- The largest city in Italy’s northeast, with some 300,000 inhabitants, Trieste marks the border with the republic of Slovenia and is one of the most important ports on the Adriatic. While its history goes back to pre-Roman times, it was under the dominion of the Habsburgs from 1382 to 1918. The foundation of the city’s commercial wealth goes back to 1719, when it became a free port. Briefly occupied by the French during the Napoleonic wars, it was restored to Austria in 1813 and became an autonomous province within the Austrian Empire in 1850. The population was nevertheless mostly Italian speaking, and after the Risorgimento, nationalist sympathies began to spread. The 1882 hanging by the Austrians of Guglielmo Oberdan, an irredentist, only inflamed pro-Italian feeling. During World War I, Trieste was the prize for which Italian troops fought 11 battles on the Isonzo River, which empties into the Adriatic near the city. Italian troops entered the city in November 1918. Trieste, along with the Istrian Peninsula, became Italian by the Treaty of Saint Germain in June 1919. Half a million Slovenes were thereby placed under Italian rule.In 1945, after two years of Nazi occupation, Istria and Trieste were captured by Yugoslav partisans, who carried out a ruthless policy of “ethnic cleansing” at the expense of the Italian-speaking community. Thousands were murdered, and tens of thousands more fled to Italy. In June 1945, the former province of Trieste was divided into a small “zone A,” which was administered by the British and Americans and included the city, and a much larger “zone B,” left in the hands of the Yugoslav government. The peace treaty of February 1947 defined the city itself as a free territory. Italy reoccupied “zone A” in 1953, and in 1954 the Yugoslav government recognized Italian sovereignty over the city. The present border was fixed by the Treaty of Osimo in November 1975. The loss of its hinterland in Istria after 1945 explains why, at 220 square kilometers (85 square miles), Trieste is by far the smallest Italian province. Trieste is anomalous in other ways. Its long domination by Austria has ensured that the city’s architecture has little in common with the rest of Italy and much in common with mid-European cities, such as Prague or Vienna. Trieste is also the windiest city in Italy. The so-called bora can blow for weeks on end; special railings are in place along the most exposed streets to protect citizens from being blown off their feet.See also Foibe; Irredentismo; Magris, Claudio.
Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. Mark F. Gilbert & K. Robert Nilsson. 2007.