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TRIESTE - History

Trieste’s colourful past distinguishes it from the rest of Italy.

A combination of factors, geographical, culturally and historically have given the city Trieste a unique and fascinating place retaining its own identity. 

Unlike many the typical Italian city you may have previously visited, Trieste has maintained its cultural diversity due largely to its heterogeneous history and the disparate ethnic groups that live harmoniously together. Trieste flourished as part of Austria, from 1382 (which became the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1867) until 1918, it was considered one of the most prosperous Mediterranean seaports as well as a capital of literature and music. 

With the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Trieste's annexation to Italy after World War I, led to a decline in economic and cultural importance, the city lost much of its earlier strategic and commercial influence.

Early history:  In 177 BC, the city was under the governance of the Roman Republic. Trieste was granted status of a colony under Julius Caesar. At the end of the Western Roman Empire in 476, Trieste remained a Byzantine military centre. In 788 it became part of the Frank kingdom under the authority of the count-bishop. From 1081 the city came loosely under the Aquileia patriarchy, developing into a free commune at the end of the 12th century.

After two centuries of wars against nearby major power, the Republic of Venice (who occupied it briefly from 1369 to 1372), the burghers of Trieste petitioned Leopold III von Habsburg, Duke of Austria, to become part of his domains. The agreement of cessation was signed in October 1382. The citizens, retained a certain degree of autonomy well into the 17th century. 

Trieste developed into an important port and trade hub in the 17th and 18th century when Emperor Charles VI declared the city a duty and tax-free port. The reign of his successor, Maria Theresa of Austria, marked the beginning of a particularly flourishing era. Construction of a deeper port made Trieste the only sea port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and led to the influx of entrepreneurs and merchants from all over the Mediterranean. Maria Teresa's policy of religious tolerance allowed the different religious communities to practice openly and build their own places of worship.

The city was occupied by French troops three times during the Napoleonic Wars, in 1787, 1805 and 1809 and subsequently annexed to the Illyrian Provinces by Napoleon, losing its autonomy and status of a free port.

Trieste returned to the Austrian Empire in 1813, continuing to prosper as the "Imperial Free City of Trieste" (Reichsunmittelbare Stadt Triest). It became the capital of the Austrian Littoral region and main Austrian commercial port and shipbuilding center. 

The opening of the Suez canal in 1869, brought the city closer to the Indies and the Far East.  By 1913 Austrian Lloyd had a fleet of 62 ships. The modern Austro-Hungarian navy used Trieste for ship building and a military base. 

By the beginning of the 20th century, Trieste was a cosmopolitan city frequented by artists such as James Joyce, Italo Svevo and Umberto Saba, regularly visiting its literary cafés earning its place as the cultural and literary center of the so-called "Austrian Riviera". 

The Friuli dialect, called Tergestino, spoken until the beginning of the 19th century, was gradually supplanted by Triestine and other languages  including Italian, German and Slovenian. While Triestine was the dialect of the majority of the population, German was the language of the Austrian bureaucracy and Slovenian was the language of the surrounding villages. Viennese architecture and coffee houses still dominate the streets of Trieste today.

Trieste and Trento became the main seat of the "irredentdist "movement which aimed to annex to Italy all the lands that  were historically inhabited by Italian people. After WWI and the disintegration of Austria-Hungary, Trieste was transferred to Italy in 1920, along with the whole Julian March (the Venezia Giulia). The annexation, resulted in a loss of importance for the city, both strategically and commercially. Yet the city managed to preserve it's cultural diversity from the rest of Italy. 

After the constitution of the Italian Social Republic, 1943, Trieste was governed by the fascist regime of Mussolini. During the war, the German Nazi Regime, annexed the city to the Operation Zone of the Adriatic Littoral, which also included Gorizia and Lubiana. As a consequence, the Slovene ethnic group (at the time about 25% of the population) and Jewish community endured racial discrimination culminating under the Nazi occupation  in their deportation to the only concentration camp on Italian soil built in a suburb of Trieste, the "Risiera di San Sabba"  where many who survived were deported once more to other camps in Europe.

On April 30, 1945, the Italian anti-fascists Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale (CNL) and Fonda Savio, with 3500 volunteers, incited a revolt against the Nazis. Similar to events in Berlin, the Yugoslav troops led by Tito (like their Russian counter part in Berlin) were the first to enter and occupy the city while the 2nd New Zealand Division continued its advance along Route 14 around the north coast of the Adriatic to Trieste.  The German forces eventually capitulated in May 1945. Yugoslav forces formed their own military administration for 40 days  and intent on annexation of the city and its hinterland. Under diplomatic pressure of the Western Allies, the Yugoslav troops were finally forced to withdraw from the city on June 12.

In 1947, Trieste was declared an independent State under the protection of the UN. The Free Territory of Trieste was governed for several years by the Allied Military Government, comprising American and mainly British Forces. The territory was split into two zones: Zone A under the American and Bristish government and zone B  (the coastline after Muggia extending to Capodistria and its hinterland) under Yugoslav forces. In 1954, after a national referendum, this state was de facto dissolved: the city of Trieste, called Zone A, was handed over to Italy while the southern part of the territory (Zone B) comprising Istria and some parts of the Carso, was given to Yugoslavia. The annexation to Italy was officially proclaimed on October 26, 1954. The border questions with Yugoslavia and the status of the ethnic minorities (Slovenes in Italy and Italians in Yugoslavia) were settled definitely in 1975 with the treaty of Osimo.