late 18th Century.
The historical city center is primarily medieval and Renaissance. Spacious streets are dotted with open-air cafés, harkening back to the period of Austrian rule during the 19th Century.
Udine is particularly noteworthy as the home of many masterworks of Giambattista Tiepolo. In the 1720s, Tiepolo was summoned to Udine by the local benefactor Dionisio Delfino. The work he created there— which is now distributed in palaces and churches around town— skyrocketed the artist to stardom. The Gothic Duomo and the Museo Diocesano are prime attractions for Tiepolo fans.
It would be criminal to visit the region without a trip to a prosciutificio (prosciutto factory) in the little town of San Daniele northwest of Udine. San Daniele hams are among the best of Italian prosciutti, and after touring one of the factories there are a number of small osterie in San Daniele where you can sample a wood paddle full of prosciutto à mano (cut by hand), complemented by a caraffe of tocai friulano.