On Trieste (Italy)

Trieste – TREE est in English, TREE ess te in Italian, Trst (Trist) in Croatian and Slovenian.

I was 11 years old for my last trip to Trieste (1964). Because of the relative closeness of Trieste, Italy to where our Rick Steves ended (Lake Bled, Slovenia), we decided to extend our vacation with a side trip to the city of my birth.

Given its location on the Adriatic Sea’s Gulf of Trieste, Trieste has a storied history. Looking at it on a map should be head-scratching to many because it seems Slovenia would be a more natural fit.

 

Trieste’s beginning is rooted to the Romans in the second century BC.

 

After being ruled by Charlemagne then the Venetians – who built local icon sites San Giusto Castle and Cathedral.

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Trieste became part of the Habsburg Monarchy and eventually the main port for Austria-Hungary (1382-1918). Many of the majestic buildings of today were built during this prosperous time.

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With Italy being on the winning side of WW1 and Austria-Hungary being dismantled, Trieste became part of Italy in 1915 – although numerous Slovenes lived there at the time. Italy also annexed part of Slovenia, then lost it in WW2.

TIto’s Yugoslavia wanted Trieste as WW2 was ending. On 5 March 1946, Winston Churchill referenced Trieste in his famous Iron Curtain speech: “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.

Because Trieste was pivotal, the UN established it as an independent free territory (1947) that was protected by American and British forces. Enter my dad, a member of the US Army – where he met my mother who went to Trieste from northern Tuscany to work. They married and I was born there. We a few months after I was born, and then a year later (1954), Trieste became part of Italy.

 

With a population today of just over 200,000, Trieste proudly displays its past. Leading back to its Austria-Hungary days, Trieste is Italy’s City of Coffee. There are hundreds of ways to serve coffee in Trieste – and not a Starbuck’s to be found.

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Being on the sea, Triestines love sailing – and a weeklong, large regatta festival (Barcolana) just started. The flute orchestra was part of the festivities.

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I love the way the city is built on the hillside sloping the sea – and then in the city, Piazza Unità d’Italia opens to the sea. (Note: Europe’s largest square facing the sea)

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Even though I recalled some of the sites but not remember where I was born or baptized, it was fun to return to my birthplace. After all, it is part of me. Plus it was a chance to share it with my wife, who didn’t know what to expect.

Hope you’ve enjoyed my trip to Trieste – a special place for me. I invite you to watch the video (with a fitting song) below and visit a post by a reader here, visit Debra @ Bagni di Lucca and Beyond. Also, here’s a past-post of mine about Trieste.

Next Stop: Venice

Click here for past posts of this tour.

Thank You Elsa for Your Trieste Story

Note: With the anniversary of VE Day approaching, remember those who fought in WW II.

Several years ago I took my dad to an army reunion in St. Louis. Attending were the men serving Trieste (Italy) following WW II. With the September passing of my father, I discovered this yet-to-be-posted essay.

For those that don’t know, Trieste was part of Italy during WW II. Before that, it was Austria-Hungary’s only port. Besides, as a pivotal port city at the northern tip of the Adriatic Sea, Trieste’s history is filled with conflict.

After Mussolini’s regime fell, Nazi Germany quickly moved in.  As the war was winding down, Tito’s Communistic Yugoslavian forces were engaging the Nazis in their pursuit of Trieste. With all this in mind, Trieste contained partisans Fascists, Nazis, Communists, and many native Italians who inconspicuously worked above ground for one of the sides, yet were ready for a return to normalcy.

Eventually, the Allies pushed into Trieste. Winston Churchill stated in a March 1946 speech,

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.”

Trieste was again at a pivot point in history: the start of the Cold War.

WW II ends with Trieste as a free territory divided into zones patrolled by the Allies and the Yugoslavs. This time period is where my life begins. My dad had re-enlisted into the Army and was assigned to Trieste. During this time he met my mother, they eventually married and I was born.

In 1954, the land is divided between Italy and Yugoslavia. I last visited Trieste in 1964 as part of a family vacation.

During that weekend in St. Louis I met many of the soldiers protecting Trieste. Remarkably, many of them also married Triestine women – some knew my mother (who died in 1987).

This is where I met Elsa Spencer: a gracious woman full of both American and Italian pride. When first introduced, she was signing a copy of her book to a friend. Given the title – Good-Bye Trieste – it caught my eye. Dad bought a copy, thus I spent time reading with anticipation.

Good-Bye Trieste is her story about life. It starts with a young Triestine school girl consumed by Fascism, which served as the focal point for her family history.  As the war continues, she experiences bombings, being shot at, public hangings, executions, family trauma, and eventually discovering (on her own) Fascism’s deceit.

The war ended, but her roller-coaster life continued. Eventually, she married an American soldier, and then came to the U.S. and started a new life. As I was reading, I suddenly realized not only was she telling her story, but also the story for the similar Italian women who met and married American soldiers. Oh my God – she’s also telling Mom’s story.

There’s much I didn’t know (or possibly understood) about my mother. Suddenly, 21 years after her passing, I was drawn and touched to her life through Elsa because I could relate too many of her stories. Other women in attendance confirmed the thoughts.

Good-Bye Trieste is an easy and enchanting read. It’s also an important read for anyone who grew up as I did with an Italian mother who came to America during the 1950s as a military wife. But I can’t stop there because anyone who lived in a multicultural home can relate to Elsa’s story.

So to Elsa I want to say “Thank you.” Thank you for your gracious personality. Thank you for sharing your story to help me understand Mom’s story. Thank you for giving me a better understanding of my birthplace. Thank you for renewing my tie to the region and my birthplace.

My last visit was long ago for a variety of reasons. So Elsa, because of you, I can now say, Hello Trieste – I look forward to visiting again; hopefully sooner than later. Meanwhile, I can enjoy these videos and the distant memories.

Photo courtesy of Monocle