Episode 316 – Giants and a Tower

There are lots of big things in Trieste, but only one that has “Giant” right in its name, and that is the Giants’ Staircase (Scala dei Giganti).

The massive set of multiple-storey neoclassical stairs, set between Piazza Goldoni and Via del Monte, connects the heart of Trieste with its streets full of shops and bars, and San Giusto Hill with its archeological site.

The stairs look like they’ve been there forever, but the current staircases “only” date to 1907. They arch over the mouth of a tunnel that was dug under San Giusto Hill in 1903 for an electric tram line, but that now accommodates all kinds of vehicular traffic.

Quote on the first landing of the staircase: WHAT AFFECTED ME WAS A WHITE FIGURE […] ALIVE AND VERY CLOSE, DESPITE THE DISTANCE. IT WAS STANDING ON THE BALUSTRADE LEVEL OF THE STAIRWAY OF THE GIANTS, WHERE IT OVERLOOKS THE SQUARE, AND MOVING FROM ONE EDGE TO THE OTHER, LOOKING OVER AT MY SIDE.
WHO WAS IT?

STELIO MATTIONI (1921-1997), FROM HIS NOVEL “THE CALL OF ALMA “

The 252 limestone stairs are more of a gorgeous photo op than a daily route up the hill, but we were definitely not the only people using them to get from sea level to the fabulous views offered from the hilltop.

At the top of the stairs, after crossing the narrow winding Via Capitolina, there is a double set of smaller fairly nondescript stairs leading to the Parco della Rimembranza (Memorial Park), where the real “giants” of Trieste are found: those who fell in World War I and on whose shoulders Italy’s freedom as an independent nation stands. The first thing you see is the giant obelisk fountain inaugurated during the visit to Trieste of Mussolini in 1938.

The park was opened in May 24, 1926, on the 11th anniversary of Italy’s declaration of war, with a tree planted for every Trieste soldier fallen in WWI.

The park is divided into 26 sectors, strewn with karstic (natural landform) memorial stones engraved with the names of the fallen soldiers from Trieste and their respective units. This is the first time we’ve seen these kind of stones (as opposed to gravestones or crosses), and it is quite effective.

The stones dedicated to WW I are found between sectors 16 and 25, but there are also stones commemorating other battles, such as the Spanish Civil War, African wars and WW II.

The fallen are also remembered by a group of sculptures by Attilio Selva (1888-1970), a war volunteer and a pupil of Leonardo Bistolfi. The reference to martyrs of the “foibe” is particularly poignant. I had to look up the word, because it normally means a sinkhole, but in this case it refers to “Mass graves for the concealment of the corpses of the victims of military reprisals and political assassinations, with particular reference to the massacres carried out by the Yugoslav partisans in Istria, Dalmatia and Venezia Giulia in the last phase of the Second World War and immediately after the war.”

We’ve noticed other interesting memorials on our walks around Trieste, specifically that many of the streets are named for Italian war heroes.

Often there is a plaque on the building at the corner of the street that tells who it was named for. For instance, the street we’re living on is Via Luigi Frausin.

Via Luigi Frausin, Medaglia d’Oro, Caduto per la Liberta, 1898-1944.

(Much abbreviated from Italian Wikipedia:) Luigi Frausin (Muggia, 21 June 1898 – Trieste, September 1944) was an Italian carpenter, shipyard worker, Communist partisan, and member of the Italian underground, who was posthumously awarded the gold medal for military valor. Frausin was the promoter, with the nom de guerre “Franz”, of the Triestine National Liberation Committee, and it was he who organized the first anti-fascist Patriotic Action Groups in Trieste and Monfalcone. He was eventually betrayed to the Nazis (by anti-communists), tortured, and killed.

My understanding of WWII history is growing exponentially during our travels. While I understood the concept of the Allies banding together to fight the Nazis and fascism, I’m only just getting an idea of the “other” war against communism that made the Allies’ alliance such a fragile (and temporary) one.

Because we’re in Europe, it’s impossible not to touch multiple layers of history in every physical space.

Not far from the Memorial Park is the Tor Cucherna (above ), Medieval tower built in the 14th century and originally used as a night watchtower in the city walls. According to the Trieste tourism website, the name probably comes from a phonetic interpretation of the German word “gucken” (to peep), turned into “cucar” in the local Italian dialect. The outer walls of Trieste (some of which dated to 33 BC, but most of which were 14th and 15th century) were destroyed/removed after the Hapsburg proclamation making the city a Free Port in 1719 so that the city could expand, which it did – growing by 600% by the end of the century. Tor Cucherna was spared because it had been transformed into a home. In 1910 it was restored, regaining the appearance of a tower, albeit a tower in partial ruins.

Of course, there were more spectacular views from the level of the Tor.

We’d done all our wandering in the morning, which was a good thing since the afternoon was filled with short sporadic downpours, and even some thunder. It didn’t seem to bother the kids in the square, or the bar patrons protected (somewhat) under patio umbrellas, but Ted and I were just as happy to be watching the activity from the dry side of the windows.

Another night of eating in: cassarecce pasta with a pancetta, cream, pecorino and black pepper sauce, and a salad. Eating salad means we deserve our after dinner stroll for gelato! Although we’ve yet to find a decent market in Trieste (certainly there’s nothing like the ones we saw in Venice back in March), the supermercados are well provisioned and we’re definitely nit going hungry.

More exploring – and like,y more history – tomorrow.

One comment

  1. Today is Veterans Day at the Ex. (100 years) Honoured 80th anniversary of Dieppe yesterday And today the stones and graves So poignant! Also reminds me of your trip to Germany and the bronzed shoes on the river So moving, Thank you both!!! Again !!! Xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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