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Trieste is located in Italy, between Venice and the Istrian Peninsula, at the north end of the Adriatic Sea. It is a Central-European city which for several centuries had been under the Austro-Hungarian Empire. We want to introduce you to this city, to its charm and mystery, to its natural beauties, such as the Gulf, the Carso, the numerous caves, the Rosandra Valley, the Castle of Duino. Trieste is a city which you must visit at least once in your lifetime, and you will leave here a part of your heart (it happens very often), come back soon to Trieste!
The ancient Tergeste is now a city of approximately 230,000 residents (about 260,000 within the Province), important port of the Adriatic Sea. It preserves interesting Roman, Medieval and neo-classic monuments and it is an important center for artistic, historical and scientific collections. Among other attractions, here you can also find the famous Castle of Miramare, past residence of Maximilian and Charlotte. And the Gulf, the Carso, the numerous caves, the Rosandra Valley, the Castle of Duino. While staying in Trieste, you can easily visit the famous Lipizzan Stud Farm and Dressage School in Lipiça, as well as the Caves of Postojna and Skocjan, and the Istrian coast-line in nearby Slovenia and Croatia.
In Trieste neighbourhoods, part in Italy and part in Slovenia and Croatia, there is the famous plateau that has given the name to a phenomenon that almost everybody knows: the Karst, from which just derives the "karst phenomena". The Karst has the characteristic of being formed from a limestone land, and therefore permeabile to the water, because of its high solubility and fissuration. This causes the formation of innumerable subterranean cavities, often completely invisibiles to the man, other times known because they succeed to open a way until the land surface, or is the same man that, digging, discovers their existence, giving so space to his desire of unknown exploration.
So is therefore just on Karst, between Trieste, Fiume and Lubiana that the speleology was born. We remember Adolf Schmidl, Viennese engineer, for his researches in the zone of Adelsberg (Postumia), like the French archaeologist Émile Rivière. Of Schmidl we must sure to cite the book "Die Grotten von Adelsberg, Lueg, Planina und Laas" of 1854.
But already in 1748 Karst cavity had been visited by Joseph Anton Nagel, envoy for tourist scopes from the Emperor Francis I. Still before, at the beginning of 1700, there were some explorations in Moravia and Hungary, and it had been arrived till a depth around hundred meters. Then we don't have to forget that the Corgnale Cave (Vileniza), less than two kilometers from the homonymous country near Sesana, was already touristic equipped since 1707 and was habitual destination of the crews whose ships called at the port of Trieste. Sure this was the first touristic cave in the world and only Postumia and San Canziano were succeeded to darken its reputation.
In the history has entered also a host of Trieste, such Joseph Eggenhöffner, that made accessible for tourists the Cave of Padriciano (12 VG) between 1805 and 1810.
Friuli Venezia Giulia Region
If you're interested in ancient Rome but can't travel that far south, take this two-day trip which starts in Aquileia, the well-preserved ruins of a strategic ancient outpost. Founded in 181 BC, it eventually grew to have upwards of 100,000 inhabitants. Of course, as everywhere in Italy, the town's buildings and monuments were mercilessly pilfered in later centuries, but this remains the most important archeological site in northern Italy, and it's well worth visiting the forum, circus, cemetery and river port. The basilica preserves western Europe's finest early Christian mosaics in the form of an unforgettable 700 square-yard pavement. If you still have time left, the Archeological and Paleo-Christian Museums are both artistic treasure troves.
Traveling south on SS352 you'll soon reach the picturesque Marano Lagoon, smaller than its Venetian counterpart but far less polluted, thus home to countless migrating waterfowl. The road strikes out across a sort of causeway, finally reaching its southernmost destination in Grado. What a heavenly paradise this small town is! Its narrow streets immediately remind you of Venice's smaller canals and alleys, its churches are amongst the oldest in all Christendom, and its homes display the exquisite brickwork of the Middle Ages. Time seems to have forgotten this ancient fishing village, and yet right next door is a state-of-the-art beach resort and world-renowned health spa. On an island in the lagoon is a delightful monastery, Barbana, which you can visit by boat or vaporetto. Every year on the first Sunday in July, the villagers stage a colorful boat parade to the monastery.
From here, our trip proceeds by ferry to the spectacular cliffs of Duino, northernmost spot on the Adriatic's eastern shore. (An alternative route is along the provincial road to Monfalcone, then on SS14 to Duino; if you're a birdwatcher, take a quick detour on SS55 to Lake Dobergo, where hundreds of waterfowl congregate year round). Duino, which overlooks the spectacular Sistiana Bay, is a lovely fishing-village-cum-resort-town hidden near two clifftop castles. The older one, dating from the 11th century, is little more than ruins now, its tower and arches the only remnants of a glorious bastion that defended local residents from the Venetians as well as the Turks. The newer one was built in the 16th century and is now home to the fabulously wealthy Princes of Torre e Tasso (as well as the United World College). Hikers can leave their cars here and walk for awhile along the rugged sentiero Rilke (Rilke footpath), which winds along the cliff edge and through thick forests, past territory inhabited by the rare pellegrine hawk, on its way to the other end of the bay.
Continuing along on panoramic SS14 you'll come to Grignano, where you should plan to spend at least half a day. First you'll want to see the Miramare castle, built in the 19th century by the Hapsburg prince, Maximilian. Younger brother of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph, Maximilian fell in love with this spot and immediately began construction of this extravagant seaside palace. But he soon was sent by his brother to Mexico, where he became Emperor and was assassinated by revolutionaries before he was able to see the completed building. Today it is a museum, an excellent example of the 19th-century European royal residence. Its park is one of the continent's most glorious. Nearby is Europe's only underwater marine park, home to the extremely rare Stella's otter and ten to fifteen pairs of breeding marsh harriers.
Several detours are possible at this point, one to the nearby Grotta Gigante, perhaps the largest visitable cave in the world, and another on the provincial road to the delightful hill towns of Monrupino. Pay a visit to the impressive Rocca Monrupina, or stop in Rupingrande at the interesting casa carsica (a living museum of the unique local customs, which have been heavily influenced by nearby Slovenia). A third detour from here is into Slovenia itself, a wonderful (and safe!) part of the former Yugoslavia.
Muggia Trieste is just down the coast now, and you should plan to spend a day in this Austro-Hungarian-style city. But our itinerary takes us a few miles further south, along the exceptionally beautiful SS15 to the seaport of Muggia. The last outpost left to Italy after the divisions of World War II, this delightful little town looks like a miniature Venice, with a beautiful 13th-century cathedral. Be sure to visit the church of the Assunta, a 10th-century jewel set on a hill overlooking the town and its bay.
In Aquileia, the basilica is in Piazza del Capitolo and is open daily 7:30am-6:30pm, with a lunch break in winter (no charge). The Museo Paleo-Cristiano, on Via Sacra, is open daily 9am-1pm (no charge). At Via Roma 1, the Museo Archeologico is open 9am-2pm.
An interesting day trip takes you along the base of the foothills that form this region's western border. Starting on route SS13 at the point where Fruili meets the Veneto, travel north on the provincial road toward Caneva, a small medieval town clustered around a spacious piazza. On the hill above are the ruins of a very ancient castle, inside of which is the charmingly frescoed 11th-century church of S. Lucia.
Polcenigo Your next stop is at Polcenigo, on the banks of the Livenza. Venetian architecture is everywhere, and there's a well-preserved 18th-century castle on the hill. Also visit the nearby Franciscan monastery to see its lovely cloister.
Farther north, near the NATO military base, you'll encounter the massive ruins of Castel d'Aviano, a 10th-century castle that was partly rebuilt by the Venetians in 1432. Visit the church of S. Giuliana to see the Venetian-Byzantine frescos, then head out of town to the church of San Gregorio, containing one of the most beautiful fresco cycles by the 15th-century Friulan artist G.F. da Tolmezzo. This itinerary can easily be completed in a day, and along with the artistic treasures mentioned, it will offer you beautiful views of thickly-forested hills, flowering fields and abundant vineyards. In fall, be sure to sample the local mushrooms and game, and in winter you can use the numerous skiing facilities.
An interesting two-day trip from Venice starts on the A4 autostrada. Drive east, past poplar groves and fields of wheat and corn, to the Portogruaro exit, then take SS463 north to Cordovado. Even before the Romans got here, this was an important portage spot on the Tagliamento River. It later became a prosperous medieval village, and the picturesque tower and gate you drive through date from this era, as do many houses, palazzi and villas.
From here, take the provincial road to Gruaro, then on to Sesto al Reghena, a medieval village which grew up within the fortified walls of the Santa Maria in Sylvis Abbey.
The basilica, a wonderful mixture of late Roman, Lombard and Byzantine architecture, harbors beautiful 14th-century frescoes of the New Testament. Downstairs in the crypt is the tomb of St. Anastasia, created by 8th-century barbarians using an ancient Greek lectern as a base.
Now we hop on autostrada A28 and take the third exit, to the provincial capital of Pordenone. Today this is a much maligned industrial center (even Hemingway took a pot-shot at it in A Farewell to Arms), but it has ancient Roman roots and an admirable old town. Stroll through the 14th-century streets flanked by Gothic, Romanesque and Baroque buildings, then pay a visit to the 13th-century town hall and 14th-century cathedral. The latter is generously frescoed by the artist Giovanni Sacchiense, better known simply as Il Pordenone. The city's original walls were largely demolished in the 1700s to make room for urban expansion, but a good section is left on the west side of town, along with the 13th-century castle that now serves as a prison.
Next, one of this region's star attractions. Travel east on SS13 to the town of Codroipo, then follow the signs to nearby Passariano, where you'll find the opulent Villa Manin. Built by the last Doge of Venice, it outdoes all the villas of the Veneto for size and extravagance, so it is ironic that Napoleon stayed here when signing the Treaty of Campoformido, which signaled the definitive end of Venice's power. Today you can visit the chapel, the antique armory, the carriage museum, the map salon and Napoleon's chamber (which features a portrait by David). The enormous park is a great place for a picnic.
We now take SS252 east to the city of Palmanova, a fascinating experiment in urban planning. Founded in 1593 by the Republic of Venice, it was meant to serve as a fortified outpost against the Turks, as well as become a model city for the new century. Laid out on the flat plain as a perfect nine-pointed star, it took twenty years to build and was populated by "voluntary" settlers from the west. An unexpected peace kept it from ever having to test its potential as a fortress, and kept the population from ever reaching its intended size. This is to our benefit, because it has largely retained its original appearance. The Civic Museum contains all sorts of documents about the city from its conception through World War I.
The next leg of our trip can be made by continuing on SS252 (or hop onto autostrada A4 for two stops, then exit onto the numberless autostrada to Slovenia, and get off at the second exit) to Gradisca d'Isonzo. This too was a fortified Venetian town, built a century earlier than Palmanova. You'll want to see the cathedral and the castle. A distinctly Slavic flavor is in the air now. If you travel a few miles east on SS351 you'll come to the provincial capital, Gorizia, a city whose eastern half is actually located in the country of Slovenia. Dominating the western half of town is the imposing castle, which had to be almost completely rebuilt after World War I. Below it is the historic center, with its rebuilt Baroque cathedral. Nearby is the extremely well-stocked historic library, as well as Palazzo Attems-Petzenstein, site of a fine picture gallery and historic archive. Behind this building is the old Jewish ghetto, where many of the original houses still stand.
Where I grew up in the Southern U.S., we had a saying that goes something like this. "Children are like grits: they should be taken out 3 times a day for meals and then be put away." In many parts of Italy, particularly Friuli and neighboring Veneto, the locals seem to have the same attitude toward polenta, a close cousin to the grits I grew up with.
Polenta is usually yellow (there is white corn in Friuli which is sometimes used) and is really nothing more than boiled corn meal. Grits are made by drying white corn and treating it with certain chemicals before grinding.
Both polenta and grits show up most often as a side dish. Friulans are fond of topping polenta with just about any type of meat or fish. Most satisfying on a cold winter's day is a bowl of polenta served with good sausages, perhaps cooked in tomato sauce with peppers. Polenta may be served in its creamy, just-cooked state or may be allowed to solidify, after which it can be sliced and sauteed, grilled or fried prior to serving.
Polenta can also take center stage in various rustic dishes where layers of polenta alternate with any number of other ingredients, usually ground meat or cheeses. Some chefs add bechamel sauce or tomato sauce to these dishes, with a result that is very much like our traditional notions of layered lasagna.
North to the Austrian Foothills
This trip starts in Cividale, a little-known gem in the eastern foothills of Friuli. An absolutely delightful place to stroll around in, it is one of the best places in all Italy to see evidence of the Lombards, the "barbarian hordes" who ruled here from 568 to 737 AD. And try to find time to visit the Christian Museum, if only to see the 8th-century Altar of Ratchis and the octagonal Baptistery of Callisto.
The one thing you must do before leaving this enchanting town is follow the signs to the Tempietto Lombardo (also known as the Oratorio di Santa Maria in Valle). This 8th-century masterpiece has beautiful frescoes, columns, and mosaics, leading to an intricately carved stucco arch above which hover a sextet of heavenly saints.
Driving west on SS54, you'll come to one of Italy's great overlooked art cities, Udine. One can easily spend two days here, starting at the castle, with its Palladio-designed passageway. Often Udine will remind you of Vicenza or Venice, most notably in Piazza della Libertà, where the Loggia del Lionello looks like a mini Doge's Palace and the clocktower is an exact replica of the one in St. Mark's Square. If you have time for only one art gallery in Friuli, it should probably be Udine's Civic Museum, which houses a fine collection of works by Tiepolo, Caravaggio, Carpaccio, Bronzino and others.
Tearing yourself away from this prosperous provincial capital, drive west on SS464 to Spilimbergo, another amazingly intact medieval town. Here, after passing through a door which originally cut across a triple layer of fortified walls, you'll find an imposing 16th-century castle and an elegant 14th-century village. Many of the homes have frescoed or sculpted façades, and the Gothic cathedral has a lovely romanesque portal.
From here, take the provincial road north to Pinzano, then head east across the Tagliamento River to the home of fine prosciutto, San Daniele. This ochre-hued city has been nicknamed la Siena del Friuli, partly because of the rolling hill country that surrounds it, partly because its citizens supposedly speak the purest form of Friulan dialect, and partly because of its architectural beauty. Plan to relax a while here, long enough to taste the delectable local ham, stroll through the narrow picturesque streets and stop in at the many exquisite churches. In Sant'Antonio Abate, you'll want to see the so-called Pilgrim of San Daniele's frescoes, among the loveliest in Friuli. The 17th-century cathedral is filled with treasures, the Madonna della Fratta has an exquisite marble portal, and the church of San Daniele is a striking sight, its simple whitewashed façade hung halfway up the hillside occupied by the castle's grey stone belltower. Also worth seeing are the fine collection of illuminated manuscripts in the Guarneriana Library, and the Portonat Gate, designed by Palladio.
As you visit the towns and cities on this itinerary, you'll sometimes see reminders of the devastating earthquake that ripped through the area in 1976. Since that catastrophe, non-Friulan Italians have come to praise the people of this region for their industriousness, evidenced by the almost total reconstruction you'll see today. Gemona (reached by driving north on SS463) was heavily damaged, and here you will encounter some tangible evidence, most notably the ruined castle. What a glorious setting this town has, laid out on a gently sloping plain at the very base of the Julian foothills! The historic center that was reduced to rubble exactly twenty years ago now shines, and it's worth a visit to the 16th-century town hall and the 13th-century Gothic-romanesque cathedral. The unusual statue of St. Christopher that graces its façade is of Nordic manufacture, and the ornate arches outside contrast sharply with the church's somber interior.
Gemona is the gateway to the Carnia, a remote mountain area that few Italians and even fewer foreigners ever visit. This, along with its incredible beauty, make it a great place to visit (especially in autumn when it's vast sumac bushes are fiery red or, if you're a skier, in winter). Drive north on SS13 and you'll soon reach Venzone, the most tragic victim of the 1976 tremor. So carefully had this fortified town preserved its medieval appearance that it had been designated a national monument; yet in a few swift moments the entire town was razed to the ground. Venzone is worth visiting to see the painstaking efforts locals are making to restore it exactly as it had been for centuries. Pause a while to watch as, stone by stone, the 14th-century double walls, moat and gates are pieced back together. Or see how far they've progressed with the beautiful 15th-century town hall, which had already been razed during World War Two and rebuilt in the '50s.
An hour or so in Venzone is bound to restore your faith in the human spirit. From here you are free to strike out into the Carnia, stopping perhaps in Tolmezzo to learn more about the region at the Museo Carnico. If you have time, try to make it to Tarvisio. From there it's a hop, skip and a jump into Austria. It was from this picturesque mountain city that the International Jewish Brigade smuggled thousands of Europeans into the Palestine at the end of World War II.