#Cividale del Friuli, Udine, Italy (above)
Donald Strachan offers an essential cultural guide to an Italian city that shares DNA with both Venice and Vienna.
on #The Daily Telegraph (#www.dailytelegraph.co.uk)
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The Italian port of Trieste bristles with life, has a fascinating history and serves – probably – the finest coffee in the country
To discover the secret of a happy life head to Trieste, the Italian port tucked inside the Slovenian border. The Triestini embrace life with a passion that is palpable and infectious, if the chatter at evening aperitivo is anything to go by. And at the merest hint of sunshine, Triestini are off to the nearby seaside, Barcola, even in November, and even though it’s a concrete strip.
This unsquashable humour is no doubt born of being a frontier city, variously owned or occupied by the Romans, Habsburgs, Mussolini’s regime, Germans and Allied Forces, only finally returning to Italy in 1954. The consequence is a glorious jumble of architectural and ethnic influences. In the space of 15 minutes, I came across Serbian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox and Helvetic Evangelist churches, while the city’s synagogue is one of the largest in Europe.
It was Austrian Emperor Charles Vl’s stroke of genius in 1719, in the midst of 500 years of Habsburg rule, to declare Trieste a free port, thus attracting flocks of merchants, that led to this “Mitteleuropean” mix. The wealth created led to a splashy “new town” to the north of the medieval core, all grand neoclassical buildings, boulevards and piazzas, and with two hearts: # the Canal Grande and the vast #Piazza Unità d’Italia. The latter, open-sided to the sea, is clearly modelled on Venice’s St Mark’s, and is (whisper it) more breathtaking.
To gain an idea of how wealthy some Triestini became, I visited #Museo Revoltella, the former 19th-century palazzo of Pasquale Revoltella, a whizz-kid financier who, amongst other things, put money in the Suez canal. It dazzles from the marquetry-style parquet flooring and silk wall-hanging to the chandelier-hung ballroom and White-and-gold dining room. His art collection forms the basis of the Modern Art gallery, whick spreads into two adjoining palazzi.
After staggering through this, I was in need of reinforcement, specifically caffeine. And here’s another happy fact about Trieste; it has, probably, the finest coffee in Italy. Its tax-free port status coincided with the coffee craze sweeping Europe. As well as becoming a big importer (and still today; Illy has its HQ here), it developed a string of Viennese-style coffeehouses. Several still exist, such as Caffè Tommaseo with its faded bello époque charm and where my “capo in B” (macchiato in a glass) came with a tiny dish of whipped cream.
Recharged, I climbed the narrow, paved streets of the Old Town, lined with tall, shuttered, sorbet-coloured buildings – from one of which a relic from the Roman walls, the Riccardo Arch, leans out like a lost limb – eventually popping out at San Giusto Cathedral.
More Roman remains – a forum and basilica – lie nearby in the shadow of the 15th-century castello, a fortified residence for the Habsburgs and, frankly, dull, but worth it for the views over city and Adriatic. Sparkling on a headland to the north, like a frothy-white Disneyesque creation, was Miramare Castle to which I headed the following morning.
Built between 1855 and 1860 for Archduke Maximilian of Habsburg, the castle is a temple to his vanity, bristling with castellations, over-the-top furnishings and a ludicrous Throne Room whose throne, with gilded lions as feet, was never used as he was executed in Mexico in 1867 when he was their Emperor.
The surrounding parkland is a mix of Italianate and English, but I preferred the little-frequented Orto Lapidario (Lapidary Garden) in the city’s Museum of History and Art (a musty treasure trove of archaeological plunder, from Roman glass to Egyptian mummies). Like a lost garden, strewn with classical urns, tombstones and inscriptions, it was a perfect sun-soaking spot to gear myself up for the evening’s high-octane aperitivo hour.
|Did you know?|
|The fastest recorded speed of the ferocious local wind, ‘bora’, is 176kph|