Trieste, Italy – Castles by the sea

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Archduke_Ferdinand_Maximillian
Emperor Maximillian I
Charlotte_Empress_of_Mexico
Empress Charlotte

Max was young and handsome. His family was wealthy and powerful. He and his new wife had recently designed, built and moved into a fine new oceanfront home. Max had everything a man could want. He was then offered a highly prestigious new job abroad, which he did not need. He rejected the position on several occasions, but finally was persuaded to accept it.  He traveled to the new country, but it was dangerous work and it soon led to his untimely death. His young widow returned to their dream home and there lived alone, still in love with Max, until she was very old.  The lesson to be drawn from this sad little story is surely that one should follow one’s initial instincts. Max should have stayed in his oceanfront dream home, which I happened to pass a few days ago.

Castle Miramare
Castle Miramare

That home is the Schloss Miramar, which is a white castle on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, about five miles to the north of the stylish Italian city of Trieste. It was built to Max’s specifications between the years 1856 & 1860.  Max was actually the Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria. His brother was the Emperor Franz Joseph I, who ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire until his death in 1916, shortly after which the empire was dissolved. There is an item elsewhere on this website about the opening by Franz Joseph of the Budapest subway system in 1896.  Trieste only became an Italian city in the 20th century.  In Max’s time, it was part of Austro-Hungary. In fact, Trieste was then the empire’s fourth largest city. Only Vienna, Budapest and Prague were larger.

In April 1864, Max sailed away from his castle on the imperial yacht, Phantasie, escorted by frigates from the French and Austrian navies, to take up his new job as Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico. On landing in Vera Cruz, Mexico, a month later, he found himself in the middle of a fierce conflict between his supporters, the monarchists, and the republican faction led by Benito Juarez.  This is the man after whom the city of Juarez, Mexico, is named.   I have written elsewhere on this website about my visit to Juarez on November 22nd 1963, the date of President Kennedy’s assassination in Texas.  The battle with Juarez was a conflict that Max could never win.  The United States of America had no intention of tolerating on its southern border a country headed by European royalty. That conflicted with its famous Monroe Doctrine. Therefore the US was busily supplying the forces of Juarez with all the armaments needed for a republican victory.  The US civil war had just ended and Max’s offer of refuge to the defeated confederate army won him no friends in Washington either.  Thus Juarez was able to defeat Max and then to arrest and to try him.

Painting shows Execution of Emperor Maximillian by Manet
Execution of Emperor Maximillian

Max was sentenced to death and that sentence was carried out by firing squad on June 19th 1867.  Max’s ashes were returned to Europe.  Max’s wife, Charlotte, was the daughter of the king of Belgium. She returned to Europe and lived for many years in the Schloss Miramar, which Max should never have left. She lived until 1927.

Duino Castle
Duino Castle

Schloss Miramar is one of many attractions in and around the city of Trieste.  A few miles to the north of Miramar, also on the Adriatic coastline, Duino Castle stands atop a huge rock which was formerly a Roman military outpost. That castle was built in the 14th century and, in 1943, was the location of a bunker used by Nazi submarines.  Yet Trieste is a great deal more than castles by the sea.  We stayed right in the center of the city at a hotel in Carlo Ghega Street.  Ghega was a 19th century railway engineer, whose claim to fame was the building of the first mountain railway in Europe with a standard gauge track.  This was the railway running over the Semmering pass in the eastern Alps in nearby Austria. In the city center is the Piazza della Borsa (Stock Exchange Square), where the Old Stock Exchange building resembles an ancient Greek temple and compares very favorably with anything on Wall Street. There is also a New Stock Exchange building.

Victory Lighthouse Trieste Italy
Victory Lighthouse

In World War One, unlike World War Two, Italy was on our side. Trieste has honored the seamen who died in that war by its prominent Victory lighthouse, built in the 1920’s and inaugurated by the then King of Italy.

Then there is the old Roman amphitheater, built in the first century on a hillside near the center of the city.  Nearby is the Grand Canal, a very small waterway compared with Venice and Amsterdam, but most attractive nonetheless. So there is a lot to Trieste and I have not even mentioned the churches and museums.  The city of Trieste runs alongside its coastline, but on every other side it is enclosed by a semi-circle of high mountains.  Bearing in mind that the sea is the clear and blue and relatively placid Adriatic, the impression one gains is of a safe and well protected city.  If only Max could have remained here!