walking tour: Florence, Rome, Milan, Venice, Naples


Trieste Free Tour
Trieste Free Tour


Trieste, city and capital of Friuli-Venezia Giulia regione and of Trieste provincia, northeastern Italy, located on the Gulf of Trieste at the northeastern corner of the Adriatic Sea 90 miles (145 km) east of Venice. It was under Roman control by about 177 bce; Julius Caesar made it a colony and recorded its name as Tergeste in his Commentarii de bello Gallico (The Gallic War), written in 52–51 bce. Augustus ordered the construction of a harbour and city walls about 33 bce. After the breakup of the Roman Empire, Trieste shared the general fortunes of Istria and was granted independence under its count-bishops in 948 by Lothar II, king of Italy. Captured by the Venetians in 1202, it constantly agitated for autonomy, placing itself in 1382 under the protection of Leopold III of Habsburg, whose overlordship gradually developed into Austrian possession.

Trieste, Italy

Trieste, Italy

Trieste was a town of 5,700 inhabitants when it was proclaimed an imperial free port by Charles VI in 1719, and its population had reached 156,000 when it was deprived of the privilege in 1891. It became the prosperous main port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and served as the headquarters of the Austrian Lloyd Steam Navigation Company and of other shipping lines, with a seaborne trade in 1913 of 6,200,000 metric tons. In the Austrian census of 1910, nearly two-thirds of the city’s population of 229,510 was composed of Italians (Austrian and Italian subjects), the rest being Slovenes and Croats, other Austrian subjects (including Germans), and foreigners. The Italian preponderance was the ground on which, in the secret treaty of London of April 26, 1915, Great Britain, France, and Russia agreed to give the city to Italy at the conclusion of World War I as part of a group of territorial concessions rewarding Italian alliance with the Triple Entente. The arrangement fulfilled a long-stated goal of Italian irredentism, the movement to include all Italian-speaking territories as part of Italy. Trieste was occupied by Italian troops in 1918 and later lost most of its maritime trade because it was cut off by a political frontier from its natural hinterland. The volume of merchandise handled fell to 2,200,000 tons in 1930–34, but Italy maintained and developed, with government subsidies, the shipbuilding industries, steel mills, oil refineries, and insurance business. A university was founded there in 1938.

Trieste was seized in 1943 by the Germans, who intended to maintain it as a southern outlet to the sea for the Third Reich. As the war reached its final weeks, Marshal Tito’s Partisans closed in from the east; the Allies also raced to liberate the city. The German garrison surrendered to New Zealand troops on May 2, 1945, but the city was claimed for Yugoslavia. The peace treaty with Italy signed in Paris in 1947 created the Free Territory of Trieste, to be guaranteed by the United Nations Security Council. It was divided temporarily into northern and southern zones: Zone A, which included the city and its northern hinterland, was put under U.S.-British military administration, and Zone B, to the south of the city, was put under Yugoslav administration.

The Free Territory status was unworkable, however, and deadlock immediately followed the ratification of the treaty. After the failure of British and U.S. proposals to include the Free Territory in Italy (1948) or to divide it between Italy and Yugoslavia on the existing zonal basis (1953), negotiations in 1954 resulted in an agreement granting Zone B and part of Zone A to Yugoslavia (202 square miles [523 square km]) and the city of Trieste and the remainder of Zone A (91 square miles [236 square km]) to Italy. Italy agreed to maintain Trieste as a free port, and the Italian and Yugoslav governments agreed to a special statute regulating the rights of national minorities on both sides of the demarcation line. By an October 1975 treaty, Italy relinquished all claims to Zone B, settling finally the status of the region.

In 1963 Trieste was designated the capital of the newly formed autonomous regione of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Trieste provincia, with an area of 82 square miles (212 square km), has an economy based chiefly on the activities of its port.

Roman ruins in the city of Trieste include a theatre and an archway. The campanile of the Cathedral of San Giusto incorporates part of a Roman temple. The old German (Austrian) town, called Triest, was built around Monte Giusto, a hill that is dominated by the Castello (1470–1680), now housing a medieval museum, and by the Cathedral of San Giusto, formed in the 14th century by the union of two earlier churches. The modern city, begun in 1719 on the flatland adjoining the bay, is characterized by broad streets and typical 18th-century Baroque and 19th-century Neoclassical architecture. During the 1850s Miramare Castle was built nearby for Archduke Maximilian (later Emperor Maximilian of Mexico). Pop. (2001) 211,184; (2004 est.) 208,309.

Get a Britannica Premium subscription and gain access to exclusive content.

Subscribe NowThe Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

This article was most recently revised and updated by Michele Metych.