The History of Trieste

A colourful past distinguishes Trieste from the rest of Italy

A combination of geographic and historical factors has made Trieste a city unique in its kind and a fascinating place to visit. It is not the typical Italian city you may expect to visit. It has maintained its cultural diversity because of its heterogeneous history and the different ethnic groups that live here side by side. Trieste flourished as part of Austria, from 1382 (which became the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1867) until 1918, when it was considered one of the most prosperous Mediterranean seaports as well as a capital of literature and music. However, the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Trieste's annexation to Italy after World War I, led to a decline in its economic and cultural importance. Hence, the city lost its strategic and commercial influence.

The area of what is now Trieste was settled by the Carni, an Indo-European tribe (hence the name Carso) as early as the 3rd millennium BC. Subsequently, the area was populated by the Histri and Illyrian people, who remained the main civilization until 2000 BC, when the Paleo-Veneti arrived.

By 177 BC, the city was under the governance of the Roman Republic. Trieste was granted the status of a colony under Julius Caesar, who recorded its name as Tergeste in his "Commentarii de bello Gallico" (51 BC ). After the end of the Western Roman Empire in 476, Trieste remained a Byzantine military centre. In 788 it became part of the Frank kingdom under the authority of the count-bishop. From the year 1081 the city came loosely under the Aquileia patriarchy, developing into a free commune at the end of the 12th century.

After two centuries of wars against the nearby major power, the Republic of Venice (who occupied it briefly from 1369 to 1372), the burghers of Trieste petitioned Leopold III von Habsburg, Duke of Austria, to become part of his domains. The agreement of cessation was signed in October 1382, at St Bartholomew's church in the village of Siska, today one of the quarters of Ljubljana.The citizens, however, maintained a certain degree of autonomy well into the 17th century. The Castle of San Giusto, built between 1470 and 1630 in the heart of the ancient town on the ruins of the Roman city is a symbol of that period.

Trieste grew into an important port and trade hub in the 17th and 18th century when Emperor Charles VI declared the city a duty and tax-free port . The reign of his successor, Maria Theresa of Austria, marked  the beginning of a particularly flourishing era.The construction of a deeper port made Trieste  the only sea port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and led to the influx of entrepreneurs and merchants from all over the Mediterranean. Maria Teresa's policy of religious tolerance allowed the different religious communities to practice openly and build their own places of worship.

However, the city was occupied by French troops three times during the Napoleonic Wars, in 1787, 1805 and 1809. In the latter occasion it was annexed to the Illyrian Provinces by Napoleon. During this period Trieste lost its autonomy  and the status of free port was interrupted.

Following the Napoleonic Wars, Trieste returned to the Austrian Empire in 1813 and continued to prosper as the "Imperial Free City of Trieste" (Reichsunmittelbare Stadt Triest). It became the capital of the Austrian Littoral region, the so-called "Kustenland". The city's role as the main Austrian commercial port and shipbuilding center was later emphasized by the foundation of the Austrian Lloyd merchant shipping line in 1836, whose headquarters stood at the corner of Piazza Grande (now Piazza Unità d'Italia).The opening of the Suez canal in 1869, brought the city closer to the Indies and the Far East.  By 1913 Austrian Lloyd had a fleet of 62 ships. The modern Austro-Hungarian navy used Trieste as a military base and it's shipbuilding. The construction of the first major trunk railway in the Empire, the Vienna-Trieste Austrian Southern Railway, was completed in 1857,  and was a valuable asset for trade and the supply of coal.

In the beginning of the 20th century, Trieste was a  cosmopolitan city frequented by artists such as James Joyce, Italo Svevo and Umberto Saba just to mention a few  and they regularly visited its literary cafés hence making it the cultural and literary center of the so-called "Austrian Riviera". The particular Friuli dialect, called Tergestino, spoken until the beginning of the 19th century, had been gradually supplanted by Triestine and other languages  including Italian, German and Slovenian. While Triestine was the dialect  of the majority of the population, German was the language of the Austrian bureaucracy and Slovenian was the language of the surrounding villages. Viennese architecture and coffee houses still dominate the streets of Trieste today.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Trieste and the city of Trento (in the Centre North of Italy) became the  main seat of the "irredentdist "movement which aimed to annex to Italy all the lands that  were historically inhabited by Italian people. After World War 1 ended and Austria-Hungary disintegrated, Trieste was transferred to Italy (1920) along with the whole Julian March (the Venezia Giulia). The annexation, however, determined a loss of importance for the city, both strategically and commercially. Yet the city preserved it's cultural diversity from the rest of Italy. Italy's largest war memorial is in Redipuglia, close to the airport. This area was bitterly fought over during the war.

After the constitution of the Italian Social Republic, on September 23, 1943, Trieste was governed by the fascist regime of Mussolini. During the war, the German Nazi Regime, however, annexed  the city to the Operation Zone of the Adriatic Littoral, which also included Gorizia and Ljubljana. As a consequence,  the Slovene ethnic group (at the time about 25% of the population)  and the Jewish community suffered racial discrimination culminating under the  Nazi occupation  in their deportation to the only concentration camp on Italian soil built in a suburb of Trieste, the "Risiera di San Sabba"   where many who survived there were  deported once more to other camps in Europe.

On April 30, 1945, the Italian anti-fascists Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale (CNL) of don Marzari and Fonda Savio, with 3500 volunteers, incited a revolt against the Nazis. Similar to what had happened in Berlin, the Yugoslav troops led by Tito (like their Russian counter part in Berlin) were the first to enter and occupy the city  while the 2nd New Zealand Division continued its advance along Route 14 around the north coast of the Adriatic to Trieste.  The German forces eventually capitulated on the evening of 2nd May 1945. The Yugoslav forces  formed their own military administration for 40 days  and were intent on annexation of the city and its hinterland. They began to arrest members of the  Italian democratic resistance forces (who were anti-communists) and many were exterminated in the Carso and thrown into deep canyons called Foibe . Under diplomatic pressure of the Western Allies, the Yugoslav troops were finally forced to withdraw from the city on June 12.

In 1947, Trieste was declared an independent State under the protection of the U.N.  The Free Territory of Trieste was governed for several years by the Allied Military Government, comprising American and mainly British Forces. The territory was split into two zones: Zone A under the American and Bristish government and zone B  (the coastline after Muggia extending to Capodistria and its hinterland) under Yugoslav forces.In 1954, after a national referendum, this state was de facto dissolved : the city of Trieste, called Zone A, was handed over to Italy while the southern part of the territory (Zone B) comprising Istria and some parts of the Carso, was given to Yugoslavia. The annexation to Italy was officially proclaimed on October 26, 1954. The border questions with Yugoslavia and the status of the ethnic minorities(Slovenes in Italy and Italians in Yugoslavia)  were settled definitely in 1975 with the treaty of Osimo.

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