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Trieste: The Last City to Become Italian

Caffè San Marco - Trieste

When you order an espresso in Trieste, you would say “un nero” – “a black one” – unlike the rest of Italy where you'd say “un caffè”. There is no etymological explanation for this expression – except that coffee is black.  However, it is a sign of how location and history have provided Trieste with a very distinct personality that sets it apart from the rest of Italy.

Trieste is the capital city of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, facing the Adriatic Sea and sharing the eastern border with Slovenia. A multicultural city where Italian, Slovenian, Greek, Serb, Jewish, Austrian, and many other cultures coexist. Trieste officially became Italian with the Treaty of Rapallo only after World War I, in 1920.

Back to 1382, Trieste was a small town seeking the protection of the Duke of Austria as a means to escape the tyranny of the Republic of Venezia. In 1719, after Carlo VI of Austria declared the city Porto Franco (Free Port), Trieste became the main harbor of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. In the following centuries Trieste flourished thanks to trade and goods from all over the world. Insurance companies and banks benefited from its tax-free status. Coffee turned out to be a big business, and coffee shops became places where intellectuals, artists and businessmen would meet. One of these historical places, still in operation today, is Caffè San Marco where James Joyce loved meeting other writers and artists. Joyce  fell in love with Trieste and described it as a cosmopolitan city characterized by freedom and opportunities that were typical of the Americas of his time. 

Molo Audace - Trieste

At the end of World War I, Italians landed in Trieste on November 3rd, 1918. For many years this day has been remembered as a great day of freedom, with the arrival of the Italian ship Audace at the harbor’s main pier – renamed Molo Audace – symbolizing the end of the Austrian rule. However, the fate of Trieste was far from settled.

World War II ended with Italy’s loss of the Istrian peninsula to the newly constituted country of Yugoslavia. It was a dark time for Trieste with events that still cast a shadow over the city’s history to this day. After the war, Trieste was placed under the direct responsibility of the United Nations Security Council, with the name of Free Territory of Trieste. It was only when the Free Territory dissolved and the Allies left, that the city was re-integrated in the Republic of Italy on October 26th, 1954.

Today, Trieste enjoys a lively cultural and social scene. Molo Audace, a favorite meeting place for the locals, is no longer used to dock ships, except during La Barcolana, the world’s largest sailing regatta. The different ethnicities have found a new balance and understanding with one another, and Triestino, the local dialect, is still a mix of Venetian, Slovenian, Austrian, English, and fusions of other languages. Its distinctive cuisine is also an expression of the different ethnic groups and the city's proximity to the sea. Coffee is the symbol of the city and it’s not by chance that Illy, the famed coffee company, was founded here.

Trieste, a uniquely Italian city where history blends with the aroma of coffee and salty air.

YouTube: Les Babettes - El can de Trieste (by Lelio Luttazzi) - Traditional Song from Trieste

Article written by Gaia Mencagli in collaboration with the ICC Editorial Team


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