Trieste is in many ways the sister city of Rijeka. Separated by national borders and a sliver of Slovenia, the cities’ histories are remarkable mirrors of each other. Both are port cities that were vital to the Austro-Hungarian empire. Both had diverse populaces that suffered lots of heartache and fighting once nationalism starting drawing borders around ethnicities instead of kingdoms. Both were Free Territories↗ for a time. And both continued to be fought over even after the Great Wars of the 20th century ended.
Like many Europeans in the 1930s and 40s, Kevin’s family moved away from Rijeka as boundaries and opportunities shifted. For a time they settled in Trieste. Pictures and postcards from that period captured a time in their lives and the city’s history that inspired us to spend a day visiting and making our own memories.
We weren’t sure how much would have changed in the last half-century, but at least from what we saw the answer is clear: not as much as you might think. The center of Trieste is still the Canal Grande, straight and regal. Austrian and Venetian styles influenced many of the city’s buildings.
At the head of the canal we stumbled on a small chocolate festival. Tents set up in front of the Church of Sant’Antonio Nuovo wafted delectable smells and handed out free samples. A short walk away is the Piazza della Borsa. One of Kevin’s uncles once worked with a view toward this square. Since those days it has become pedestrian-only.
In addition to the older fountain of Neptune, there is a newer sculpture depicting Gabriele D’Annunzio↗. D’Annunzio, a poet, politician, and sometimes warlord, was one of the region’s more unusual characters. He set up a self-proclaimed state in Rijeka (then Fiume) and ruled as leader-dictator. Eventually he declared war on Italy and forced the Italians to bomb what was essentially their own territory.
Other streets, like Viale XX Settembre, are as people-friendly as ever. The trees have grown, their shade thickened. We joined the crowds grabbing a morning espresso on their ways to work.
Kevin’s great aunt and uncle were married here. The church’s interior was quiet, but captivating and poignantly unaltered.
We paused to reflect for a bit before stepping outside to continue our photo scavenger hunt. The next find was an easy one. In the plaza facing both the church and the next-door castle sits Monumento ai Caduti di Trieste, Trieste’s War Memorial. Blocks of white stone listing names of the local dead are the only recently added items.
Dominating the remainder of the hill was Castello di San Giusto. The oldest portions were built at least 400 years ago, though even those walls were built atop older structures. Of course, they’ve been reconstructed and repaired through the ages.
In the ramparts, ivy crisped with the onset of autumn. We descended into the depths of the fortress to see the damp and drippy lapidarium featuring sculptures and ancient funerary monuments. Speaking of antiquity, the base of the same hill is the site of an ancient Roman amphitheatre. It is so well preserved that it still holds performances.
And that waterfront was where we headed next. The shoreline was nearly indistinguishable, with all of the important buildings recognizable even from an imperfect comparison shot.
Molo Audace, a long pedestrian pier, offers a respite from the hustle of the city and a great vantage to appreciate it from. We took a seat facing the lighthouse to watch another famous Mediterranean sunset.
From there it was only a short walk to Piazza Unità d’Italia, probably the prettiest square in the city. It is dominated by an incredible and (apparently) timeless City Hall.
Across the piazza was the World War I memorial. It looked just the same. Even the lampposts hadn’t changed since the 1940s!
Neither Rijeka nor Trieste are fought over any more. Their ports work diligently from out of the spotlight to supply their respective countries. Nor are either really tourist hotspots. But we cherished our short taste of Trieste.
It was time for our day across the border in Italy to end. We waved goodbye to the crush of pizzerias and motor scooters, squeezing in a gelato run and sip at a wine bar before heading home. Our bus back to Rijeka↗ arrived right on time, despite Flixbus sending us multiple notices that it was hours behind schedule (thank goodness we erred on the side of caution and checked for ourselves). And as we sat in the dark, scrolling through our day’s photos to pass the time, we imagined how people might look back on our own little time capsule and reflect on all the the ways the city has changed, and all the ways it stays the same.