Beginning in the time of the Roman Empire, Pordenone, the ancient Portus Naonis, was the river port
on the Noncello that, together with a complex river network, linked the markets of the north
to the trade centres of Venice and the Mediterranean, where spices arrived from the Orient before travelling
on the waterways to the Friuli plain at the foot of the Alps.
The network of the Noncello, Meduna and Livenza rivers formed the waterway system which linked
the city of Pordenone, in western Friuli, to Venice. From the 15th century to the mid-19th century,
it was used for transporting both people and goods.
Barges, lighters and wherries sailed up the rivers, carrying sugar, salt, oil, glassware, luxury goods
and spices, of course, including precious saffron.
The word saffron comes from the Arabic za'farān, from asfar, which in ancient Persia meant “yellow”. Saffron was mentioned in a Hebrew text of three thousand years ago, in Egyptian papyri of the 2nd century B.C. and in the Bible. While on his Asian campaign, Charlemagne dissolved it in his tea and dined on saffron rice.
Spices became widespread throughout the Mediterranean at the time of the Ancient Romans, when Pordenone was already a busy river port on the north/south trade routes.
Towards the 9th century the neighbouring maritime republic of Venice began to dominate the trade routes and in 1271 Marco Polo departed on his famous journey described in The Travels of Marco Polo. His travels lasted for more than 25 years, taking him to exotic places; he learnt the customs and traditions of Arabia, India and China as he retraced the ancient roads that brought saffron to our lands.