The Castle of Miramare and its Park were built by order of Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Hapsburg who decided to have a residence befitting his rank built on the outskirts of Trieste, facing the sea and surrounded by a large garden. Struck by the tough, untamed beauty of the promontory of Grignano - a sheer outcrop, then almost devoid of vegetation - Maximilian purchased and combined several plots of land, 22 hectares in all. The foundation stone was laid in 1856 and by Christmas Eve, 1860, Maximilian and his wife, Charlotte of Belgium, took up residence.
The overall style reflects the artistic interests of the Archduke, mainly eclectic: Gothic, Medieval and Renaissance models combine in a stunning blend.
In Miramare Castle, Maximilian envisaged a blend of aspects of the Mediterranean and the austerity of European form, creating a unique atmosphere by the sea. The interior reflects and is decorated with light-blue sea colours and highlighted by wall tapestries, the names and furnishings of many of the sumptuous rooms are emblazoned and adorned with imperial symbols and coats of arms.
In 1867, upon Maximilian's death (he was appointed Emperor of Mexico and sadly was executed after being betrayed and Charlotte's departure for Belgium), Miramare became the occasional residence of the Hapsburg family.
In the period 1869-96, the castle was visited at least fourteen times by Franz Joseph's wife the Empress Elizabeth, known as Sissi. On March 1914 Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne, had the Prussian Emperor William as his guest; two months later he was assassinated in Sarajevo. The last Hapsburgs in Miramare were the Emperor Carl and his wife Zita, with whom the history of the Hapsburg Empire ends.
With the outbreak of the war in 1914, all the furnishings in the castle were transferred to Vienna. At the end of the conflict, Trieste came under Italian sovereignty and the Castle became State property. Austria returned the furnishings and the Castle was opened as a public museum.
The Park of Miramare, covers 22 hectares and is the result of Maximilian's long and demanding project on the rocky promontory of Grignano.
Large quantities of soil were imported and nurserymen mostly from the Lombardy - Veneto region, obtained a rich variety of tree and shrub species, many from abroad. Maximilian constantly kept up with the work and never stopped being interested in his garden following his move to Mexico, sending back numerous species of exotic trees.
The dominant aspect of the area is woodland, alternating with grassy spaces, winding paths, gazebos and ponds, recalling the romantic principles of the English landscape garden. The south-west zone, protected from the wind, accommodates geometrically imposed areas, as in the case of the Italian-style garden in front of the Kaffeehause and flowerbeds around the harbour.
The Park of Miramare was intended to be an experimental centre for the reforestation and acclimatisation of rare botanic species. Even today, you can feel intimately linked to the life of Maximilian, and at the same time capture the relationship with nature characteristic of an age.
Of note the sculptures produced by the Berlin firm Moritz Geiss; the greenhouses, with glass partitions opening within the original iron framework; the 'Swiss Cottage' on the edge of the swans pond; the small square with the cannons donated by Leopoldo l of Belgium; the Chapel of San Canciano with a wooden crucifix which, according to tradition, was carved from the wood of the warship Novara, dedicated in 1900 to Maximilian by his brother Ludovic-Viktor.
After a necessary restoration in 1929 the museum was opened only to be closed shortly afterwards by the arrival of the Duke Amedeo of Savoy-Aosta, who lived there from 1931 to 1937.
In 1943, during the Second World War, the Germans turned the castle into a training school for officers, and the furnishings were removed and kept in various buildings of the town.
1945 saw New Zealand troops take possession of the Castle, followed by the English and finally the Americans, who stayed from 1951 to 1954, when Trieste was returned to Italy.
The Castle, the Castelletto and the Park, again State property, underwent yet more restoration work and was reopened to the public in 1955. Currently Miramare is a sought after venue for events, festivals and exhibitions.
Don't miss the opportunity to view and explore Miramare Castle and gardens on Day 7 of 'Classic Italy Coast to Coast', departing 31 August 2017.