Top places to visit in Trieste, city symbol of Italian history of the twentieth century

Trieste is an Italian municipality of 203.232 inhabitants, capital of the Italian region in Friuli-Venezia Giulia and overlooks the homonymous gulf in the northernmost part of the Upper Adriatic.

Located between the Italian peninsula and Istria, a few kilometers from the border with Slovenia in the historic region of Venezia Giulia, for centuries it has represented a bridge between western and central-southern Europe, mixing Mediterranean, Central European and Slavs; it is the fifteenth Italian municipality by population (as of 30 June 2016), as well as the most populous and densely populated in the region.

The port of Trieste is the largest in Italy in terms of quantity of goods exchanged, as well as one of the most significant maritime hubs in southern Europe: in 2017 it reached 61.955 tons thanks above all to maritime traffic in hydrocarbons, which constitute the predominant part of it. Historically, it was the main maritime outlet of the Austrian Empire, which in 1719 recognized it the status of free port. Even today the port remains an international hub for land-sea exchange flows of goods mainly directed towards Eastern Europe and Asia.

Trieste has a somewhat different history from Italy, to which it was annexed just in 1918. Trieste was at the center and the object of the Italian irredentist movements that aimed at the unification of the peninsula that arose in the second half of the nineteenth century. After the First World War, the city went through a difficult period from an economic point of view, culminating finally with the outbreak of the Second World War and the German occupation that began in 1943 which caused terrible massacres such as the shooting of Italian soldiers in Opicina in 1944.

After the Second World War, the city and its territory went through turbulent phases again. Trieste became the first city-state (1947) divided into two areas: one, corresponding to today’s city and neighbouring areas, under Allied control, the other, that is, the northern Istrian coast, effectively under Yugoslav control. Finally, in 1963, Trieste became the capital of the newly formed region of Friuli Venezia Giulia.

In the second half of the twentieth century, Trieste was able to reaffirm its identity as a multi-ethnic and multicultural city thanks to an artistic and literary heritage of international value and thanks also to the role played by the University, also becoming a popular tourist destination.

Let’s start our journey in this splendid city!

Cathedral of San Giusto

The Cathedral Basilica of San Giusto is the main Catholic religious building in the city of Trieste and is located on the top of the homonymous hill overlooking the city.

The church is the result of the union of the Church of Santa Maria and the one dedicated to San Giusto that took place in the years between 1302 and 1320.

As most Triestine historians report, the current appearance of the basilica derives from the unification of the two pre-existing churches of Santa Maria and the one dedicated to the martyr San Giusto, which were incorporated under one roof by Bishop Rodolfo Pedrazzani from Robecco between the years 1302 and 1320 to provide the city with an imposing cathedral.

The first news about the cathedral dates back to the year 1337, when the bell tower of the former church of Santa Maria was covered with a thick wall to support the new building. The works on the bell tower ended in 1343, but those on the church went on practically until the end of the century. The bell tower was originally higher, but in 1422 it was struck by lightning and was reduced to its current height.

After the definitive dedication of the city to Austria (1382), the then emperor Leopold III appointed the first German bishop of Trieste, Enrico de Wildenstein, who, on 27 November 1385, consecrated the main altar of the cathedral.

The facade is simple, embellished with a large Gothic rose window and a central portal with elements of a Roman funerary stele. The plaque above the door recalls the Austro-English bombing of 1813 against the Napoleonic troops who were hiding in the nearby Castle. Some cannon balls are visible in the wall of the bell tower, which also incorporates the remains of the propylaea of a Roman temple and a newsstand with the statue of S. Giusto. The interior has five naves with splendid frescoes by the Venetian school in the apse of the left nave (Madonna enthroned with the blessing son and the archangels Michael and Gabriel).

In November 1899, Pope Leo XIII raised it to the dignity of a minor basilica.

Miramare Castle

Miramare Castle dates back to the mid-nineteenth century and was built by the will of Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Habsburg to live there together with his wife Carlotta of Belgium. The name derives from the Spanish “mirar el mar” (watch the sea), since the archduke, visiting the promontory where it was later built, was inspired by the memory of Spanish castles on the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean.

Overlooking the sea and with large green spaces, it was ideal for the Archduke, an expert seafarer and lover of botany. In reality, Miramare never became the love nest of the royal couple because Maximilian was shot in Mexico. Carlotta went mad in the loss and lived in the annexed castle for a few years until she was transferred to Belgium.

The eclectic style of the building is striking, combining Gothic, Renaissance and medieval elements. On the ground floor, there are the apartments of Carlotta and Massimiliano, which have remained almost equal to the construction period.

On the first floor, there are the guests’ apartments, slightly modified when Amedeo D’Aosta in 1930 transformed the Castle into his home. The immense park is now one of the favourite places of Trieste people, who use it for walking, running, sunbathing.

Inside the castle, now used as a museum, you can admire the rooms of Massimiliano d’Asbugo and his wife, the guest rooms with original furnishings (ornaments, furniture and objects) dating back to the mid-nineteenth century and the hall of the throne recently restored.

The magnificent park of about 22 hectares is characterized by a vast variety of plants chosen by the archduke himself during his travels around the world as admiral of the Austrian navy.

In the park there is also the small castle, once the residence for the two spouses during the construction of the castle.

Piazza Unità d’Italia

Piazza Unità d’Italia is the main square of Trieste and it is also the largest square in Europe open to the sea. It is located at the foot of the San Giusto hill, between Borgo Teresiano and Borgo Giuseppino.

Rectangular in plan, the square opens on one side onto the Gulf of Trieste and is surrounded by numerous palaces and public buildings. Facing the square, there are the offices of various entities: the town hall of Trieste, the building of the regional council of Friuli Venezia Giulia and the prefecture of the capital.

The square has a total area of 12,280 m². In ancient times, it was called Piazza San Pietro, from the name of a church that exists there, then in 1863 it changed its name to Piazza Grande. During the Austrian period, the name was changed to Piazza Francesco Giuseppe, from the name of the emperor Franz Joseph of Austria. It took the name of Piazza Unità in 1918, when the city was annexed to Italy. In 1955, when the city returned to Italy with the dissolution of the Free Territory of Trieste, it took its present name, or Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia.

The square has been remodelled several times over the centuries. The current appearance derives from the complete renovation that affected it in the period 2001-2005, when all the buildings were restored; the asphalt pavement was removed and replaced with sandstone blocks similar to the traditional “masegni” that once paved the square; the fountain of the Four Continents was positioned in front of the main entrance of the Town Hall, bringing it back to its original location, and on the sea side a lighting system with blue luminous LEDs was installed which intend to remember the ancient mandracchio buried over the centuries.

Before the works of rearrangement began in the square, the then city council thought of exploiting the space by drawing a large painting on it. The design represented Europe and Trieste, inserted in an oriental arched door in which the Rising Sun, the Moon and yellow stars on a blue background that referred to the flag of United Europe were indicated.

The symbolic representation indicated a female figure armed with a halberd-shaped spear (symbol of Trieste) riding a bull, while heading towards the sea. Work of the artist Bruno Chersicla, the drawing meant to signify the will of the city to be the protagonist of the European Community. The painting, of over nine thousand square meters, was reported in the Guinness Book of Records.

In 2001, blue lights were added to the pavement of the square, to emphasize the link with the sea.

The Museum of Risiera di S. Sabba

The Museum of the Risiera di S. Sabba is located in a building built in 1898 for the pilling of rice, which from the autumn of 1943 was used by the Nazi occupiers as a police detention camp (Polizeihaftlager).

Plant for piling rice from 1913 to 1943 after September 8 (armistice), the Nazis transformed it into a prison camp for deportation and elimination with weapons or crematorium of hostages, partisans, political prisoners and Jews. More than 3,500 people were killed and 8,000 deported to the extermination camps of Northern Europe.

It was intended both for the sorting of racial and political deportees in Germany and Poland and for the storage of raided goods, and for the detention and elimination of Italian, Slovenian and Croatian political hostages, partisans, and detainees.

In 1944, a crematorium also went into operation.

Declared a National Monument in 1965, the Risiera complex was renovated by the Roman architect Boico and transformed into a civic museum in 1975.

The 17 cells and that of death have remained unchanged. There is a permanent historical exhibition and a library.

The Sala delle Croci exhibits a selection of goods stolen from the Trieste Jews, donated by the Jewish Community of Trieste; the Museum Hall presents objects and documents donated by former deportees of ANED (National Association of former Political Deportates in the Nazi Camps).

Vittoria Lighthouse

Vittoria Lighthouse is located in Trieste and was built between 15 January 1923 and 24 May 1927, by the Italian architect Arduino Berlam.

In addition to fulfilling the functions of a lighthouse for navigation, illuminating the Gulf of Trieste, it also performs the functions of a memorial monument in honor of the fallen of the sea during the First World War.

The monument was built on Poggio di Gretta, 60 meters above sea level, on the ancient structures of the Austrian fort Kressich from 1854. The original Berlam project was modified, after a heated debate, by the architect Guido Cirilli, who directed it the works. Eng. Beniamino Battigelli was the designer of the reinforced concrete works and of the whole supporting structure of the lighthouse. In fact, all the technical projects bear his signature and he was always present in the construction site to direct the works.

The base of the structure is made up of stones from Istria and the Karst. A tall and majestic column preserves at its top the bronze and crystal cage that houses the lantern-lighthouse. The final shape is deliberately that of an upside-down beam. The bronze statue of the winged Victory crowning the apex of the lamp and the statue of the sailor that adorns the front of the lighthouse are the work of the sculptor Giovanni Mayer (Trieste, 1863-1943). The two statues are 7.2 and 8.6 meters high respectively.

At the base of the building, there is an anchor that is considered that of the Audace torpedo boat, which was the first ship of the Italian Royal Navy to enter the port of Trieste in 1918, while in reality it is the anchor of the R.N. Berenice.

At the entrance to the lighthouse, there are two bullets from the Austrian battleship Viribus Unitis.

Vittoria Lighthouse is a monument full of symbols, an excellent place from which to look at Trieste from a different perspective and also a very useful tool for navigating the Adriatic.

The monument has been open for visits since 1986 and the visit is allowed only up to the first terrace of the structure which concerns the monumental part. The overlying part concerning navigation aid structures is forbidden to the public.

Giant Cave

The Giant Cave is a karst cave, explored in 1840 and opened to tourism by the Club Touristi Triestini as early as 1908. Following the loss of the Postojna Caves, which passed to Yugoslavia in 1947, received a strong tourist impulse in the second post-war period. The cave is located on the Karst plateau, a few kilometers from the city of Trieste and from the border with Slovenia (Monrupino pass).

You enter through a natural door and begin to descend to the Great Gallery, located about 80 meters deep. The gallery consists of a single, spectacular room, 98.50 meters high, 167.60 meters long and 76.30 meters wide. In the colorful room of infinite shades there are stalagmites, stalactites and flows of calcium carbonate deposited by rainwater. The most imposing stalagmite is the Ruggero Column, 12 meters high. At the center of the cave is the geophysical research station of the University of Trieste for the study of the movements of the earth’s crust. Climb up the Carlo Finocchiaro path to reach a Belvedere 95 meters high where you can enjoy an extraordinary view.

The Giant Cave wad inserted in the Guinness Book of Records since 1995. The tourist management of the Giant Cave is entrusted to the Caves Commission “E. Boegan”, the speleological group of the Alpine Society of the Julies (the Trieste Section of the Italian Alpine Club).

The Giant Cave, whose origin is traced back to at least a dozen million years ago, is a vast cavity present in the subsoil of the Trieste Karst, made up of carbonate rocks mainly calcareous and to a lesser extent in the Dolomites.

The Giant Cave can be visited all year round, taking place in it, in addition to scientific research activities, also educational and tourist activities.

Revoltella Museum

Revoltella Museum is a modern art gallery in Trieste. It was the house where Baron Pasquale Revoltella lived (located in Piazza Venezia, then Piazza Giuseppina) who on his death in 1869 left it to the city along with all his works, furnishings and books that it contained.

In 1872 the Municipality made it a museum.

The main building was built in 1858 on a project by the Berlin academician Friedrich Hitzig. To expand the original collection, in 1907 the Municipality purchased the Brunner Palace, located nearby.

This building was completely used only starting from 1963, following the renovation of Carlo Scarpa. In that year, Palazzo Basevi was also flanked to Palazzo Brunner, whose complete implementation took place in 1991, following the works of Franco Vattolo and Giampaolo Bartoli.

The museum today consists of three buildings, with the main entrance from via Diaz, for an exhibition area of ​​4,000 square meters.

In addition to the Baron’s works, the Municipality acquired numerous other works, paid for with the donations that Revoltella himself had made to the city. The works on display today are around 350 between paintings and sculptures.

Palazzo Brunner houses the works of Italian authors of the second half of the nineteenth century (third floor), the works acquired in the first decades of the twentieth century (fourth floor), the works of artists from Friuli-Venezia Giulia (fifth floor) and national (sixth ) of the second half of the twentieth century.

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