It was way back in October of last year when we last left Slovenia to visit Lake Garda. I was thrilled to learn last weekend that the Italian border with Slovenia was back open, and that we were permitted to travel up to 60 km into the country. This made the historic city of Trieste easily accessible to us.
History of Trieste
It is difficult to summarise the extremely complex history of this city. The site on which the city now stands has been occupied since the Illyrian period, and its name originates from the Venetic name Tergeste, from terg meaning ‘market.’ This word survives in modern-day Slovene as trg (with the same meaning). The Romans inhabited the city from 177 B.C., and it remained an outpost of the Byzantine Roman Empire. Under Frankish rule, it became a rival port to Venice, so was subsequently attacked and occupied by the Venetians from 1283-87. The city suffered continued attacks from Venice whilst under the patronage of the Patriarchate of Aquileia.
Following these attacks, the city petitioned to become part of the Habsburg empire, and signed a decree of voluntary submission to Habsburg rule in 1382. Trieste remained part of this empire for more than five centuries, often with a semi-autonomous role, and often subject to attacks due to its position as an important port city. At the beginning of the 20th Century, the city was an important literary hub where writers and intellectuals would frequent Viennese-style coffee houses such as the Caffè San Marco which still operates today. James Joyce famously lived here for a spell, along with other famous writers and thinkers, including Sigmund Freud.
With the advent of the First World War, the history of the city becomes still more complicated: the territory was granted to Italy at the end of the war, and the native Slovene population suffered persecution and attempts at forced assimilation. The city was occupied by Germany from 1943-45, during which time the City’s Jewish population were executed or deported to concentration camps. Yugoslav Partisans liberated the city on 30 April 1945, and held it until 12 June of the same year, during which time hundreds of Italians and anti-Communist Slovenes were ‘disappeared.’ After an agreement with British Field Marshal Alexander, the Yugoslav forces withdrew, leaving Trieste under joint US-British administration which was formally recognised as the Free Territory of Trieste in 1947. This status lasted until 1954, when Zone A of the Free Territory of Trieste (including the city itself) joined the Italian state.
If any city could claim to be archetypal of ‘Central Europe,’ it is surely Trieste, where East meets West and Slavic and Romance language and traditions merge. As can be seen above, these traditions have not always sat comfortably together. Some Slovenes still maintain to this day that Trst je naš, ‘Trieste is ours!’
Visiting the City
Don’t be put off by the hyper-industrialised outskirts of Trieste; the Old Town is impressive as it is historic: from broad and sweeping terraces lined by grand Italianate facades to large, impressive Piazzi with lavishly sculpted fountains, contrasted with the smaller, more intimate alleyways of the medieval city, which boast many boutique stores and romantic restaurants.
We parked by the old Embarkation Lounge: a historic building near the modern cruise ship terminal which now houses an aquarium (currently closed). Parking here is free on Sundays, if you are lucky enough to find a space! Next we crossed the Impressive Piazza Unità d’Italia where we had coffee. If you think you’ve tried coffee, I’d be willing to argue you haven’t, unless you’ve tried it in Italy. Coffee here is given the respect it deserves. Ask for vanilla syrup and whipped cream at your peril!
Close by here is the Roman Amphitheatre, built during the rule of the Emperor Trajan in the 1st Century AD. It lay hidden beneath later buildings for centuries until its discovery in 1814 and eventual excavation in 1938. The remains visible today are remarkably well-preserved.
In addition to those landmarks discussed above, you may also enjoy visiting the impressive, partially restored Centrale train station, the Piazza Vittorio Veneto with its Fountain of the Tritons, the medieval Castel San Giusto and (5 miles out from the city centre) the 19th-Century Castello Miramare. Amongst other notable constructions are the Serbian Orthodox Church which faces the canal, and the Victory Lighthouse, built during the Fascist period. We didn’t have time to stop for dinner, but there was an ample choice of restaurants and I am sure something to suit every palate!
As more borders start to reopen, expect more Postcards from far and near, as I don’t intend to rein in my adventuring spirit any time soon…