Venetian Slovenia

Family Roots

In the early 1900's some of our ancestors immigrated to the United States of America from Venetian Slovenia (Slovene: Beneška Slovenija). They were ethnic Slovenes from the villages that were annexed to the Kingdom of Italy in 1866, and are now part of Italy. These villages are located along the border with Slovenia. For example, the Codarmaz family traces its roots to the village of Codromaz (Slovene: Kodermacj, Kodermaci) and the Durjavič (Italian: Duriavig) family - to the village of Tribil Inferiore (Slovene: Dolenji Tarbij).

The village of Topolo in the municipality of Grimacco, Venetian Slovenia

Venetian Slovenia (Italian: Slavia Veneta, Slavia Friulana or Slavia Italiana, Slovene: Beneška Slovenija) is a small mountainous region in northeastern Italy and northwestern Slovenia. Most of the region is located in the Italian region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, in the area between the towns of Cividale del Friuli (Slovene: Čedad), Tarcento (Slovene: Čenta) and Gemona (Slovene: Humin) along the border with Slovenia. It is part of the Province of Udine in the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia and it is inhabited by a significant Slovene minority. A small part of the region is located in the Kobarid municipality in Slovenia, in the mountainous area around the villages of Breginj (Italian: Bergogna) and Livek (Italian: Luico).


It comprises the municipalities of San Pietro al Natisone (Slovene: Špeter Slovenov)San Leonardo (Slovene: Sveti Lenart)Pulfero (Slovene: Podbonesec)Drenchia (Slovene: Dreka)Grimacco (Slovene: Grmek)Stregna (Slovene: Srednje)Savogna (Slovene: Sovodnje)Lusevera (Slovene: Bardo)Taipana (Slovene: Tipana)Torreano (Slovene: Tavorjana)Resia (Slovene: Rezija) and the mountainous areas of the municipalities of Tarcento (Slovene: Čenta)Nimis (Slovene: Neme)Attimis (Slovene: Ahten)Faedis (Slovene: Fojda)Prepotto (Slovene: Prapotno) and Montenars (Slovene: Gorjani). Parts of the municipality of Cividale del Friuli are also included.


The villages of Breginj, Logje, Sedlo, Kobarid, Borjana, Robidišče, Homec, Stanovišče, Podbela, Livek and Livške Ravne in the municipality of Kobarid are also part of the historical region of Venetian Slovenia; they were however not annexed to the Kingdom of Italy in 1866, and are now part of the Republic of Slovenia.


The English denomination "Venetian Slovenia" is a translation of the traditional Slovene name for the region. The adjective "Venetian" refers to the Republic of Venice, which held the area when the name was coined. In the 15th century, the Venetian authorities dubbed this border region of their Republic as Schiavonia Veneta, meaning "Venetian Slav-land". The Venetian words Schiavoni and Schiavonia were general terms used for all South Slavic peoples with which they came in direct contact, Slovenes as well as for Croats and Serbs from Dalmatia. In the local Slovene dialects, the term has been literally translated as Beneška Slovenija 'Venetian Slovenia'. This name has been in use for almost six centuries, but it has no connection to the modern concept of Slovenia as a polity of the Slovenes, which emerged only with Romantic nationalism in the 1840s.


In modern Italian, the region is most commonly known as Slavia Veneta. In the late 19th and early 20th century the term Slavia Italiana was also used. In recent decades, there is a tendency to replace the name Slavia Veneta with Slavia Friuliana, emphasizing its belonging to the traditional Friuli region. Many locals prefer to simply call it Benecìa, which is also used by most of the local media. The latter denomination comes from the Slovene word Benečija, a very common alternative name for Venetian Slovenia, but avoided in written and official use in order to avoid confusion because it is also the Slovene name for the Italian Veneto region.


Early Periods of Local Self-Government


Slavic tribes settled the area in the late 6th century A.D. They settled on the border of the Lombard Kingdom, which comprised most of Northern Italy. Paulus Diaconus, a Lombard historian at the court of Charlemagne, mentioned the local Slavs from the region in his magnum opus Historia Langobardorum. In the first two centuries, the Slavs were organized in independent communities. In the 9th century they were incorporated into the Frankish Empire, and they were Christianized by missionaries from Aquileia, then one of the most important centers of the Roman Catholic Church in Northern Italy.


From the 9th century onward, the region belonged first to the Duchy of Friuli and later to the Patriarchate of Aquileia. After the dissolution of the Patriatchal State in 1420, the whole region was included in the Republic of Venice. The Venetian authorities gave the local Slovenes full internal autonomy, on the condition that they would serve as border guards against the neighbouring Habsburg Empire. The local autonomy was practiced in small rural boroughs (called sosednje), which were in their turn organized into two large communities (banke), one in San Pietro degli Slavi (Slovene: Špeter Slovenov) and the other in San Leonardo (Slovene: Šent Lenart). These self-governing boroughs had full authority over fiscal, legislative and judicial matters in their respective areas.

The sanctuary of Castelmonte (Slovene: Stara Gora) has been the most important religious center of Slavia Veneta since the 11th century

The Napoleonic and Austrian Rule


In 1797, most of the Venetian Republic was annexed to the Habsburg Empire, including Slavia Veneta. The Habsburg authorities abolished the ancient privileges of the local Slovene populations, as they had already done with a similar system of autonomy in neighboring Tolmin County in 1717. In 1805, the region was submitted to the Napoleonic rule, which did not restore the privileges, but replaced the old boroughs with French-style townships, led by government-appointed mayors. The old legal system based on common law was replaced by the Code Napoleon. In 1813, the region fell again under Habsburg domain and in 1815 it was included in the Austrian administrative unit of Lombardy-Venetia. Most of the reforms introduced by the French authorities were kept. In 1866, the region became part of Italy by a referendum, with the exception of the villages of Breginj and Livek which were included in the Austrian County of Gorizia and Gradisca.

The Carnizza, linking the upper Torre Valley with the Resia Valley

Under the Kingdom of Italy


Although many locals hoped that Italy would restore their autonomy which had been abolished after the downfall of the Republic of Venice, the centralist policies continued. The region was subjected to a policy of Italianization and the local Slovene language was systematically pushed out of the public life. During this period, the region became a major focus of historians, linguists and ethnologists, interested in its archaic customs, language and common law. Scholars who wrote about Slavia Veneta included Jan Niecisław Baudouin de Courtenay, Simon Rutar, Carlo Podrecca and Henrik Tuma.


In the last decades before World War I, several cultural and social activists, mostly Roman Catholic priests, started setting up Slovene cultural institutions and associations. The most prominent of them was bishop and author Ivan Trinko. This trend became even more pronounced after the annexation of the Julian March to the Kingdom of Italy in 1920, when a large Slovene-speaking minority was included within the borders of the Italian state.


The development was stopped by the Fascist Italianization which started in the 1920s and persecuted all public and private use of Slovene language. However, Italian scholars in those years pinpointed that the Slovene dialects of the "Slavia Italiana", as the region was referred, and were mutually unintelligible with standard Slovene, due to a divergent historical development and a significant number of Italian and Friulian influences on the local vocabulary. They considered these dialects as archaic Slavic dialects, not related to the Slovene language. This claim was especially emphasized in the case of the Resian dialect, which is both phonetically and syntactically very different from standard Slovene, and maintains archaisms lost in all other Slovene dialects. Despite this emphasis on the differences between standard Slovene and the dialects of the Slavia Italiana, the very same policies of Italianization that were first applied to the neighboring Julian March were extended to the Slavia, thus paradoxically bringing the local populations, which diverged in their historical experiences, closer together.


This feature was further emphasized by the Slovene anti-fascist and nationalist propaganda (both left-wing and conservative-Catholic), which frequently portrayed the Venetian Slovenia as the symbol of Slovene resistance to Fascist Italianization, often simplifying the complex linguistic and social realities of the region. The most famous literary portrayal was written in 1938 by the Slovene writer France Bevk from Gorizia in his novel "The Vicar Martin Čedermac" (Kaplan Martin Čedermac). Set in Venetian Slovenia, the novel, published under a pseudonym in the Yugoslav town of Ljubljana, described the efforts of a local Roman Catholic priest to preserve the use of Slovene language in church against the policies of the Italian Fascist regime. The novel became a best seller in Slovenia and the term Čedermac has been since used as a synonym for the clergy persecuted by the Fascists in the Italian-administered Julian March and in the Slavia Veneta.


During World War II the Slovene partisan resistance penetrated in the region. After the Italian armistice, in early September 1943, most of the region was liberated by Yugoslav partisan insurgency, led by the Liberation Front of the Slovenian People, which established its own temporary administration, known as the Kobarid Republic. In early November 1943, the Nazi German forces crushed the insurgency, and incorporated the whole area into the Operational Zone Adriatic Coast. In 1944, the Italian resistance movement also became active in the mountains of Slavia Veneta. Tensions between the Yugoslav (Slovene) and Italian resistance movements rose. The Liberation Front of the Slovenian People wanted to annex the region to a Yugoslav Communist federation, while the Italian resistance was split between the Communists who partially supported the Yugoslav claims, and the Democratic Nationalists who wanted Slavia Veneta to remain part of Italy. In February 1945, the so-called Porzus massacre occurred, in which the Yugoslav partisans and the Italian Communists killed several members of the Italian non-Communist resistance members. In May 1945 the whole area was liberated by the Yugoslav People's Army, which however withdrew few weeks later.

The first bilingual signs in Slavia Veneta were erected in the late 1990s



In 1945, Slavia Veneta became again and integral part of Italy. It was included in the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The policies of Italianization continued. The existence of a Slovene minority was not recognized and all use of Slovene language was discouraged by the authorities and persecuted by militant nationalist associations. Between 1945 and 1947, Slavia Veneta was a border region with the Communist Bloc, and several para-military organizations were established in the area, which also acted against Slovene culture and minority organizations. The region was listed as a special operational zone of the Operation Gladio, a clandestine NATO "stay-behind" operation in Italy after World War II, intended to counter an eventual Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe. The activists of the Gladio operation were frequently also radical Italian nationalists who were given free hands to terrorize the local Slovene communities.


A wide phenomenon of emigration also happened during the same period. Many of the villages lost more than two thirds of their populations, as Slovenes from Slavia Veneta moved to larger urban areas in Northern Italy, Switzerland and Germany. In May and September 1976, two earthquakes hit the region, provoking a large scale destruction and hundreds of deaths. Political persecution, emigration and natural catastrophes are the reason why the period between 1945 and 1977 has been frequently called by Slovenian authors "The Dark Years of the Slavia Veneta" (Italian: Gli anni bui della Slavia Veneta, Slovene: Mračna leta Benečije).


After 1977


Although the area was largely depopulated after 1977, several positive developments took place. The political pressure was lifted after the Treaty of Osimo between Italy and Yugoslavia, and a Slovene cultural revival started to take place in the early 1980s. In the early 1990s, the first elementary and high school in Slovene language was established in San Pietro al Natisone, and in 2001, the Italian state recognized the Slovene minority living in the area, guaranteeing it full rights. After Slovenia's entry into the European Union in 2004, the relations between the Slavia Veneta and the bordering Goriška region have intensified.

The carnival in the Resia Valley

Language, Culture, and Religion

Most people in Slavia Veneta speak three different Slovene dialects, named after the three major valleys that form the region: the Natisone Valley dialect, the Torre Valley dialect, and the Resian dialect. All the three dialects are part of the Littoral dialect group of Slovene, and are closely related to each other.


Almost all of the inhabitants are fluent in Italian, which is taught in schools and present in the media and in the administration. Friulian is also widespread, especially in the municipalities of Montenars, Tarcento, Nimis, Attimis, Torreano, and Prepotto; in many villages in these municipalities, the Friulian language has already replaced Slovene as the first language of communication. Because of the lack of education in Slovene, most of the Slovenes do not master the standard Slovene language. Many don't understand it either, especially in the areas where the Slovenian TV and radio are not accessible, since standard Slovene is not entirely intelligible with the dialects spoken in the region. They are however completely intelligible with the neighbouring Slovene dialects spoken in the Slovenian Littoral, especially the Soča and Brda dialects.


The vast majority of the people belong to the Roman Catholic Church and the religion plays an important role in the local culture. The Roman Catholic priests have traditionally been the most important promoters of the local Slovene language and culture in Slavia Veneta.


Slavia Veneta is famous for its rich folk traditions. Numerous folk and ethno music bands come from the region, and many of them are extremely popular throughout Slovenia and the Friuli Venezia Giulia. The most famous of these bands are probably the Beneški fantje ("Venetian Lads"), which are considered to be oldest still existing Slovene band. Besides its archaic traditional music and dances, the Resia valley is also famous for its folk tales, which were edited and translated into standard Slovene language by the Slovene scholar Milko Matičetov and published by the largest publishing house in Slovenia, Mladinska knjiga, in 1976. They have been re-published in eight editions since, and have had a huge impact in popularizing the Venetian Slovene folk culture in Slovenia.


Since the late 1980s, Slavia Veneta has also emerged as one of the major centres of high quality Slovene dialect poetry. The most famous poets from the region are Silvana Paletti, Francesco Bergnach and Marina Cernetig.


Since 1994, the artistic project Stazione di Topolò - Postaia Topolove or "Topolò Station" takes place every summer in the small village of Topolò (Slovene: Topolovo, known as Topolove or Topoluove in the local dialect). The project, which is the most important cultural and artistic event in the region, is an attempt to bring together contemporary visual art with and the local folk traditions.

Notable People From the Region

  • Francesco Bergnach, Slovene dialect poet
  • Edi Bucovaz, musician
  • Marina Cernetig, Slovene dialect poet
  • Luigi Faidutti, Friulian politician in Austria-Hungary
  • Anton Klodič Sabladoski, philologian, linguist and poet
  • Gianni Osgnach, sculptor
  • Silvana Paletti, poet in the Resian dialect
  • Carlo Podrecca, historian
  • Graziano Podrecca, fotographer
  • Stefano Podrecca, physician
  • Peter Podreka, author
  • Rudi Šimac, politician and author (from Breginj)
  • Jožef Školč, politician (from Breginj), founder and first president of the Liberal Democratic Party
  • Ivan Trinko, Roman Catholic prelate, translator and author
  • Natalino Božo Zuanella, priest, historian and activist
  • Pietro Fanna, professional soccer player