Trieste, the No Place

29/12/2017 13:10

Trieste, the No Place

Changing city, colour filled, bordering and ductile bound. Some have defined it as a non-place, an atopic site. Trieste is everything and nothing, complements itself and is contradictory. All of this - and nothing - have made it cradle and port of call and stay of writers who have left in their pages evidence of such nuances.

In fact, literature abounds on the basis of that frontier search for identity, of digging into one's own existence, blowing in the wind, looking for white butterflies on the snow or in tears wept out in the rain. The Welsh writer Jan Morris abounded in this idea of ​​the non-place granted by the border movements with their respective successive changes of filiation and the feeling of belonging. In this line it would also be interesting to elucidate, exploring British Thomas More thought in his well-known Dē Optimo Rēpūblicae Statu dēque Nova Insula Ūtopia, first published in 1516, whether Trieste would be situated in the way of the island of Utopia or would rather be an eutopic place or even an atopic one or perhaps a dystopic site. The English Renaissance thinker had a certain taste for building new words from classical Greek, with negation οὐ and the noun τόπος formed his celebrated utopia, literally the no place where he placed an ideal society. With the same purpose he united εὖ and, again, τόπος, to form the good or nice place, a concept closer to Aldous Huxley's future Brave New World. By dystopia is meant the denial of Moro's utopia, rather it alludes to an mistaken temporal space more in syntony with the absurdity of the human race, as in the case of the Triestine region would be the odious forced population displacements, though there are those who consider, like the journalist Rodrigo Fresan in his article How much to reach? lo más paradójico de todo, algo que dice mucho de la naturaleza del hombre, es que las utopías tienden a ser mucho más aburridas que las distopías. (the most paradoxical of all, something that says a lot about the human nature, is that utopias tend to be much more boring than dystopias.)

Disquisitions aside, Trieste, in one way or another, despite the flags that have been waved over his castle always had a place in this world and has been always a discreet town despite its name, Tergeste, the market place, former name even before the arrival of Rome. Romans founded the colony on the hill and in its slope, facing the sea. At the top they erected the public buildings, the forum, the basilica and the temple, whose remains can be seen in Piazza della Cattedrale. The hill slope was used to build the theatre bleaches accommodating about six thousand spectators and it’s the best preserved part with the walls that surround it. Some of the statues that decorated it are now exhibited in the Museo Lapidario Tergestino, one of which is believed to belong to Quintus Petronius Modestus, who paid for the theatre restoration in the second century. To the south, in Piazza del Barbacan, stands the Arco di Riccardo, one of the Roman city gates commissioned by Augustus 33 years BC. It’s also said its name comes from Richard I of England, the Lionheart, who was here captive in his way back from the Crusades. On the theatre, in Via del Seminario, the Antiquarium shows the remains of a domus and part of a late republican wall.

For the Venetians, who gave priority to Capodistria, today Kuper, or Piran, both currently on the Slovenian coast, Trieste would be nothing else than a small market and a fishing quarter. The top of the hill was also the ideal place to build the castle, obviously upon the ruins of the Roman forum. Its current shape dates back to the end of the 15th century, since the days of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III, taking advantage of the former Venetian fortress built in 1369. It had been residence of the Austrian captains until in the 18th century it was used to house the military garrison. Here are currently the headquarters of the Civico Museo del Castello di San Giusto. Near the castle is the namesake cathedral just on the space of the ancient Roman temple once dedicated to the Capitoline Triad, Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. First was raised the episcopal paleo Cristian basilica substituted later, between X and XI centuries, by two parallel buildings, St Mary Cathedral and the church of San Giusto. Both would be merged at the beginning of the fourteenth century with the addition of a fifth central nave. There are still some of the columns of the old propileum and on the floor can be seen fragments of the mosaic of the early Christian basilica. On the sides of the main door was used the tombstone, split in two, of a Roman tombstone with the Barbia family portraits. Above the bell tower entrance there is a 14th-century statue of San Giusto, holding in one hand the model of the city and, in the other, a palm leaf, symbol of martyrdom. A 13th-century fresco depicting it decorates San Giovanni chapel and two exceptional mosaics cover the bottom of the apses, one of which depicts the Madonna on throne with the Child among the archangels and with the twelve apostles in the lower fringe. Descending along Via delle Monache, Santa Maria Maggiore and San Silvestro churches are found. The first one has a Baroque façade built by the Jesuits in the 17th century, the second, from the 14th century, it is Romanesque with a beautiful porticoed entrance supported by two columns.

The city will take off under the Austro-Hungarian domination, becoming de facto port of Vienna. Charles VI chose it in 1719 as the main Empire harbour. Shipyards and the activity of the free port will attract at the end of XVIII century a highly cosmopolitan population that speaks in German and Italian, in Slovenian and Venetian, Greek, English, Croatian and, of course, in Triestinian. This is the moment when new neighbourhoods appear. Until then the city was restricted to the handful of alleys that descended from the hill and to those that extended around the new nerve centre of the city, today the huge Piazza dell'Unità. This is the largest square open to the sea in Europe, someone said it’s the prettiest, surrounded by some of the most emblematic buildings of the city. Not always had been so, before its renovation it was a smaller space, closed by several buildings and a tower, already missing which was known as Torre del Porto or dell'Orologio. Its current appearance dates from the mid-nineteenth century. The background is occupied by the town hall, Palazzo del Municipio, crowned by a tower where two automatons, Michez and Jachez, in the manner of the two Moors of Piazza San Marco in Venice, ring the bell. These are a replica of the original ones, moulded in 1875 by the Treviso sculptor, Fausto Asteo, now exhibited in San Giusto Castle. The square is completed with the palaces Modello, the one of the Government and Sttratti. In the latter the lower floor is occupied by the historical Caffè degli Specchi. In the middle of the square are the Fontana dei Quattro Continenti, a work by Giovanni Mazzoleni installed in 1754, and the column with the statue of Charles VI.

The bustling Corso Italia separates the old town from the Theresian District, the grid extension that surrounds the Grand Canal where traders and businessmen were established and built their neoclassical facade mansions. The Grand Canal was the waterway entrance to this new urban centre and was crossed by drawbridges to allow the passage of sailboats loaded with any kind of merchandises. Today, these bridges are made of immovable stone. The Grand Canal ends in the square where the neoclassical Sant'Antonio Taumaturgo church. Almost beside rises another church, this is the Orthodox one, the Tempio Serbo Ortodosso di San Spiridone. In the central part opens the space of the Piazza Ponterosso, where was the drawbridge that with its colour gave name to the new bridge and the square. In the centre there is another work of Mazzoleni, a fountain crowned by a cherub added later that is popularly known as the Giovanin. In the lower side of the waterway, in front of Riva Tre Novembre, three buildings give a marked eclecticism to this maritime facade with constructions with Hellenizing elements and others looking like from New York or Venetian. These are Grattacielo Rosso, Palazzo Gopcevich and the Palazzo Corciotti.

At the end of the First World War, Trieste is debated between being Italian or Yugoslavian. After World War II, by the Treaty of Paris of 1947, it is granted a special status of independence. Seven years later the Free Territory of Trieste is divided into two zones, the northern one, with the city, which will depend on Italy and the rest, on the Yugoslav Republic. Looking for a solid place in the world.

© J.L.Nicolas


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