Trieste (/triːˈɛst/;Italian pronunciation: [triˈɛste] listen (help·info); Triestine Venetian: Trièst; Slovene, Croatian: Trst; German: Triest) is a city and seaport in northeastern Italy. It is situated towards the end of a narrow strip of Italian territory lying between the Adriatic Sea and Italy’s border with Slovenia, which lies almost immediately south and east of the city. Trieste is located at the head of the Gulf of Trieste and throughout history it has been influenced by its location at the crossroads of Germanic, Latin and Slavic cultures. In 2009, it had a population of about 205,000 and it is the capital of the autonomous region Friuli Venezia Giulia and Trieste province.
Trieste was one of the oldest parts of the Habsburg Monarchy from 1382 until 1918. In the 19th century, it was the most important port of one of the Great Powers of Europe. As a prosperous seaport in the Mediterranean region, Trieste became the fourth largest city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (after Vienna, Budapest, and Prague). In the fin-de-siecle period, it emerged as an important hub for literature and music. However, the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Trieste’s union to Italy after World War I led to some decline of its «Mittel-European» cultural and commercial importance. Enjoying an economic revival during the 1930s and throughout the Cold War, Trieste was an important spot in the struggle between the Eastern and Western blocs. Today, the city is in one of the richest regions of Italy, and has been a great centre for shipping, through its port (Port of Trieste), shipbuilding and financial services.
Originally an Illyrian settlement the town was later captured by the Carni. From 177 BC Tergeste was under the Romans. It was granted the status of colony under Julius Caesar, who recorded its name as Tergeste in his Commentarii de bello Gallico (51 BC). During Roman times, Tergeste was defined an «Illyrian city» by Artemidorus of Ephesus, a Greek geographer, and «Carnic» by Strabo.
In imperial times the border of «Roman Italia» moved from the Timavo river to Formione (today Risano (it)). Roman Tergeste flourished due to its position on the road from Aquileia, the main Roman city in the area, to Istria, and as a port, some ruins of which are still visible. Augustus built a line of walls around the city in 33-32 BC, while Trajan built a theatre in the 2nd century AD.
In the Early Christian era Trieste continued to flourish, and after the end of the Western Roman Empire (in 476), it became a Byzantine military outpost. In 567 AD the city was destroyed by the Lombards in the course of their invasion of northern Italy. In 788 it became part of the Frankish kingdom, under the authority of their count-bishop. From 1081 the city came loosely under the Patriarchate of Aquileia, developing into a free commune by the end of the 12th century.
Trieste in the 17th century, in a contemporary image by the Carniolan historian Johann Weikhard von Valvasor
After two centuries of war against the nearby major power, the Republic of Venice (which occupied it from 1369 to 1501), the main citizens of Trieste petitioned Leopold III of Habsburg, Duke of Austria to become part of his domains. The agreement of cessation was signed in October 1382, in St. Bartholomew’s church in the village of Šiška (apud Sisciam), today one of the city quarters of Ljubljana. The citizens, however, maintained a certain degree of autonomy up until the 17th century.
Following an unsuccessful Habsburg invasion of Venice in the prelude to the War of the League of Cambrai, the Venetians occupied Trieste again in 1508, and under the terms of the peace were allowed to keep the city. The Habsburg Empire recovered Trieste a little over one year later, however, when conflict resumed.
Trieste became an important port and trade hub. In 1719, it was made a free port within the Habsburg Empire by Emperor Charles VI, and remained a free port until 1 July 1891. The reign of his successor, Maria Theresa of Austria, marked the beginning of a flourishing era for the city.
In 1768, the German art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann was murdered by a robber in Trieste, while on his way from Vienna to Italy.
Trieste was occupied by French troops three times during the Napoleonic Wars, in 1797, 1805 and in 1809. Between 1809 and 1813, it was annexed to the Illyrian Provinces, interrupting its status of free port and losing its autonomy. The municipal autonomy was not restored after the return of the city to the Austrian Empire in 1813. Following the Napoleonic Wars, Trieste continued to prosper as the Free Imperial City of Trieste (Reichsunmittelbare Stadt Triest), a status that granted economic freedom, but limited its political self-government. The city’s role as main Austrian trading port and shipbuilding centre was later emphasized with the foundation of the merchant shipping line Austrian Lloyd in 1836, whose headquarters stood at the corner of the Piazza Grande and Sanità. By 1913 Austrian Lloyd had a fleet of 62 ships comprising a total of 236,000 tons. With the introduction of the constitutionalism in the Austrian Empire in 1860, the municipal autonomy of the city was restored, with Trieste became capital of the Adriatisches Küstenland, the Austrian Littoral region.
The particular Friulian dialect, called Tergestino, spoken until the beginning of the 19th century, was gradually overcome by the Triestine dialect of Venetian (a language deriving directly from vulgar Latin) and other languages, including German grammar, Slovene and standard Italian languages. While Triestine was spoken by the largest part of the population, German was the language of the Austrian bureaucracy and Slovene was predominant in the surrounding villages. From the last decades of the 19th century, Slovene language speakers grew steadily, reaching 25% of the overall population of the municipality of Trieste in 1911 (30% of the Austro-Hungarian citizens in Trieste).
According to the 1911 census, the proportion of Slovene speakers amounted to 12.6% in the city center, 47.6% in the suburbs, and 90.5% in the surroundings. They were the largest ethnic group in 9 of the 19 urban neighborhoods of Trieste, and represented a majority in 7 of them. The Italian speakers, on the other hand, were 60.1% of the population in the city center, 38.1% in the suburbs, and 6.0% in the surroundings. They were the largest linguistic group in 10 of the 19 urban neighborhoods, and represented the majority in 7 of them (including all 6 in the city center). Of the 11 villages included within the city limits, the Slovene speakers had an overwhelming majority in 10, and the German speakers in one (Miramare).
German speakers amounted to 5% of the city’s population, with the highest proportions in the city center.
A small number of the population spoke Croatian (around 1.3% in 1911), and the city also counted several other smaller ethnic communities: Czechs, Istro-Romanians, Serbs and Greeks, which mostly assimilated either to the Italian or Slovene-speaking community.
A view of Trieste in 1885
In the later part of the 19th century, Pope Leo XIII considered moving his residence to Trieste (or to Salzburg), due to what he considered a hostile anti-Catholic climate in Italy, following the Capture of Rome by the newly-founded Kingdom of Italy. However, the Austrian monarch Franz Josef I gently rejected this idea.
The modern Austro-Hungarian Navy used Trieste’s shipbuilding facilities for construction and as a base. The construction of the first major trunk railway in the Empire, the Vienna-Trieste Austrian Southern Railway, was completed in 1857, a valuable asset for trade and the supply of coal.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Trieste was a buzzing cosmopolitan city frequented by artists and philosophers such as James Joyce, Italo Svevo, Sigmund Freud, Dragotin Kette, Ivan Cankar, Scipio Slataper, and Umberto Saba. The city was the major port of the Austrian Riviera, and perhaps the only real enclave of Mitteleuropa south of the Alps. Viennese architecture and coffeehouses still dominate the streets of Trieste to this day.
Together with Trento, Trieste was a main focus of the irredentist movement, which aimed for the annexation to Italy of all the lands they claimed were inhabited by an Italian-speaking population. Many local Italians enrolled voluntarily in the Royal Italian Army (a notable example is the writer Scipio Slataper).
After the end of World War I, the Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved, and many of its border areas, including the Austrian Littoral, were disputed among its successor states. On November 3, 1918, the Armistice of villa Giusti was signed ending hostilities between Italy and Austria-Hungary. Trieste was occupied by the Italian Army after the Austro-Hungarian troops had been ordered to lay down their arms, a day before the Armistice was due to come into effect, effectively allowing the Italians to claim the region had been taken before the cessation of hostilities (a similar situation occurred in South Tyrol). Trieste was officially annexed to the Kingdom of Italy only with the Treaty of Rapallo in 1920. Immediately a policy of «deslavification» started with the Italianisation of Slovene placenames. The region was reorganized as a new administrative unit, known as the Julian March (Venezia Giulia).
Absorption by Italy, however, brought a loss of importance to the city, as the new state border deprived it of its former hinterland. The Slovene ethnic group (around 25% of the population according to the 1910 census) suffered persecution by rising Italian Fascism. The period of violent persecution of Slovenes began with riots in April 13, 1920, which were organized as a retaliation for the assault on Italian occupying troops in Split by the local Croatian population. Many Slovene-owned shops and buildings were destroyed during the riots, which culminated when a group of Italian Fascists, led by Francesco Giunta, burned down the Narodni dom («National House»), the community hall of Trieste’s Slovenes.
After the emergence of the Fascist regime in 1922, an official policy of Italianization continued. Public use of the Slovene language was prohibited, by 1927 all Slovene associations were dissolved, while names and surnames of Slavic and German origin were Italianized by the end of 1930. Several thousand Slovenes from Trieste, especially intellectuals, emigrated to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and to South America, where many became prominent in their field. Among the notable Slovene émigrés from Trieste were the writers Vladimir Bartol and Josip Ribičič, the legal theorist Boris Furlan, and the architect Viktor Sulčič. Meanwhile several thousand ethnic Italians from Dalmatia moved to Trieste from the newly created Yugoslavia.
In the late 1920s, Yugoslav irredentism started to appear, and the Slovene militant anti-fascist organization TIGR carried out several bomb attacks in the city centre. In 1930 and 1941, two trials against Slovene activists were held in Trieste by the fascist Special Tribunal for the Security of the State.
Despite the demise of its traditional multicultural and pluri-linguistic character, and the emigration of many Slovenes and most of the German speakers, the overall population continued to grow. Even the economy enjoyed a significant improvement in the late 1930s, with development of industrial activities.
The Fascist Regime undertook several new infrastructure projects and public buildings, including the almost 70 m (229.66 ft) high Victory Lighthouse (Faro della Vittoria), which became one of the city’s landmarks. The University of Trieste was also established in this period.
Several artistic and intellectual subcultures continued to swarm even under the repressive Fascist regime. In the 1920s, the city was home to an important avant-gardist movement in visual arts, centered around the futurist Tullio Crali and the constructivist Avgust Černigoj. In the same period, Trieste consolidated its role as one of the centres of modern Italian literature, with authors such as Umberto Saba, Biagio Marin, Giani Stuparich, and Salvatore Satta. Among the non-Italian authors and intellectuals that remained in Trieste, the most notable were the Austrian Julius Kugy and the Slovene Boris Pahor. Intellectuals were frequently associated with Caffè San Marco, a cafè in the city still open today.
The promulgation of the anti-Jewish racial laws in 1938 was a severe blow to the city’s Jewish community, the third largest in Italy. The Fascist anti-semitic campaign resulted in a series of attacks on Jewish property and individuals, culminating in July 1942, when the Great Synagogue was raided and devastated by the Fascist Squads and the mob.
With the invasion and occupation of Yugoslavia in April 1941, World War Two came close to Trieste. Starting from the winter of 1941, the first Yugoslav partisan units appeared in Trieste province, although the resistance movement did not reach the city itself until late 1943.
After the Italian armistice in September 1943, the city was occupied by German troops. Trieste became nominally part of the newly constituted Italian Social Republic, but it was de facto ruled by Nazi Germany: the Nazis created the Operation Zone of the Adriatic Littoral out of former Italian north-eastern regions, with Trieste as the administrative center. The new administrative entity was headed by Friedrich Rainer. Under the Nazi occupation, the only concentration camp with a crematorium on Italian soil was built in a suburb of Trieste, at the Risiera di San Sabba, on 4 April 1944. Around 3,000 Jews, South Slavs and Italian anti Fascists were killed in the Risiera, while thousands of others were imprisoned before being transferred to other concentration camps.
The city saw intense Italian and Yugoslav partisan activity, and suffered from Allied bombings. The city’s Jewish community was deported to extermination camps, where most of them died.
On April 30, 1945, the Italian anti-Fascist National Liberation Committee (Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale, or CLN) of don Marzari and Savio Fonda, constituted of approximately 3,500 volunteers, incited a riot against the German occupiers. On May 1, Allied forces of the Yugoslav Partisans’ 8th Dalmatian Corps arrived and took over most of the city, except for the courts and the castle of San Giusto, where the German garrisons refused to surrender to any force other than New Zealanders. The 2nd New Zealand Division continued to advance towards Trieste along Route 14 around the northern coast of the Adriatic sea and arrived in the city the next day (see official histories The Italian Campaign and Through the Venetian Line). The German forces capitulated on the evening of May 2, but were then turned over to the Yugoslav forces.
The Yugoslavs held full control of the city until June 12, a period known in the Italian historiography as the «forty days of Trieste».
During this period, hundreds of local Italians and anti-Communist Slovenes were arrested by the Yugoslav authorities, and many of them disappeared. These included former Fascists and Nazi collaborators, but also Italian nationalists, and any other real or potential opponents of Yugoslav Communism. Some were interned in Yugoslav concentration camps (in particular at Borovnica, Slovenia), while others were murdered and thrown into the potholes («foibe») on the Karst plateau.
After an agreement between the Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito and the British Field Marshal Harold Alexander, the Yugoslav forces withdrew from Trieste, which came under a joint British-U.S. military administration. The Julian March was divided between Anglo-American and Yugoslav military administration until September 1947, when the Paris Peace Treaty established the Free Territory of Trieste.
Zone A and Zone B of the Free Territory of Trieste (1947–1954)
In 1947, Trieste was declared an independent city state under the protection of the United Nations as the Free Territory of Trieste. The territory was divided into two zones, A and B, along the Morgan Line, established in 1945.
From 1947 to 1954, the A Zone was governed by the Allied Military Government, composed of the American «Trieste United States Troops» (TRUST), commanded by Major General Bryant E. Moore, the commanding general of the American 88th Infantry Division, and the «British Element Trieste Forces» (BETFOR), commanded by Sir Terence Airey, who were the joint forces commander and also the military governors. Zone A covered almost the same area of the current Italian Province of Trieste, except for four small villages south of Muggia, which were given to Yugoslavia after the dissolution of the Free Territory in 1954. Zone B, which remained under the military administration of the Yugoslav People’s Army, was composed of the north-westernmost portion of the Istrian peninsula, between the river Mirna and the Debeli Rtič cape.
In 1954, the Free Territory of Trieste was dissolved. The vast majority of Zone A, including the city of Trieste, was ceded to Italy. Zone B became part of Yugoslavia, along with four villages from the Zone A (Plavje, Spodnje Škofije, Hrvatini, and Jelarji), and was divided among the Socialist Republic of Slovenia and Croatia. The annexation of Trieste to Italy was officially announced on 26 October 1954, and was welcomed by the majority of the Trieste population.
The final border line with Yugoslavia, and the status of the ethnic minorities in the areas, was settled in 1975 with the Treaty of Osimo. This line is now the border between Italy and Slovenia.