Trieste feels different. It’s very much an Italian city, and yet it feels different. Almost entirely surrounded by Slovenia, perhaps it’s had to absorb more other-cultural-ness than Venice or Verona. I was there eons ago, when Slovenia was still part of Yugoslavia. I was interrailing. On my own. As innocent as the day is long. I was heading for Ljubljana; I can’t remember where from. I don’t know if I even stopped in Trieste or was simply training through. I’d have to dig out those diaries. I have a vague notion though, that it was a day where I had breakfast, lunch, and dinner in three different countries so perhaps I did break the journey.
Nothing looked familiar this time. Nada. But it was lunchtime. Again.
After the narrow streets of Venice and Padua, the broad expanse of the squares in Trieste flanked by magnificent buildings was liberating. Were it not for the two massive cruise ships that had disgorged their clientele, it might have seemed even bigger again. If sailing at capacity, the Costa Luminosa, could have had more than 2000 passengers. One day. Maybe. If I got it for free.
The Austro-Hungarian influence is tangible. The Palazzo del Governo, built at the turn of the twentieth century, is having a facelift. The detail is exquisite, embellished as it is in Murano glass mosaics no less.
It sits on one the left side of the city’s largest square, Piazza Unità d’Italia, facing the magnificent Palazzo del Lloyd Triestino. Built in the late 1800s as the headquarters of the Lloyds Shipping Company for the Austro-Hungarian region, it became the HQ for Lloyds Trieste in the 1920s. It sold in 1986 to the Region Municipality.
Between these two buildings, on the side of the square facing the sea is the equally wonderful Palazzo del Municipio.
From a stage in front of the palace, Mussolini announced in 1938 the promulgation of racial laws in Italy, while on November 4, 1954, from the central balcony of the building, the president Luigi Einaudi and the mayor of the city, Gianni Bartoli, greeted the crowd gathered in the square during the celebrations for the return of Trieste to Italy.
The Fountain of the Four Continents dates to the mid-1700s and if I knew then what I know now, I’d have paid closer attention.
The four statues at the corner of the basin represent the four continents with an animal and each represents one of the four continents then known: Europe with the horse, Asia with the camel, Africa with the lion and America with the crocodile. Oceania-Australia had not yet been discovered. Allegorical figures of Rivers pour water from their jars into the shells below; below the water gushes from the mouths of four dolphins, falling back into the large pools.
The two sculptures, nicknamed Micheze and Jacheze, were commissioned by Bruni in memory of the two Moors who struck the chimes on top of the Mandracchio Tower, which once represented the gateway to the port, demolished in 1838.
Another building that caught my eye was the Palazzo Neogotica, perhaps because it reminded me more of Venice and less of what I see in Austria and Hungary.
We didn’t have long and I was on a mission. I had to say hello to James Joyce. I knew that he had spent time in Trieste, but I hadn’t really thought much of it. Colm Tóibín reckons Trieste was where Joyce grew up. I’ve long associated him with the city, so perhaps on my last trip, I did see him there.
When Joyce left Trieste for the final time in July 1920, nearly 16 years after first arriving in the Adriatic city in October, 1904, he was not only leaving the place where he had written or seen published all of his early works – Chamber Music, Dubliners, Portrait, Exiles and Giacomo Joyce, and where he had begun and written significant episodes of Ulysses, a novel which had already begun to change the course of modern literature even before its publication in 1922 – he was also leaving the city where, at 38 years of age, he had spent most of his adult life.
The museum’s website offers a fascinating history of his time in the city. Note duly made to self to come back when it’s open.
Trieste has its Canal Grande, too, but it’s quieter. Maybe because it was Sunday. But there was none of the mania that I associate with Venice seven days a week. It was as if the city were sleeping and the only ones roaming the streets were the 5000 passengers from the cruise ships. And us. Built in the mid-1700s, the grand canal used to stretch beyond the Sant’Antonio church but no longer.
This was just a taster – a couple of hours passing through a city that is now high on my list of return to’s.
For some stunning photos of the city, check out My Wanderlust.
- Risiera di San Sabba – the only extermination camp in Italy
- Jewish Cemetery on Via del Monte
- Café San Marco – where Jimmy J used to frequent
- Castello di Miramare