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.