Trieste – city of wind

The ultimate day trip through Trieste…

… if you’re not afraid to walk a lot.

Trieste is a city of wind and history, so much so that they have names for the different types of wind, depending on where it’s coming from and at what time it blows. Thing is, you probably even know these names though you might think it’s just the name of a car or a brand of surfboards. Here the wind shaped trees and people, there were books written about it and poems. Even though we were spared the worst of it, it is still impressive to suddenly have it blow from the mountains with 6 or 7 Bft where a minute before it was totally calm, just to have it die down an hour later as if nothing has happened.

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And as for the history-part; Trieste is something really special and until the seccession on the Balkans one of the few contested territories in Europe long after WWII. For me as a Berliner it holds a deep fascination, because like in my hometown in Trieste, east and west were facing each other more or less literally over the barrel of a gun.

We would like to thank to Elonia from PromoTrieste  who not only provided our guide Cristina but went well beyond what she had to do. I promise the video will be come any day now. The best thing she did, though was to put us in touch with our guide Cristina, who went well beyond what she had to do. Cristina you were marvellous and we couldn’t have wished for a better guide. Thank you for helping us make sense of the place. If any of our readers ever themselves in Trieste and you need a guide, drop us a line and we will be happy to make contact for you.

Santa Maria Maggioere Dei Gesuiti and San Silvestre (right) in Trieste

Elaborate stairways lead to the church of Santa Maria Maggioere Dei Gesuiti, to the right you see the unplastered church of San Silvestre.

A lot of people asked if I had won some lottery, because their 1st association with Trieste is wealth. While this is certainly true, there is a lot more to the city than just her imposing palazzi and the economical power that has developed here. Yes Trieste is more affluent than a lot of other places in Italy and yes it is not cheap, but you still find relatively cheap places through airbnb and the like. And a considerable part of the city’s allure lie in the contrasts she displays. Even in the thouroughly touristified centre there are scores of run-down buildings and cheap little bars, and the moment you leave the city proper it looks as rough as any Italian city. For me these opposites are what make a place unique and combined with the populace and past form a kind of fabric that underlies everything. So, to get a feel for a location look for the differences and the faultlines in its past and you will have made a big step towards grasping its essence – which I would never claim to have done regarding Trieste but after reading this post you might just be a tiny bit better prepared than I was.

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History of Trieste

For me the history of a place is an integral part of understanding it and it’s people. In Trieste there’s so much of it, especially in the 20th century, that it will go in an extra article but I’d like to give you a very short rundown on what’s happened over the last 2.000 years. In the 1st century BC Trieste became a Roman colony. In late antiquity and the middle-ages it was long contested and Byzantium, the Visigods before it became part of Charlemagnes domain. In the 11th century it was ruled by the local bishops before Venice set her sights on conquering it, to eliminate a rival for sea-trade in the Adriatic Sea. What followed were 200 years of changing ownership before the city asked the protection of the holy Roman Emperor Leopold III. of Austria. For the following 650 years it was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and became of most important trading ports in the Adria and home to many large corporations such as the Italian Lloyd, Generali insurances and Illy Caffé. After WW I it changed sides once again and became part of Italy. At the end of WW II Yugoslavian troops occupied Trieste for a couple of weeks and it became the Free Territory of Trieste. It took until the 1970s to finalize borders and Trieste was truly Italian. If you look at a map of Trieste, you can see, that it occupies a very narrow sliver of Italy that cuts into Slovenia.

The main sights

Instead of telling you a story of our adventures (like sneaking on the orivate beach of a 5-star hotel) this time I’ll just provide you with the ultimate one-day-sightseeing-itinerary of Trieste.

Piazza dell’Unita

After enjoying our first coffee beneath the grapevine on our terrace we wind our way down to the city centre for our meeting with our guide Cristina at Caffè degli Specchi one of the old coffee houses. It is situated at one of the most beautiful plazas I’ve seen so far. Piazza dell’Unita is a giant open field, paved with grey stones and framed with the blindingly glowing facades of neo-renaissance palazzi, the townhall and the Gulf of Trieste.

What follows is an 8-hour historical marathon and all around lovely day packed with all the majour sites of trieste and I invite you to retrace our steps.

Piazza Della Borsa

Just a few steps from our starting is the Piazza della Borsa, another beautiful and busy plaza, with the old commodity exchange with the imposing Neptune’s fountain in front of it. Between two shops is an unremarkable passage that marks the entrance to the old

Piazza della Borsa, Trieste

Sascha and our guide Cristina at old exchange

 

Jewish ghetto

The moment you enter you are in a different world. Narrow alleys with houses leaning this way and that, less tourists and a small “alternative” cafés and shops. Before the opening of the ghetto 1784 the three only accesses were guarded by christians and the inhabitants had to stay inside at night. Before the fascists took power between 5 and 6.000 jews lived in Trieste marking it as the largest jewish community at the adriatic sea. Jewish traders played prominent role in the economic rise of Trieste. Since they were barred from a lot of traditional professions they became financiers and facilitators. Their worldwide network of connections only rivaled by those of the Armenians, with whom they shared a story of eviction and dissipation.

Roman Theatre

Just to the back of the ghetto seperated only by the brutalist 1930s architecture of the Polizia Soccorso Pubblico lies the Roman theatre of Trieste. It is built into the slope of the Colle San Giusto, the hill that marks the centre of the original settlement. Built in the 1st century AD it was long covered by the medieval city wall and fortifications and only rediscovered in 1938. It’s kind of strange to find such a building right in the city centre of such a busy and hustling city, all the more so because it seems to be largely ignored. No tourist groups gather, just a small plaque with rudimentary informations and totally overshadowed by the huge administrative and commercial buildings surrounding it. To this day there is a festival taking place at the theatre and visitors can get a taste of how it must have felt to be a Roman citizen.

Teatro Romano Trieste

Ruins of a Roman theatre in downtown Trieste

San Nicolò dei Greci

Like mentioned above Trieste is a city of many creeds and, since Trieste was and is wealthy community they all built churches celebrating the glory of their way of worshipping. Trying to outdo each in other in opulence all of them are fascinating demonstrations of the power of faith. One of them is the greek-orthodox church San Nicolò dei Greci. Where the decor catholic churches are merely abundant, orthodox churches are opulent bordering on the insane. It always looks like the task was to leave no visible surface ungilded, and San Nicolò is no different. What it lacks in size it makes more than up with in overall shinyness.

San Nicolo dei Greci, downtown Trieste

The inside of the greek-orthodox church San Nicolo dei Greci in Trieste.

Canal Grande di Trieste

Crossing Borgo Teresiano once again we arrive at Canal Grande – or what is left of it. Originally part of a bigger systems of canals connecting with the sea, this water way was one of the major arteries for commerce. Smaller trading ships were able to load their cargo in the heart of the city. Today it is a lively place with lots restaurants – most of them tourist traps I suggest you avoid, a small plaza and three pedestrian bridges that span the canal so low, that even the small boats that are moored there can only leave at low tide or their passengers would have to lie flat. At the end of the canal the Trieste’s biggest catholic Sant’Antonio Nuovo (sometimes referred to as Sant’Antonio Thaumaturgo dominitas the view with it’s classical portal and it’s pantheon-style cupola. Another church borders the canal, the serbian-orthodox SS San Spirita & San Spiridone which was disappointingly closed, but is according to our guide the most beautiful church in all of Trieste.

San Giusto

We embark on a bus to take us up the hill and probably THE single most important sight in Trieste. San Giusto was an early martyr, killed around 300 AD in Aquilea. Later, although his body was weighted down with stones, it washed up on the nearby coast of Trieste and was later made the city’s patron saint. Today the plateau on the hill still shows the remnants of the Roman forum, foundations of a Roman basilika, the medieval castello and the cathedral of San Giusto, which in itself is a collection of older building that were constructed around and on top of each other, parts of it dating back to the 1st century AD. The place of honour, overlooking large parts of the city, is a warrior’s memorial whose design screams “Nazi propaganda” at my german sensitivities. Upon closer inspection it reveals itself to be a memorial to Trieste’s fallen soldiers from WWI erected in 1936. And examining the surroundings we soon find a tombstone that’s directed at those of WW II, much smaller but it shows a soldier with the exact same helmets the German Wehrmacht used. Italy has yet to come to gribs with their role in WW I and the holocaust. It seems like that just because they were a bit faster to understand that fascism is a sinking ship and welcoming the allied troops in 1942 and starting to resist the Germans AFTER that, they manage to paint themselves as being early victims of nazism instead of the original blueprint for the fascist movement in Germany. It’s really a bit disconcerting to see, that there seems to be no one bothered enough by this, to even acknowledge this at a prominent place like this. Nonetheless the view from up here is marvelous.

Arco di Ricardo – Richard’s Gate

Walking downhill through the steep streets of the old-town of Trieste – or what’s left of it anyway – we pass the city’s oldest monument, the Arco di Ricardo, the last city gate from Roman times. Standing over seven meters tall it gives an idea of how magnificent the city must have looked over 2000 years ago. Cut from white marble it looks like it will be standing at this exact same place another millenium from now.

Arco di Ricardo in Trieste

Arco di Ricardo/Richards Gate, the only remaining city gate of Trieste’s Roman fortifications, built in the 1st century BC

Castello di Miramare

For our last destination of the day we get back on the bus to this fairytale castle of Archduke Maximilian (who later became emperor of Mexico). Made out of gleamingly white limestone it sits on a rocky premonitory overlooking the gulf, easily spotted from nearly everywhere on the coast. It’s interior is more or less preserved as it was built and used their their emperial highnesses over 100 years ago, including the secret passageways, that enabled the hosts to slip from room to room unseen. Most every surface is lavishly decorated with portraits, ancestral coat of arms, maps and aphorisms meant to further moral steadfastness. Surrounding it is 22 ha large park that contains not only indigenous plants but species from every corner of the Habsburg empire and beyond, including bamboo. It is a beautiful and tranquil place, that creates stunning views with the castle and the sea as background time and time again. In a smaller building (castelletto) above the castle is a small museum about the sealife and enviroment of the area run by the WWF, where even during holiday local kids were schooled about enviromental issues.

For your trip back to the city I suggest you take the boat. For a couple of Euros you can not only the castle in all its glory but a wonderful and comprehensive look over all of Trieste including

Faro della Vittoria

This 70 m high lighthouse has a beacon that can be seen as far away as 22 miles and is a memorial to marine soldiers and sailors killed in World War 1. Instead of taking the boat you can hike the Rilke trail from the Castello all the way to Trieste (appr. 5-6 km) and with a little detour climb the Faro itself, which is open to the public from Arpil to October free of admission. Located more or less directly above it lies a building that the locals call Chiesa del formaggio – the cheese church. No idea, why though.

Lighthouse of Trieste and modern church.

Lighthouse Faro della Vittoria with a modern church above it, that the locals of Trieste supposedly only call the cheese church, I wonder why.

Osmize

To top the day off, we jump in our trusty rental, drive around the carst-mountains in Trieste’s hinterland to look for branches of mistletoes on streetcorners. Usually they come together with a hand-painted arrow and they show the way to a local peculiarity; an Osmiza. An Osmiza is basically a very basic restaurant run by a farmer selling their own produce. To help farmers make a living in these harsh lands they were allowed to sell stuff without taxes once a year. To show that they were open for business they hung the branches, as long as the leaves were green they were allowed to stay open. Since mistle stay green for a long time it became the favoured plant. Today every Osmiza can be open for 59 days and they still don’t pay any taxes. The food on offer is very basic as well, but of excellent quality. Salami, amazing prosciutto, cheese, eggs and local the wine Refosco are typical products. The atmosphere is very laid back, later in the evening large groups of friends and family occupy the tables, the local old folks come along for a drink and a chat, and in the end you pay less than for a burger menu. To give you an idea, we paid around 20 € for 2 bottles of water, 1 litre of red wine and a huge mixed platter with delicacies that enough stuff on it to satisfy to large guys after 10 hours of walking around.

Mistletoe pointing the way to an open Osmiza

And thath’s how you find an open Osmiza; just follow the mistletoes.

I am sure there is a ton more stuff to see and do, for example we didn’t manage a ride in the famous cable car, we still haven’t seen the inside of San Spiridone and we didn’t head over to Slovenia even though our mobiles thought so all the time. On the other hand, there should be enough in our tips above even for 2 or 3 days, you should definetely take a little more time than we did. Although we visited most of these places at least once more to get some good shots for our next video, I feel like I only just scratched the surface. I hope to be able to return one day, and maybe just explore some nice bars, clubs and galleries.

Thanks for reading, if you enjoyed readind or even just the photos your comment and/or share would be highly appreciated.

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