We The Italians | Italian culture and history: Trieste

Italian culture and history: Trieste

Italian culture and history: Trieste

  • WTI Magazine #105 Jul 21, 2018
  • 342

Its climate, with the dry Bora wind that blows over the karst plateau and towards the gulf; its history, shaped by Habsburg domination; and its geographic position, almost part of the Balkans; render the fascinating city of Trieste one of the most particular art cities in Italy, and of a notably mitteleurope character. Located in Italy’s extreme northeast (in Friuli Venezia Giulia), Trieste sat on what was a contested border for centuries; diverse populations intersected, and made their marks in the elegant and historic masterpieces, from the artistic to the architectonic, throughout the city.

A tour through Trieste cannot but begin in the magnificent Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia, with its palazzi in the Viennese Neoclassical style and its evocative panorama that overlooks the gulf on one side. It is one of the largest of the European piazzas that sit on the sea. The piazza hosts diverse buildings of interest, including the Palazzo del Governo, the former Palazzo of the Austrian Lieutenancy and now the city Prefecture Headquarters – its splendid balcony is covered in Murano glass and white stone mosaics. Also on the piazza is Palazzo Stratti and its historic Caffè degli Specchi, as well as the City Hall, fronted by the Fountain of the Four Continents and topped by a bell tower, and the whitest-of-white Palazzo del Lloyd Triestino, ex-Palazzo Pitteri and today seat for the Regional Government.

Afterwards, the 14th-Century Cathedral of San Giusto - a result of the union between the Romanesque Church of San Giusto and that of the Assunta - should be on your art city itinerary. The church’s mosaics, its splendid Gothic rose window and the adjacent bell tower dominate the city’s historic center. Not very far from the church is the fortress-museum of Castello di San Giusto. The oldest historical testaments from an era date back to the 1st to 2nd Centuries A.D., and derive from the Arco di Riccardo and from the Roman Theatre (which today is used for theatrical presentations in the summer). 

On the Gretta Hill, then, rises the imposing Faro della Vittoria (Lighthouse of Victory), a monument in Istrian stone from Orsera and karst stone from Gabria, dedicated to the fallen of the First World War. Another must-see, without a doubt, is a visit to the white Castello di Miramare, a castle seemingly out of a fairytale; immersed in a green park, it boasts a vista of the sea that almost washes up right onto it. Among other highlights on a trip through this art city is the Canal Grande, a sort of extension of the small port that makes up part of the urban center that ends at the base of the Neoclassical-facaded Church of Sant’Antonio Nuovo; the Basilica of San Silvestro, one of the most ancient sites of worship in the city; the Synagogue and the beautiful Serbo-Orthodox Temple of the Holy Trinity and St. Spyridon. All are evidence to the cultural and religious melting-pot that is this city. 

But Trieste is not only monuments, churches, museums and palazzi: its historic and celebrated caffes also deserve a visit, like those on Via di San Nicolò. They are true symbols of the Triestine passion for coffee, besides the passion for these locales themselves, which function not only as meeting points but also as incubators of illustrious literature. Important writers and poets of the caliber of JoyceItalo Svevo, and Umberto Saba, as well as government functionaries and business magnates, often frequented these spots and gathered to read and debate each other.