Framed by green hills and white limestone cliffs TRIESTE looks out over the blue Adriatic, offering an idyllic panorama from its hilltop citadel, at least when the gale-force Bora winds aren’t blasting you off the seafront. But in any weather, there’s a distinct atmosphere of grandeur with a cosmopolitan twist. The city’s main squares are adorned with spectacular Neoclassical buildings, and the much-photographed canal, clustered with open-air cafés, is a reminder that, just like Venice and its lagoon, this city has enjoyed a glorious seafaring past, too. Like so many ports in Europe, there is a certain seediness here, particularly evident in some areas around the train station, although in recent years the city has been spruced up. The heart of modern Trieste is in the grid-like streets of the Borgo Teresiano, but no visit would be complete without a climb to the top of its hill, San Giusto, named for its patron saint and with the best views for miles around.
The thirty-odd kilometres of coastline either side of Trieste, from Muggia to the south and as far as Duino in the north, are optimistically known as the TRIESTINE RIVIERA. While beaches aren’t as good as you’ll find further down the Adriatic, or even at nearby Grado, some fine walks, historic sites and castles are worth a day-trip from Trieste.
Trieste dates back as far as the third millennium BC, with Jason and the Argonauts alleged to have been among its earliest visitors. Roman ruins scattered around the city attest to its incorporation into the Roman Republic in 178 BC, when it was called Tergeste, from terg or market. However, with the exception of the castle and cathedral of San Giusto, and the tiny medieval quarter below it, the city’s whole pre-nineteenth-century history seems somewhat overwhelmed by the massive Neoclassical architecture of the Borgo Teresiano – named after the Empress Maria Theresa (1740–80), who poured money into the city. This was Trieste’s golden age, as the Austrians spared no expense on embellishing what was to become the Habsburg Empire’s only seaport. For a time, it even eclipsed Venice, but its heyday was short-lived and drew to an ignominious close after 1918, when the city was annexed to Italy. A grim period ensued under Mussolini as he rode roughshod over ethnic diversity.
Lying on the political and ethnic fault-line between the Latin and Slavic worlds, Trieste has long been a city of political turbulence. In the nineteenth century it was a hotbed of irredentismo – an Italian nationalist movement to “redeem” the Austrian lands of Trieste, Istria and Trentino. After 1918, tensions increased between the city’s ethnic groups, with Slovenes suffering persecution at the hands of the rising Fascist regime. Trieste was annexed by the Germans in 1943 and then at the end of the war, the city and surrounding area became a “Free Territory” administered by the Allies before being divided between Italy and Yugoslavia in 1954. Trieste was awarded to Italy but lost its coastal hinterland, Istria, to Yugoslavia. It was a bitter settlement and the definitive border settlement was not reached until 1975. As Tito kept Istria, huge numbers of its fearful Italian population abandoned the peninsula: Fiume (Rijeka), for example, lost 58,000 of its 60,000 Italians. The Slovene population of the area around Trieste, previously in the majority, suddenly found itself treated as second-class citizens, with Italians dominant politically and culturally. In the last sixty years, the Slovene and Italian populations have mixed and intermarried and, along with other newer arrivals, have made Trieste one of the more multicultural cities in Italy.Read More
Joyce in Trieste
Joyce in Trieste
From 1905 to 1915, and again in 1919–20, James Joyce and his wife Nora lived in Trieste. After staying at Piazza Ponterosso 3 for a month, they moved to the third-floor flat at Via San Nicolò 30. He supported himself by teaching English at the Berlitz school where his most famous pupil was the Italian writer Italo Svevo. While living here he wrote The Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and started work on Ulysses. He lived a somewhat peripatetic life and you can visit his many homes and old haunts by picking up the walking-tour guide from the tourist office. There’s a plaque in Via San Nicolò, and one at Via Bramante 4, quoting the postcard Joyce despatched in 1915 to his brother Stanislaus, whose Irredentist sympathies had landed him in an Austrian internment camp. The postcard announced that the first chapter of Ulysses was finished. Don’t miss the wry bronze statue of the writer, strolling bemusedly across the little canal bridge of Via Roma.
Trieste and the roasted bean
Trieste and the roasted bean
Trieste’s love affair with coffee dates back to the mid-eighteenth century, when the port was given tax-free status by Habsburg Emperor Charles VI. The resultant boom in port trade coincided with the coffee craze hitting Europe, in particular Vienna, and coffee beans destined for Austrian cafés became one of Trieste’s biggest imports. Even today it’s the leading coffee port in the Mediterranean – forty percent of Italy’s coffee arrives here – and Trieste’s denizens imbibe twice as much on average as their fellow countrymen. One of the pleasures of walking around the city centre is the exotic scent of roasting beans emanating from choice establishments – known as torrefazioni – where experts toast beans to order. The city’s most famous brand is Illy, founded in 1933 and producer of a world-renowned 100-percent Arabica blend. So supreme is the coffee culture in the city that Riccardo Illy, scion of the clan, has held the offices of mayor and regional president, among numerous other posts. Illy offers specialized courses in coffee appreciation at the Università del Caffè (w illy.com).
A word to the wise: coffee terminology in Trieste is a little different from other parts of Italy, and if you order a cappuccino you will end up with a caffè macchiato – instead you need to ask for a latte macchiato or a caffè latte.