Trieste, Italy: A European microcosm

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Miramare Castle on the Adriatic coast north of Trieste. Photo © hidden europe.
Miramare Castle on the Adriatic coast north of Trieste. Photo © hidden europe.

Most of us are so utterly used to very territorial notions of citizenship that it is hard to get our heads around places that defy the norm. We have long noticed that citizens of southern Limburg, and especially in and around the city of Maastricht, seem considerably less Dutch (and conversely much more European) than folk in other parts of the Netherlands. And so in Trieste, which always seems to us the most un-Italian part of Italy.

We were in Trieste for a few days prior to Easter and were so very struck by the city’s role as a microcosm of European life. The “Triestini” gaze from a distance at the Italian mainstream – no surprise perhaps, for the city is on a slender slither of Italian territory that juts into neighboring Slovenia.

A plurality of religions and cultures

The fact is that Trieste is a long way from Italy’s principal cities: over four hours from Milan and over eight hours from Rome on the very fastest trains. But it is worth the haul, for Trieste is truly something special. It is a city that lies at the crossroads of Europe, a place with a distinctly central European demeanor perched on the edge of the Adriatic. Trieste is cosmopolitan and challenging with its mix of Austro-Hungarian, Italian, Slovene and wider Slavic and Balkan influences.

Look for the soul of Trieste in the city’s eclectic range of churches and other places of worship. The synagogue was, when it was first opened, the largest anywhere in Europe. Throw in a Catholic cathedral or two, a Greek Orthodox and a Serbian Orthodox church, even an Evangelical Lutheran church, and you get a sense of the plurality of cultures that have influenced and still help shape Trieste.

A city full of history

This is a city with space, a place where visitors and locals can stretch out and relax, and one blessed with a fabulous hinterland. The old Venetian city of Pirano is just over the border in Slovenia – nowadays it is known as Piran. Miramare Castle on the outskirts of Trieste, was once the stunning seaside home of Maxmillian of Habsburg, a place which Max was prevented from really enjoying by his premature death in central America while affecting to be Emperor of Mexico. Just north of the city is the superb Cividale valley, the very heart of Friulian culture (with some tasty Merlot wines, too).

Trieste travel tips

Go to Trieste and allow yourself to be surprised by the beguiling mix of accents and voices; Friulian blending into both Tergestino and Slovene. Allow a few days to strike out from the city, taking in Cividale, sedate Grado, edgy Gorizia, and beautiful Palmanova, as well as heading across the border into Istria.

The Friulia-Venezia-Guilia Card is a great value and covers entry into museums, galleries, and other attractions (including Miramare) on the Italian side of the border.

And pack a copy of Jan Morris’ Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere, which we rate as one of the very finest pieces of travel writing published in the last ten years.

About the author

hiddeneurope

About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.

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3 thoughts on “Trieste, Italy: A European microcosm”

  1. Pingback: Travel in Europe | Trieste ttractions | European vacation | Travel Europe with Best Travel Content Europe

  2. Well, curiously Matt, Miremare is not empty – and that’s the appeal of the place. We think Miremare is quite remarkable, because of the way in which every detail of Habsburg life has been preserved there. It is in a very fine setting by the sea (absolutely unrivalled in that respect by any other K&K Schloss). When we were last there (on a beautiful sunny afternoon about ten days ago), it was striking just how few visitors there were. Trieste is off the regular tourist trails.

    Jan Morris, to whom we alluded in our original posting, described the Trieste region as “a great place for contemplative escape… a great place for sitting on quaysides in the sunshine, thinking about history, and toying with the idea of writing…”. Trieste is full of spots so conducive to such contemplation. And Miramare would be top of our list. Try it, sometime, Mutt. If you can afford to take a week or two out of a busy life, try Trieste. And savour Miremare from every angle, inside and out. It is worth the time.

    Nicky and Susanne

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