Trieste – Miramare Castle and Maximilian

If you follow the water’s edge from Trieste westwards towards Venice you encounter a scenic and beautiful coastline dotted with rocky promontories and two interesting and completely different castles. One is the spectacular 19th century Miramare Castle, a modern castellated palace and former home of Archduke Maximilian and his wife Charlotte. The second is the medieval Castle of Duino with medieval origins and a long and convoluted history.

HISTORY – The complicated Habsburg dynasty that controlled Austria and Hungary for centuries extended its tentacles down to Trieste and to the Castles of Duino and later Miramare. Through endless marriages to cousins and relatives the Habsburgs desperately needed pastures new and fresh. When Massimiliano (Maximilian) younger brother of Franz Josef (Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian sprawl) got the opportunity to move south to the coast and build his dream home he wasted no time in the construction of the fairy tale castle of Miramare. A classic second son, and always second fiddle to the heir-apparent, he developed a love for the sea and was most at home on or near the water. He was a Corvette Captain in the Austrian navy.

IMAGINATION – The beauty of the castle that he built, rising majestically from the waters of the Adriatic, is the stuff of dreams. A fabulous, imposing confection, perfectly positioned on the water’s edge like a ship sailing on a perpetual ocean. Sparkling white stone from Istria, geometric terraces and manicured gardens created a magical kingdom for Maximilian and his wife Charlotte of Belgium. Each of the reception rooms had magnificent views of the sea giving the impression that guests were aboard a vast, luxurious ocean-going liner. Word spread quickly about the beauty of Miramare and it wasn’t long before the Emperor himself and his beautiful wife Elisabeth arrived at the castle to inspect Maximilian’s labours. The painting below, by the artist Cesare dell’ Acqua records the arrival of the Emperor Franz Joseph and the Empress Elisabeth at the Castle of Miramare in 1861. Elisabeth in navy blue, greets Charlotte in white on the quay, whilst the Emperor of Austria remains on the boat. However, turmoil and revolution were already in the air and the security of the Emperor and his wife as they landed at Miramare was already threatened. The fluttering royal ensign on the stern of the boat demonstrates that the visit was policed by the British Navy who controlled much of the Mediterranean Basin in the second half of the 19th century and regarded themselves as European peace-keepers. Whilst Austria had controlled the city and port of Trieste since the 14th century, both the fledgling kingdom of Italy and the British Isles were determined to ensure that power and influence was not extended further.

Elisabeth + Franz Joseph I arrive at Miramare to meet Maximilian + Charlotte – painter: Cesare dell’ Acqua (1865)

TRAGEDY – Sadly the exquisite splendour of the castle was at complete odds with the tragic story of the man who created this pleasure palace and grounds. Maximilian and his wife Charlotte only lived at Miramare for a couple of years, before a delegation of diplomats arrived at the castle with a very important invitation for the great man. It was an invitation that he couldn’t refuse and it sealed his fate. The gentlemen were from Mexico and had arrived to propose Maximilian as the Emperor of Mexico. This was a job from which he would never return. Just a few months later he was on his way across the Atlantic Ocean, and once again, artist Cesare dell’ Acqua recorded his departure. This time a flurry of Austrian flags (red and white) and a giant Mexican flag (red, white and green) billowed in the blustery April wind……

Miramare - Departure of Massimiliano and Carlotta for Mexico
Miramare – Departure of Massimiliano and Carlotta for Mexico in 1864, it was a one way voyage for the new Emperor

TURMOIL – The flames of revolution were being fanned throughout the Austrian Empire and on the other side of the Atlantic too. Independence was the order of the day and the Habsburgs were it’s victims. The Empress Elisabeth was assassinated in Geneva in 1898 by an Italian freedom fighter. He stabbed her with a very sharp, thin blade as she walked to board a lake cruise. She died hours later. Her brother-in-law Maximilian was shot dead in Mexico in 1867 – an unwanted Emperor in a land that craved independence. Maximilian’s nephew, a young five year old boy, when his uncle was shot dead, grew up to become the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and was himself assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914. The death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand precipitated the First World War and the final death knell of the Austrian Empire.

Habsburg Family Tree - inspired by a graphic from The Guardian in 1914
Habsburg Family Tree – inspired by a graphic from The Guardian in 1914


MIRAMARE – Miramare was built in the 1860s and has witnessed great turmoil and change in the last 150 years. The Castle and grounds were occupied by troops in both world wars and by the 1950s were in a very sorry state. Since then the castle has become a museum and tourist attraction. There is a new ‘Direttrice’ who is doing great things at the property. Refurbishing the gardens, repairing disused fountains and bringing the castle and ‘parco’ back to life. Rather charmingly her name is Andreina Contessa (which means Countess), she was recently awarded the 14th century medieval seal of the City of Trieste as a thank you for her efforts at Miramare.

COFFEE TIME – After several hours of dramatic history it’s time for a coffee in the nearby village of Sistiana, then it’s time to continue along the coast along the footpath called the ‘Sentiero Rilke’ to the second castle of the Triestino territory – the ancient ‘Castello di Duino’. But first I’ve got to give Maximilian and Charlotte a little bit of thought and respect before moving on. Their story and the story of their family played an intrinsic part in European history up to and including the First World War.

Meanwhile, the colourful characters at the Duino Castle will have to wait until next time. After all that’s a whole new story…..

NOTES:

  • When I was in Trieste I stayed at the Albero Nascosto Hotel, Trieste www.alberonascosto.it A delightful, small boutique hotel, privately owned by a charming gentleman and his wife. Strongly recommended. 5 minutes to Piazza Unita, 2 minutes to the sea. Rooms from about € 95 per night.
  • My sightseeing programme was organised by the ever capable Raffaella Zaccai of FVG Turismo – www.turismofvg.it
  • FVG stands for Friuli Venezia Giulia and is the north-east region of Italy.
  • The Tourist Office is extremely well organised. They have ‘info’ points for visitors in all the main towns of the region.
  • My able guide was the supremely well-informed and charming Danica Krstic – krsticdana@gmail.com
  • Miramare Castello is well worth a visit – https://www.miramare.beniculturali.it/
  • In April 2022 I will be taking a small group to Venice and Trieste – e-mail me for details: janet@grand-tourist.com

YOU MIGHT ENJOY:

Fabulous Globe Painting at Miramare listing all the great Italian explorers from Amerigo Vespucci to Marco Polo
Fabulous Globe Painting at Miramare listing all the great Italian explorers from Amerigo Vespucci to Marco Polo

July 2021

4 thoughts on “Trieste – Miramare Castle and Maximilian

  1. You’ve done it again, Janet! A really erudite, fascinating and gripping account of one of the most interesting periods and places in Europran History.

    I hope that you will eventually publish all these blogs in Janet’s “Guide to Everything You Wanted to know about european History, but were afraid to ask” ?!

    Well done again, and thank you for a truly absorbing read!

    Liked by 1 person

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