Trieste city

A Little Guide to Trieste, Italy

Some say it’s ugly, and some say it’s beautiful. I guess that the first group is referring to the surroundings, especially to the part that you see from the road when driving from Slovenia to Trieste. You see factories, lots of old blocks of flats and Cattinara, a hospital that looks kinda creepy. The second group is probably thinking of the centre. They’re referring to the elegant buildings, the huge main square, the castle and the Riviera.

In my opinion, almost every town or city can be both: ugly and beautiful. The centre of Ljubljana is beautiful, but as soon as you move away from it, you encounter either grey socialist blocks or weird modern buildings. My hometown, Koper, lies next to a shopping area which is anything but pretty. I could tell you a similar story about Valencia and London, but you get the point. I bet you could tell me a similar example, wherever in the world you come from.

View from Castello di San Giusto.

A little bit about Trieste

Trieste is the capital of the autonomous region Friuli Venezia Giulia, and it has about 200,000 residents. It’s a city and a seaport in northeastern Italy, lying between the Adriatic Sea and Slovenia. Trieste is located at a crossroads of Slavic, Germanic and Latin cultures by which it has been influenced throughout history. It belonged to the Habsburg Monarchy for centuries and was its fourth largest city. At the end of the 19th century, it became an essential hub for music and literature. It was also an important spot in the struggle between the Eastern and Western blocs after World War II. Interestingly, the original pre-Roman name of the city was Tergeste, -terg meaning “market”. In Yugoslavian times, people from Slovenia used to go to Italy to buy goods like coffee and jeans which they couldn’t buy in Yugoslavia. People from my region (the Slovenian coast) would also often go to Trieste for work (some still do).  

Enough data. This post is about the cool (and beautiful) things you can visit and see in Trieste! I love to go there because it only takes about twenty minutes or so by car, but it still feels like a trip to a «proper city» (my own town, Koper, is very small). Especially now, when I’m not travelling much, I love doing that. So, let’s get into some of my favourite spots.

View of Trieste
The view of Trieste from the castle.

Piazza Unità d’Italia (Unity of Italy Square)

Piazza Unità (formerly Piazza Grande) is the main square of Trieste and also the biggest square lying next to the sea in Europe, as well as the sixth largest square in Italy. The fact that it lies right next to the sea makes it seem even bigger. It was built during the period when Trieste was the main seaport in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. This is why it’s full of big municipal buildings and other beautiful palaces. Piazza Unità is sometimes used as a concert venue. I attended a Green Day concert in 2013, while Iron Maiden played there three years later.

Piazza Unità
Piazza Unità d’Italia (in December 2018)

The seafront promenade in Trieste

I think there aren’t many things better in life than taking a walk by the sea when the sun is setting. When you’re strolling along Trieste’s seafront promenade, with impressive palaces and Piazza Unità on one side and the sea on the other side, you get some pretty amazing views. The promenade is also where various festivals and events usually take place. I feel like I run into food stalls or something going on every other time I’m in town.

Church of Sant'Antonio Taumaturgo
Church of Sant’Antonio Taumaturgo

Molo Audace (Audace Pier)

Molo Audace (formerly Molo San Carlo) is right in front of the main square; it’s a 200 metres long walkway/pier, named after a ship from World War II. Boats used to dock at the pier all the time, and it was important for passengers as well as for merchants. Today, boats dock here only very occasionally. The only exception is the Barcolana, a traditional sailing regatta that takes place in the Golf of Trieste every October. People often chill here and observe the sunset.

Molo Audace
Molo Audace

Canal Grande di Trieste

The Grand Canal of Trieste used to be an area of salt marshes. Later it became one of Trieste’s commercial hubs. Its banks are still lined with squares, churches and cafes, among them the historic Stella Polare café. The canal is home to various boats. There also used to be three bridges that would swing open for boats (only the Red Bridge – Ponte Rosso remains), while the Short Bridge (Ponte Curto) is a recent addition. When it comes to churches, there’s the Serbian Orthodox Church of San Spiridone with inscriptions in Old Church Slavonic and the Church of Sant’Antonio Taumaturgo which was inspired by Roman monuments. When walking around Canal Grande you might also run into James Joyce – well, his statue. It was made on the centenary of his visit to Trieste.  

Canal Grande di Trieste

Castello di San Giusto

San Giusto Castle stands on a hill overlooking the city; they share the name. San Giusto hill is where the first fortified settlement was built, even before the Roman Tergeste. The fortress itself was built in the 15th century when Trieste was under Austria (to which they surrendered in the 14th century because of constant Venetian reprisals). The bastions were added later, throughout the centuries.

The castle offers stunning views of the city, and the Captain’s House is home to a collection of medieval weapons. There are also other small museums/things to see: you should enter the castle, walk around the wall so you can see the view of the sea and the city, then enter every door around the square that you possibly can to see what’s in there. Of course, you can do it the other way around. The castle costs 2 euros to enter if you’re under 26, and 4 if you’re over 26.

Castello di San Giusto

Museo d’antichità J. J. Winckelmann

J.J. Winckelmann antiquity museum is a museum of history and art, located right next to the castle. It’s free to enter, and it’s one of the best museums I’ve ever been to. I’m not really a museum person, but this one isn’t a typical one. It’s not very big, its collections are very diverse and it has a lapidary garden full of art. The nature around the artefacts in the garden is sort of wild, which makes it all the more fun to walk and climb around.

Trieste’s geographical position and trade relations enabled it to build a rich collection of artefacts from ancient lands. In the museum, there’s everything from prehistoric objects from the Karst area to a vast Roman collection and stuff from the Hellenistic period. What really stands out is the Egyptian collection; it’s stunning. I was quite shocked when I walked into a small room and saw a mummy. I haven’t seen one since my trip to Egypt in 2010, and I sure as hell didn’t expect to find one on some hill in Trieste. 

Museo d'antichità J. J. Winckelmann
At the entrance to Museo d’antichità J. J. Winckelmann

Castello di Miramare

Miramare Castle is not in the centre, it’s a 5-10 minute drive out of the city, depending on how close you park, plus some walking. The best place to park is next to the road and pretty far from the castle because that way it’s free, and you can enjoy the walk to the castle by the sea. I haven’t entered the castle since I was a child, so I honestly don’t remember how it is inside. I think there are a lot of red carpets and fancy stuff, but what matters (at least to me) is the outside. The building itself is beautiful, the views are even more amazing, and the forest right next to it is perfect for another walk. It’s full of tropical species of trees and plants. The castle was built in the 19th century for the Emperor Maximilian I. It truly looks like a princess castle with magical views of the sea (even if the guy wasn’t a princess).

Castello di Miramare

Some final thoughts on Trieste

A tip for all the vegans out there: I personally don’t know of any strictly vegan restaurants in Trieste. However, many offer vegetarian and vegan options. My best advice is to go to a pizzeria and order a vegetarian pizza without cheese or perhaps a marinara which is originally cheese-free. This way you’ll get both: authentic Italian cuisine and yummy vegan food!

I’m sure I’ve left many things out, but these are the places that I love the most about Trieste. Just writing this makes me want to visit it again, even if I was there not even two weeks ago. I’ll wait for summer, perhaps, if it decides to come this year.

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