World ? Europe ? Italy ? Trieste

Trieste: Introduction

158km (98 miles) E of Venice, 68km (42 miles) SE of Udine, 408km (253 miles) E of Milan

On a map, Trieste faces west, toward the rest of Italy, to which it is connected only by a strip of what would otherwise be Slovenian beachfront just a few miles wide. For many of its traditions -- from the Slavic dialects you are likely to hear in the streets to the appearance of goulash and Viennese pastries on its menus -- this handsome city of medieval, neoclassical, and modern buildings turns to other parts of Europe and is rightly considered a Habsburgian Adriatic port, tied more to Vienna than to Venice.

Already a thriving port by the time it was absorbed into the Roman Empire in the 2nd century A.D., Trieste competed with Venice for control of the seas from the 9th through the 15th centuries. For several centuries it thrived under the Habsburgs; in the late 18th century, Maria Theresa, and later her heirs and successors, gave the city its grandiose neoclassical look. Trieste was the chief seaport of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of World War I, when the Friuli was reunited with Italy. That changed again during World War II, when Trieste fell to the Nazis in 1943. At the end of the war, it was turned over to Yugoslavia and then rejoined Italy in 1954.

Politics continue to shape this city -- today you're likely to notice the recent influx of refugees from the former Yugoslavia. You're also likely to notice that Trieste is a seagoing city. The traditional passeggiata here means a stroll along the waterfront to enjoy a sea breeze and watch the sun set over the Adriatic.

In the cafes that remain (fewer now than before World War I), you can experience the city's history as one of Europe's intellectual centers. James Joyce arrived in 1904 and stayed for more than a decade, teaching English and writing A Portrait of an Artist As a Young Man, Dubliners, and at least part of Ulysses; the poet Rainer Maria Rilke lived nearby; Sigmund Freud spent time here; and the city was home to Italo Svevo, one of Italy's greatest 20th-century novelists, and to Umberto Saba, one of its greatest 20th-century poets.

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