The Lombard Temple in Cividale del Friuli – now known as Oratory of Santa Maria in Valle – was built around the mid-8th century, probably by Aistulf, Duke of Friuli and King of Lombards. According to professor Paolo Branca, one of the leading experts on Islamic history in Italy, it represents one of the oldest proofs of a positive relationship between Europe and Arab-Muslim countries.
As Branca explains in his “Pagine di letteratura araba” (Milan 2009), such relationships are documented by arts and crafts “since the 8th century, when some Popes of Syrian and Palestinian origin favored the immigration of Christian and Muslim workers, who escaped the iconoclast Orient and the restrictions imposed on figurative arts by some Muslim rulers”.
“Their presence is clearly proved by both the stucco decorations and the techniques used in the Lombard Temple in Cividale in Friuli”, professor Branca continues. “There were conflicts and battles in some cases, but diplomatic missions were also carried out. One of them, in 801, brought Charlemagne the gifts of Caliph Baghdad Harun al-Rashid, including a complicated water clock and an elephant, which sparked the liveliest awe at the court in Aachen.”