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Discover Trieste—an Italian destination like no other

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February 12th, 2018
The panoramic view from Castillo San Guisto.

The panoramic view from Castillo San Guisto.

Tucked into a tiny pocket of land between the Adriatic Sea and Slovenia is the harbor town of Trieste, Italy, a bustling, year-round destination for travelers from Eastern Europe and beyond. In the summer, swimmers and boats fill the sea. In the winter, people shop, explore, and enjoy Trieste’s unique cultural heritage. 

Take a walk through town past exclusive boutiques, charming cafés, and comfortable hotels and it’s hard to believe that Trieste was not always such a welcoming or desired destination. 

History  

Ruled by the Habsburgs for centuries, Trieste was claimed by Italy when Benito Mussolini came into power after World War I. Mussolini left his mark on the cityscape in the form of domineering, fascist-style structures, which appear incongruous among the city’s ornate Baroque and Neoclassical buildings.  

During World War II, Germans took control of Trieste. It bears the ignoble distinction of being the only Italian city to have had a concentration camp with a crematorium, the Risiera di San Sabba. As many as 5,000 Jews, Slavs, and anti-fascists perished at Risiera and thousands more were imprisoned there before being transferred to other camps. 

Before fleeing Trieste in 1945, the Nazis destroyed the crematorium to hide the evidence, and no one from Risiera was ever convicted of war crimes. Today, Risiera is a national monument and a museum. 

After a brief period of Yugoslavian rule, the 1947 Paris Peace Treaties established Trieste as an independent city-state. In 1954, the town was finally claimed by Italy. To this day, many Italians are not aware that Trieste is part of Italy.

Multicultural sites

Given the town’s multicultural heritage, Trieste is an Italian city where you can enjoy pastry as fine as any found in Vienna, explore an ancient Roman theater commissioned in 32 B.C. by Emperor Octavius, and visit two old-world castles. 

Castello di Miramare, located a few miles from the center of town, is built on a rocky promontory jutting into the Adriatic. The castle offers beautiful sea views, formal gardens, and lavishly decorated interiors. 

Castello San Giusto is a much older fortified castle that sits high above the city. The rustic interior houses a nice collection of medieval weapons and artifacts, and the panoramic views from the castle ramparts are unbeatable. 

Adjacent to the Castello San Giusto is the Civico Museo di Storia ed Arte (Civic Museum of History and Art). Home to one of the finest Egyptian collections in Europe, the museum displays ancient artifacts, including three mummy sarcophagi.  

Given the city’s maritime history and its geographical location, it’s no surprise that the Triestini have collected a treasure-trove of artifacts over the years. Given the community spirit of the town, it’s also no surprise that its citizens donated the vast majority of the museum’s holdings.

If all that isn’t enough, Trieste is also home to a number of fascinating caves. One of the caves in Borgo Grotta is so large it’s listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.  

Finally, Trieste is home to Illy coffee, so naturally, one of the best ways to enjoy the city is by sipping a cappuccino at an outdoor café on the city’s main thoroughfare, the Piazza Unità d’Italia.   

Literature

While not exactly a household name, Trieste is a significant place in Italy’s literary landscape. 

To escape the demands of World War I, author James Joyce relocated from his native Dublin to Trieste. Here, he supported himself by teaching English at the Berlitz Academy while writing in his spare time. 

When one of Joyce’s students learned that his English teacher was a published writer, he gave Joyce the manuscript of his recently completed novel. Joyce was so impressed with the work, he passed it along to his editor. 

That novel, Zeno’s Conscience by Italo Svevo, became a classic of Italian literature, and Svevo is credited with advancing the psychological novel in Italy. 

As for Joyce, he penned the 15 stories that make up his seminal work Dubliners while living in Trieste—a somewhat mind-boggling fact given the book’s detailed descriptions of Joyce’s Irish hometown. 

Visitors to Trieste can explore Joyce’s old haunts and learn more about the writer at Trieste’s Joyce Museum.

Food

Triestine cuisine revolves around meat, specifically pork. At one of the town’s many all-you-can-eat buffets, diners can enjoy what can only be described as pork every which way. As for vegetables, it’s cabbage and more cabbage. 

For seafood, don’t miss the homey Osteria Salvagente. Nothing fancy here—tables are covered in brown paper—those with bright Post-it notes on them are reserved. The menu, written in pencil on graph paper, is presented on a clipboard. 

It’s a challenge if you don’t speak Italian, but the good news is that everything on the menu is sure to be fresh, delicious, and authentically prepared. It is also an amazing bargain. The most expensive thing on the menu was 16€.  

In 2012, Lonely Planet included Trieste on its list of the world’s most underrated destinations. Today, Trieste’s crowded streets and packed cafés are proof that travelers have discovered a port of call they will return to again and again.  

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