Trieste is a striking city. Though I only had a few hours to explore it, it was enough to hook me.
Unlike any other Italian city I’ve ever visited, I knew it was a city I had to get to know more. Trieste’s history oozes out of the gray stone buildings, fills its enormous Austrian-style piazzas.
Its a city that comes with baggage, and only by digging into that baggage can you truly understand.
Since its foundation, Trieste has served as a meeting point between East and West, a stomping ground for Byzantine traders and Celtic tribes. A veritable capital of Mitteleuropa, its mixed-ethnic culture can be seen in the city’s architecture, languages and food.
For 500 years Trieste flourished under Austrian rule as part of the Hapsburg Empire. The city’s heart and major landmark, Piazza dell’Unità di Italia, exists thanks to Austrian Empress Maria Theresa. The Piazza, Italy’s largest sea-facing town square and symbol of the port town’s power, is encircled on three sides by gorgeous, linear Austrian architecture. The fourth side looks out to the sea, facing the city’s strength as well as its undoing.
Today Trieste is the largest port on the Adriatic Sea and the capital of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Unfortunately, it can thank its strategic location to its tortured history. Passing from one ruler to another like a dirty banknote, the city hasn’t always worn its multiculturalism well.
The deepest scars, yet to scab over, come from the First and Second World Wars, when Slovenes and other groups were systematically “Italianized” and their cultures all but stamped out.
Even now, members of the Free Territory of Trieste Movement fight for independence from Italy, to create a state where all ethnic groups, languages and religions can exist in egalitarianism. Not to mention in economic freedom. Today Trieste is the capital of one of the richest regions in all of Italy.
Though Trieste has had a long and tortured history, it’s always been an influential city, caught between sea and mountain, countries and cultures.